The Idols of The Age

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

Understanding the New atheists and The Totally Other

Understanding the New atheists and The Totally Other

For the last few years I have been trying my best to understand the new atheist movement and all of its ranting and raving against God and religion. Then it dawned on me,  that I could not understand them because we were not talking about the same things. The god and religion that they are ranting against is not the God I believe in or the religion I practice.

The majority of them talk about a god that I believed in at one time and a religion I was a part of when I was a young man. However, I no longer believe in that god nor do I practice  that religion. It took a number of years on my journey to find The Wholly Other; or should I say for him to find me and to lead me out of the forest of religious idols I was lost and hiding in.

Looking back on my journey it is hard to understand why it took so long to be found by the Lord seeing that  “We live and move and have are being in him”[1], though he, himself has no being, for He is being[2], i.e. He does not have existence rather he is existence[3]. Therefore, there really is no way to argue for his existence for he does not exist in the way we think of existence. So, what are we arguing for, or against?[4] I will get back to this later.

I found that not only do the new atheists have a different vision of The Totally Other, they (at least the majority) had a different vision of religion, which is as narrow as their vision of the God symbol. They seem to believe that all religion is the same, which in their minds means that all religion is bad. Of course, it does not take much thought to realize that the word religion is a word that points to a concept which is as deep and broad as the ocean. Therefore, when the new atheists start bashing all religion and lumping it all together it makes me wonder how much real thought they have put into their subject. I have found some so allergic to the word religion that they cannot even admit that religion can be good or bad. This strongly points to the level of maturity of so many in that movement. They take a thumb full of the ocean and believe that they have captured the ocean. I am not saying this in malice but I believe that many these people have some deep problems.

You may have noticed that  I have tried to avoid using the word God, the reason being that the word has been so vulgarized and distorted that it has lost any value in helping us to understand the mystery that I refer to as The Wholly Other. The distortion of the God symbol is one of the real problems with religion and atheism.

Religion should help us in our journey to The Totally Other. However, instead of helping it often hinders by giving us false ideas of God, these false images in ancient times were called idols. The problem with idols is that there is no image or thing in reality or in the mind of humanity that can picture The Totally Other. All images of God created by humanity whether in mind or in stone, are idols because they are too small and distort the symbol we use for The Totally Other, i.e. God. The false ideas of God in turn him and him I solicit a false responds e.g. the new atheists.

This means that the atheist that has a pure heart may be closer to having a correct view of God than many believers. That is, if he has no image of God in his mind[5]. You see nothing is better than the something if the something is wrong. This is why I call the something that you cannot image or speak about, The Wholly Other, the uncreated one, I Am or maybe nothingness? I do it to keep people from creating a false image of God that is too small.

Of course, the problem is that for both believer and atheist, religion stands as a mediator between them and The Wholly Other. You see, for the atheist to argue against God he must have an image of that God in his mind. Whatever image he has in his mind is simply an idol. This is the only reason why they can form an argument against it, for no argument can be formed against the Wholly Other for he lies beyond all argument. The majority of men will never get beyond the idols of this world whether they claim to be atheist or theist, i.e. their God is too small. I often wonder how humans could become so corrupt that the scripture would tell us that every imagination of their heart was corrupt, I now know; their God was too small, they were idolaters.

The theist often creates a God in their own image and then projects that image into heaven. The atheist then comes along and says that is not God and they are right. It is an idol that can be manipulated and controlled by man. It is the god of the religious man and the atheist. A god that  is created for the opium of the people; or as a tool to control the herd. On the other hand, the deist created an aloof impersonal God that is somewhere out there beyond everything, located in some distant heaven, too aloof to be involved with his creation. Of course, any god that can be herded into some small corner of space and time is just too small to be The Totally Other. It also is an idol.

The high theists of the world know The Wholly Other, since they know, that they know little or nothing of being. They confess that they are quite ignorant of The Total Other. They understand, as Isaiah the prophet also understood; “His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts.” To them the word God is a symbol which stands for the limits of their knowledge. This knowledge calls for humility and they are careful not to over speak on the subject of the deity.

