The Brexit vote in the UK set off a global panic. In part, because we assumed that people in England, if not the rest of the United Kingdom, would always think about a decision and be sensible. They would never vote without knowing what the implications of that issue might be. Apparently, we’ve been wrong.
The first problem is the word “Brexit.” It’s a combination word, and I think that is why Europe is coming apart. We are not using enough words now. Words were a way, in the olden times, like the 1990s, to actually describe something in detail and debate it. Think of the most powerful places to communicate now—non-existent “platforms” named, ironically, “Twitter,” “Instagram,” “Facebook” and “YouTube.” Four major media with only 27 letters total between them. We don’t use enough letters and words anymore.
Because we now use pictures instead of words—after all a picture is worth a thousand, so 20 pix is 20K, right? The core problem is the flopendemic of Slurrds (for old people, this means, “a flood and epidemic of slurring words together.” Get with it, Geriatrics). Brexit is the chief example. Brexit sounds like a breakfast cereal. When I went to England years ago, there was a cereal called, “Wheatabix.” I am sure confused many voters. “Exit from cereal? Read the rest of this entry
“WELCOME TO THE MUSEUM OF PRIMITIVE RELIGIONS! Step this way and now look at the peculiar display on the subject of idolatry. We modern people cannot comprehend how superstitious were the ancients, such that the Hebrews prohibited carving little statues and bowing down to them…”
Since we religious folk have a 3,000 year old tradition and an ancient story crossing several cultures of the ancient world, I thought I would try to explain a word that seems so outdated and dull: idolatry. The prohibition of it is one of the Ten Commandments, and so it would seem rather quaint for our time. After all, we have a show called “American Idol” and we talk about “idolizing” someone. The ancients would have been terrified at such casual talk, but since we’re fairly casual about everything, maybe a museum lecture would be interesting.
In the ancient world, people represented their faith all sorts of ways–they worshiped trees, poles, statues, images, rocks, and projected divinities upon all of nature. Generally, they created these images with the understanding toat there might be a little sympathetic magic possible–to guarantee a good crop, success in life, or victory in war, by appeasing the god with offerings.
The Hebrews were forbidden this luxury. Only the mysterious God of Moses, a God who would not even reveal his name except as another mystery, was the true God. They could not control this God, manipulate the Lord for their own purposes or take God for granted as a national plaything or prop for the king. This God demaned justice, brought them to judgment when they failed and humbled kings when they became too haughty.
Idolatry, or the worship of false gods, is, essentially, confusing Creator and creation. When we elevate anything created into the place only rightly for God, it becomes idolatrous. Thus, Paul in Colossians, moves from concern about greed to idolatry (NRSV Colossians 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).
It is idolatrous precisely because it rules over our life. Addictions are the idolatry of that which was created good–but not ultimate! Thus, food, sex, work, even family, patriotism, religion, can all be “idolatrous” if we do not live loosely attached to them–that is, understanding our right relationship to them. They and we will pass away. It is not worth ruining one’s spiritual life, for example, simply to feed the bottomless need for affirmation, fame, money or stuff. Food, sex, work, family, country and religion are all also good. But they are not ultimate.
It is equally idolatrous to want to be the most spiritual person in the world, to identify one’s own interpretations of God’s word and will with God’s word and will. This is the most dangerous of all. Idolatry is twofold–to lift up the earthly to the place of God and forget God. It is equally and also the desire to bring “god” down to earth, to create a manageable god who doesn’t ask too much of us, who is always just what we want God to be, our “buddy,” and never our judge or mystery. To understand God truly is to never forget that only God is God, and that our attempts to know God are never all that God is. To remember this is the beginning of wisdom.
The only way, then, to rightly live in this world is with contentment regarding what we have and humility with regards to our self-understanding, and for that to be enough. It is to be humble with regards to who we are, and to accept ourselves as God made us, and accept and care for others as they are, not imposing ourselves on them. To demand the impossible of oneself or others is also to stand at the border of idolatry. Truth about ourselves, our lives, and what is right is the aim of life. It is enough to see what God has made and simply say, “It is good. This is enough.”
