The word ‘idolatry’ has a remote, archaic, feel to it. Ancient people, and primitive people, are idolatrous, aren’t they. But us…? The command ‘You shall have not other Gods before me’ (Exodus 20:3) seems to be quite irrelevant.
Tom Wright, in his recent book Surprised by Scripture, shows that idolatry is alive and well in our modern, supposedly secular, society. The ancient gods are alive and kicking.
….These ancient and well-known gods have not gone away, have not been banished upstairs, but are present and powerful—all the more so for being unrecognized. In what sense are they divine? The ancients would have no trouble answering that. First, those who worship gods become like them; their characters are formed as they imitate the object of worship and imbibe its inner essence. Second, worshipping them demands sacrifices, and those sacrifices are often human. You hardly need me to spell out the point. How many million children, born or indeed unborn, have been sacrificed on the altar of Aphrodite, denied a secure upbringing because the demands of erotic desire keep one or both parents on the move? How many million lives have been blighted by money, whether by not having it or, worse, by having too much of it? (And if you think you can’t have too much of it, that just shows how deeply Mammon worship has soaked into us.)
And how many are being torn apart, as we speak, by the incessant demands of power, violence, and war? Now, please note: I am not saying sex is evil. I am not saying money is bad in itself. I am not even saying that there is never a place for force in defending the weak against violent evil or unjust tyranny. I am neither a killjoy, a Marxist, nor a pacifist. My point is that our society, claiming to have got rid of God upstairs so that we can live our own lives the way we want, corporately and individually, has in fact fallen back into the clutches of forces and energies that are bigger than ourselves, more powerful than the sum total of people who give them allegiance—forces we might as well recognize as gods.
Perhaps the convulsions we have gone through—the disasters that come from worshiping Mars, Mammon, and Aphrodite—are signs that the theological vacuum caused by separating god from the world is at last imploding.
Well, of course, all is not despair. And Wright points to Jesus, who alone can show us how we may disentangle ourselves from our worship of these false gods.