You may ask, “Are you saying we can know nothing of being?”  No, I am saying that you can only know what He has revealed to you. How does He reveal Himself? One way is through nature and the study of it, that is science. The study of nature has reviewed how great and powerful the Wholly Other is and how different he is from humanity. This knowledge should create awe and wonder in ones spirit, which is true spiritual worship. Unfortunately, many that study nature end up worshipping nature, failing to see that she is an arrow pointing to that which is beyond her. As the seer says when the prophet points at the moon the majority look at his thumb. For many science and religion has become the study of the thumb.

Some may say that this Wholly Other dwells in a cloud of darkness and mystery. Why does he hide Himself? Why does He not reveal Himself? Well, I do not think He is the problem, I think the trouble lays elsewhere. Could it be that He is so awesome and so glorious that in our present form we cannot approach Him without melting into nothingness. This unapproachableness is pointed out in the bible when God tells Moses, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).

There is the real possibility that the darkness that hides the Wholly Other is the darkness that is in the human heart. Jesus said, blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God”. Now by pure in heart I do not think Jesus is talking about not having impure thoughts e.g. lust, greed, etc. but rather having the right focus of one’s own being. He refers to this as the single eye. “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matt 6:22-23).This may be why children find it easy to see God until their parents or their culture (which includes religion) fill their eyes with darkness and forces them to see the world through dark-colored glasses. It is no wonder Jesus said “unless you convert and become like little children you will in no way, enter the kingdom of God.” So, let’s stop blaming God and the devil for our bad eyes and poor sight.  For that matter let’s stop blaming our parents and culture and accept responsibility for the condition of our own heart. Our hearts are filled with darkness because we have made God too small and are about the business of building idols.

Then, there is the Bible. What is the Bible? The Bible is a collection of writings from men who were searching for The Totally Other. It is the history of their journey and their interaction with the Uncreated One. It records their successes and their failures. It shows them as groping, sometimes searching as a lost children would search for their parent and slowly, in due course growing into adolescence. The Bible also reminds us that the story is not over and that adulthood is still away off.

What about the contradictions and mistakes in it? Would you not expect to find a few anomalies and problems in any writings trying to explain The Total Other? It is a book of symbols that point to something that is on the border of human knowledge, known yet unknown. The Bible itself is a symbol which claimed to be both human and divine. The divine part is perfect in doing what it was created for, which is the building of souls as they journeyed towards the Totally Other.

However, there is a consistent theme and a trend that run though the whole of Scriptures, which connects all of its parts, though sometimes overshadowed, it is always there. It is the central symbol of Scriptures and God’s people throughout the ages. We could summarize that one central symbol with the word ‘someone’. Someone is coming, someone is here and someone is coming again.

The someone of Scripture is the Promised One, the Anointed one, the Messiah or Christ. The one who would save the people from their enemies. Their greatest enemies being sin and death. The Scriptures gave clues to help people recognize this someone. It said that he would be extraordinary and different from other men. His words would be different and his life would be different, he would be Other like the One who sent him.

One man has said that it takes extraordinary evidence to prove an extraordinary claim.[6] the scriptures say that the someone in himself is the extraordinary evidence that the Total Other has given to man. This someone is the final and perfect symbol that points to The Total Other. He spoke like no other man and lived like no other man. When he spoke things happened, people were healed, water was changed into wine, storms were stilled and the dead were raised. No man has ever had so many people believe in him and at the same time has had so many hate him and despise his teachings. He truly is the extraordinary man, the someone sent from The Totally Other. This totally other man is still calling people “To come follow me”.

[1] Acts 17:28

[2] When I say He has no being it might be better to say he is super being. We live and move and have our being in Him, but we are not Him.

[3] Existence is beyond our comprehension though we apprehended it through our own existence and the existence of things around us.

[4] When humans argue for or against the idea of God they are arguing for or against a human construct that at best can only point to the One that stands behind it. Therefore we spend a great deal of time arguing about the idea of God. Now it is true that some ideas of God surely are better pointers than others but all fall short of the reality. This is true in science as well, for there is no theory of reality that is reality. The map is not the territory.

[5] It is unlikely that most atheists have no image of God in their minds, because if so, they would have nothing to argue against.

[6] Unfortunately, Carl Sagan did not define what extraordinary evidence would look like. For some skeptics, there would never be any evidence of any kind or  enough to prove the existence of God.