Healthy self-regard means accurate, balanced, true self-understanding and to accept oneself. Period. It is the delusional need to project ourselves upon the world to deny our limits that can lead to wars, violence, self-hatred and hate of others. And it is precisely here that we understand why both politics and religion are so often destructive. We elevate our own views, demands and needs beyond criticism, discussion and conversation with God’s other creatures. Rather than listening to one another and figuring out the best way, we engage in the most expensive and nefarious games to avoid ever telling or admitting another’s truth. “Spin” is simply another word for deceit, even if it is oneself who is deceived. The motive for the deceit is the real culprit, and both religion and politicians should spend much more time and energy there, for the good of themselves and the rest of us. When one is more consumed with preserving ones own position, power or advantage than the good of our neighbor, an idol is nearly complete.
“Thanks for your patience, folks. I hope you found this interesting. That ends our museum lecture from these primitive people so long ago. Quaint, isn’t it? Well, back to our progressive, technologically superior world. Fortunately, we are more evolved. Our politics more humane. Someday, we’ll live together in peace and everyone will have what they need. Humankind never had it so good. There is no problem we cannot solve, is there? And if we can just get our people elected, the sky’s the limit…”
This is a more or less slightly exagerrated recall of five or six phone calls to Delta I have made this week trying to change our return flight. I dial 1-800-221-1212. RIIINNNNNNG
Computer: Hi. Welcome to Delta, KLM and Air France. Are you a Sky Miles Member?
Computer: I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you. Let’s try again. Are you a Sky Miles Member?
Computer: Mmmm. I didn’t understand. Say Yes or No.
YESSSSSSSS! (Deep voice)
Computer: Let’s try again. I’m having trouble hearing you.
Okay, I think, do a falsetto. “YES.” Sounds like Franki Valli
Computer: All right. From here you can say, “Check my skymiles points, search for flights, hear uninteresting information about our hidden cost offers, or be directed back to the original menu, or speak with a representative?
Well, I never like to talk to danged computers. “Speak with a representative.”
Computer: I’m sorry. Did you say ‘speak with a representative?’
Computer: What? I can’t hear you.
Yes, Yes, YES YESSSSSS! (Granddaughter begins crying in the back seat.)
Computer: No need to raise your voice. Oh, behave
What did you say?
Computer: I said behave. You have no idea how many useless wrong turns there are on this tree. I can transfer you to purgatory anytime.
I can’t believe this. Put me through to a live human.
Computer: All right. But first I need a bit more information, Okay? Is this in regards to an existing reservation, a new reservation, a restaurant reservation, an Indian reservation, or moral reservations?
Computer: Just pullin’ your chain. Calm down. Existing reservation?
Computer: I’m sorry, I couldn’t make that out.
EXISTING! EXISTING! EXISTING!
Computer: All right, I think you said, ‘Existing.’ Do you know your Skymiles number? Say it now or say, “I don’t have it with me.”
I’m driving down the road, so I’m sitting on my wallet where it is.
Computer: I’m sorry, what was that?
No, NO, I don’t have it, I don’t have it. I HATE you! Do you hear me? I HATE YOU, computer!
Computer: Okay. I’ll put you through to a representative. Hold on.
BEEP. connection lost.
This is only part of the story. I could tell you how the lady at the kiosk helped me try to find an earlier flight and end up with my wife going to Minneapolis and me to Salt Lake, but that’s another story. I am writing a letter about that womancomputer. She is evil.
Worth thinking about: “Modern technology has become a total phenomenon for civilization, the defining force of a new social order in which efficiency is no longer an option but a necessity imposed on all human activity.” Jacques Ellul.
Maybe some parts of life still deserve human beings speaking to one another…After a host of screwups, one helpful Delta ticket agent behind the counter in Portland straightened out our messed up itinerary.