American Idol(atry)

Serving the good, not false idols, is incredibly important

Idolatry. In Hebrew, avodah zora (strange service). The concept of idolatry is central in the Torah (Five books of Moses). Throughout the narrative, the Israelites often revert to idolatrous practices, the most famous of which is the sin of the Golden Calf. In that episode, Moses is gone a day longer than they expected, so some of the men declare him dead and “it’s party time!” They rip the earrings off the women and make a giant molten calf, then have an orgiastic festival in honor of the calf. When Moses comes back he is so disgusted he breaks the Tablets and starts smiting people. Throughout the Torah, idolatry is the greatest sin, the greatest challenge faced. In Deuteronomy, even though the generation of the Golden Calf had already died out, Moses tears into the congregation about their evil idolatry, just in case. It was that important to emphasize. Then throughout the prophets, it is page after page exhorting us to fight idolatry.

Some would say the notions of idolatry are obsolete, or are monuments to ancient intolerance. I’m arguing the opposite. I say idolatry is as prevalent as ever and the Torah prohibitions as relevant as ever.

It’s hard for me to tell you what idolatry is, to pin down exactly what is and what isn’t idolatry; it is a kind of nebulous spiritual issue. But like the Supreme Court famously ruled on pornography, you know it when you see it.

The biggest idol today is money, Mammon; and the biggest false religion is consumerism. Look no further than your TV to see this one.

In this insightful blog, Eastern Orthodox writer Terry Mattingly points out that people now take a sort of perverse communion at the mall:

About half the ads on television today make no sense whatsoever in a linear fashion in terms of having anything remotely to do with the product. They’re getting across an attitude, a mood. They’re asking, “Do you want to be the kind of person who uses this product?” One ad theorist has said that “they presume the product has a soul.” If you think as a sacramental Christian, people are taking communion at the mall. They are consuming the product, the soul of the product, to become the essence of the product. It’s a liturgical experience. They’re taking communion at the mall. They are what they eat, which is the essence of the ancient church’s definition of communion.

(photoshopped by me)

In a recent discussion of government programs for the poor and disabled on one of the disability Yahoo groups I’m in, I threw out “Do you serve G-d or serve Mammon?

Someone shot back, “I don’t serve any god.”

My challenge was misunderstood. I didn’t mean “do you believe a specific theology?” I’m not concerned with that, I don’t think you’re wrong if you have different theological assumptions than me; that’s not the point. My question was, “do you serve the greater good, something larger, or are you only out for yourself?”

It is incredibly important we serve something greater. There is an epidemic of selfishness rotting our national soul. We’ve now reached such a low that our government is proposing $32.7 billion dollars in rebates to the Walton family (Wal-Mart) while removing $28 billion from hospitals for the poor, and the media doesn’t even mention it anymore (obscene rant from another blogger about this here). We are sacrificing the sick and the weak on the altar of greed, and few even notice anymore. It is all corrupt. It is spiritual blackness.

Money is the central motivation to too many people; it’s the main object people idolize. Before they act, they put “what’s in it for me?” ahead of decency. To save a little money or little convenience, we will do horrible things, overlook great wrongs. I’ve seen too much of it.

We naturally have this urge to be idolaters, putting ourself and our petty nonsense ahead of the good (also known as G-d).

Judaism recognizes this, that idolatry is a part of our nature, and it seeks to put a strong yoke on Jews to do the right thing. We need it badly.

I think in these dark times, it is more important than ever to pursue righteousness, to pursue justice. Deut. 16:20 is important now more than ever before.

We aren’t just monkeys in flesh suits. Humans can rise to be far greater than the animals, or far worse than the animals.

Now is the time to elevate.

Don’t just plug into the iCalf and tune out all the service and justice we’re supposed to be accomplishing. Stay involved.

If it ain’t helping bring about the total spiritual and physical perfection of the world, I’m not into it.

G-d, the planet, the Torah and humanity are ONE.