Saturday, February 2, 2013

The New Idolatry (A Philosophy of Potatoes, Part IV)

"They have not known nor understood...and none considers in his heart...[that] he feeds on ashes...." Is. 44:18-20

All things their Creator bless. All things signify and point back to their Origin. Their beauties suggest His Beauty. Their wonders speak to His Wonder. The summation of their good and incredible qualities serve as hints and clues to His Fountainhead of Incredible Goodness. Of course, this signification between creature and Creator has been damaged by the Fall, but it has not been utterly disconnected. The visible world still manifests His invisible attributes (Rom. 1:20). The heavens still declare the glory of God (Ps. 19:1-4), still sing their songs to Him, even if they're currently singing off key. One day, harmonization will be restored, and the music will be mended and made new. Until then, all the strained signification of creature and creation have the charm of an amateur orchestra: imperfect and thus finally dissatisfying, yet delightful in its own way and while it last. On this side of final redemption (Rom. 8:19-21), we must condescend a little to Sister Earth. She is trying the best that she can.

Now, idolatry is simply to confuse the creature for the Creator, the sign for the Origin. To put it another way, we believe that the buck stops "here" rather than "there". In ancient times, it was a matter of taking physical objects and making gods our of them (a contradictory process, as Is. 44:13-17 demonstrates). Today, however, idolatry has gotten more sophisticated. God has been dissolved and dismembered in the inherent polytheistic nature of postmodernism: every man and woman is his or her own god and can declare God to be anything they want. Rather than believing in special revelation (God's personal disclosure of Himself to us), we believe in special relativism (our personal disclosure of our self onto God). It is classic idolatry because of its circuitous nature: the individual makes the god, which technically makes them god, so they worship themselves when worshiping their own creation (effectively making them both the idolater and the idol!).

What makes this new idolatry unique to today, however, is that the centripetal force of idolatry has maximized (or rather, minimized) itself, collapsing into an absolute narcissism. In other words, we have cut out the middleman. Our ancestors worshiped themselves through carved chunks of wood and stone and metal. We, on the other hand, being far more efficient, dispense entirely with the chunks and get right to worshiping ourselves, recognizing ourselves alone as God. Of course, we don't call it "idolatry". We call it "standing for my rights," "self-realization," "expressing myself," etc. Regardless of what newspeak we use to justify it, it is still nothing more than idolatry brought to its logical conclusion: we are God, and we will have no other gods before us.

The new idolatry is the very pulse of our culture, of our generation. You do not need to find it in ivory towers or art house cinemas. Turn on the news and listen to the stories and pundits. Read the threads and metas of the whole of social media: Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc. Watch any sitcom, drama, or commercial on TV. The message is the same: we shall have no other gods before us. We shall do as we please, marry whom we please, have sex with whom we please, kill the inconvenient unborn as we please, do church as we please, do government as we please, and create a "God" who will unquestionably endorse all that we please. The pagans of antiquity will be our judges in the last day, for though they worshiped idols, they worshiped out of ignorance, truly believing that those idols they made with their own hands represented things bigger and greater than themselves. But for us, there is nothing bigger or greater than ourselves. The ancients made idols, but we are our own idols. They worshiped Moloch; we are Moloch, the ravenous, diabolical hunger, the living mouth and bottomless stomach that consumes all for itself alone, even to the point of consuming itself alone.

Naturally, we will starve in the end, for God alone is Substance and Fullness. All else besides Him is shadows and dust without Him. To feed on His bread and taste His wine is to find the true sustenance of the soul. To reject His feast is to feed on ashes, and can anything truer be said of our culture and generation than that it has glut itself on Nothingness?

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

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