The Idols of The Age
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness…. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” Rom 1:18-23
The majority of people today, both Christian and non-Christian, believe that idols were a problem in Biblical times but are no longer a problem for modern man. However, this is only true when one uses the term idol or icon in their most restrictive sense, as an image of God made with human hands. In its broader sense an idol could be anything which is exalted to a place of being one’s absolute or ultimate concern, or anything that would form or shape one’s values (Col. 3:5).
In his book “Radical Monotheism and Western Civilization”, H. Richard Niebuhr points out that our true God is the thing that forms our center of value and holds our loyalty.
In addition to our true God, Niebuhr speaks of a faith in a pluralism of gods; a faith that draws its meaning from a number of lesser objects, like money, sports, hobbies, work, politics, etc, things that people exalt to an unreasonable level in their life, things that seem to possess them and control them e.g. sex, alcohol, drugs, money, etc.
Now a person with a pluralist faith many even have as one of their gods the true God. However, to them on a deeper level, He is simply one among the many and may influence them to about the same degree as any of their gods. It could be said that this faith represents the faith of the majority of the population that claim to be Christians.
Niebuhr goes on to say, Our faith-in these gods then take two basic and dominant forms, “a pluralism that has many objects of devotion and a social faith (religion) that has one object, which is, however, only one among many” (page 18).
By the expression “social faith” he means that people have put their faith in a group or society of people making them the center of one’s values and making them the absolute of his loyalty. Social faith can be directed toward a family, tribe, nation, political party or a religious group. In this, it turns these groups into its absolute or God. When this happens, men have created their idol.
Probably the most obvious example of a social faith is the faith of a member of a cult, whose faith, though not recognized by the individual, is centered on the group and not God. On the secular side, it could be a person that is involved in a political party to the degree that the party is his ultimate concern and is the entity, which shapes his values and loyalty. You can spot one of these idolaters by their blind loyalty to their party. Many of these people think they joined a political party because it lines up with their values, but in the end, it is the party that shapes their values. This secular party god seems to be the fastest growing cult in our society, as people lose faith in their tradition religion, they turn to politics for meaning.
It is self-evident that the majority of humanity is incurably religious and that all men have an ultimate concern, which dictates their values and loyalty. It may not be known to their conscious mind, but it is there, working on a subliminal level molding them and controlling them.
In view of the above, we must conclude that few men live without idols and that all men have their ultimate concern, even the atheist. Moreover, we must conclude that many which fancy themselves as Christians have made the true God one among the many and are guilty of idolatry and disloyalty to the real God. It is little wonder that Jesus asked his disciples the question “When the Son of Man comes will he find faith on the earth?” That is a true faith in the real God. “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” 1 John 5:21