Month: July 2013

Idolatry of the faceless gods

Slowly working through the papal encyclical Lumen Fidei. A beautiful and hopeful document, very close to my heart. From the commentary in First Things by Nathanael Peters:


On the other hand, an unexpected word does appear in Lumen Fidei: idolatry. As is characteristic of his evangelical boldness, Francis notes that in the story of the golden calf, “the opposite of faith is shown to be idolatry.” Faith demands a kind of patience. It requires us to abide the hiddenness of the God we long to see. The pope notes Martin Buber’s definition of idolatry, which he in turn took from the rabbi of Kock: “Idolatry is ‘when a face addresses a face which is not a face.’” Idolatry takes place when we refuse to abandon ourselves to God, when we look at a faceless thing that we can grasp instead of the face of God which sometimes remains invisible. The pope writes,


[Idols exist] as a pretext for setting ourselves at the centre of reality and worshiping the work of our own hands. Once man has lost the fundamental orientation which unifies his existence, he breaks down into the multiplicity of his desires; in refusing to await the time of promise, his life-story disintegrates into a myriad of unconnected instants. Idolatry, then, is always polytheism, an aimless passing from one lord to another. Idolatry does not offer a journey but rather a plethora of paths leading nowhere and forming a vast labyrinth.


Sin and idolatry fragment us. They keep us from living whole, integrated lives. When our hearts do not have the one who is the Good itself at their center, we run hither and thither pursuing lesser goods. Freed from obedience to a higher law, we become slaves of our own whims and desires. We buy more stuff. We trade sexual partners like cards and then drink to cover the pain. We harbor jealousies against our co-workers. We kill the inconvenient. We forget the poor.