A few years ago I had the privilege of traveling around the USA speaking in Revive America Seminars as a part of the Impact World Tour.
One of my messages was on the subject of idolatry–something we don’t think much about in the Western World because we associate idols with altars and statues.
One Sunday in Hastings, Nebraska (it happened to be Super Bowl Sunday), I gave a message on idolatry which led to hours of repentance and confession. Many pastors even came forward to admit to their people that they’d gotten swept up in the sin of idolatry.
So what are the gods of the Western World and where are they leading us? How do I know if I’m personally involved in modern forms of idolatry?
Five thousand years of recorded human history reveal mankind’s penchant for worshipping idols or false gods:
- The Sumerians of ancient Mesopotamia are the world’s first recorded civilization (at least 2800 B.C.). Each Sumerian city was ruled by local priests who sacrificed to the gods of nature (sun, moon, rivers) and also fertility (Ishtar).
- The Egyptians were famous for their statues to the sun god (Ra) and numerous other deities. In fact, nearly all of God’s judgments upon Egypt during the Exodus were judgments against their idolatrous worship of false gods (Exodus 8-14).
- The Greek and Roman Empires ruled the known world from the ninth century B.C. to the 5th century AD. The Greek historian Herodotus (c.484-425 BC) claimed that the gods of the Greeks had been adopted from Egypt, and many modern scholars agree. Classical scholar C. Kerenyi lists 370 Greek gods that might have gone by 646 names.
- During their zenith, the Romans accepted and expanded the Greek pantheon. This led the Apostle Paul, sharing the Good News of Jesus in Roman-occupied Athens around 60 AD, to remark: “I notice that you are very religious” (Acts 17: 22). He was talking about idol worship.
- The Mayas and Aztecs, as reported by Father Bernardino de Sanhagun in the Florentine Codex, worshipped the forces of nature and supernatural and human counterparts. What stunned the Spaniards upon their arrival in the New World were the immense ritual slaughters that were taking place—human sacrifice—at regular festivals averaging 2,000 victims a day, and on special occasions, exceeding 20,000.
Those are a few glimpses of ancient idol worship. Gods and idols everywhere and even gross human suicide/murders to the idols of the day.
There is still a plethora of ancient idol worship in the modern world, especially in Africa (animism) and Asia. “Folk Hinduism” lives up to its reputation as one of the world’s largest idol-worshipping religions involving possibly 330 million gods. (That’s nearly one for every three people in India.)
John Noss explains how it works in many parts of the sub-continent:
“The ordinary villager, who in his everyday life takes no thought for the morrow of a subsequent existence, is content to worship the village gods to whom he looks for rain, bountiful harvests, and escape from plague…There are, as it were, two religions: a work-a-day religion to meet the requirements of everyday existence and a higher religion…which the ordinary man does not attempt to understand.”
I’ve been to many Hindu and Buddhist temples in that part of the world. Hundreds of millions of people in the 21st century still bow before idols and offer incense and food offerings to the gods.
Idolatry is both ancient and modern.
Here’s an important point to ponder: Human beings are the only part of creation that worships or creates idols. Land animals don’t make idols. Sea creatures don’t worship idols. No other part of animate or inanimate creation give themselves in love and devotion to gods.
It’s as if we were uniquely made to worship someone or something.
The Bible tells us this Someone is not the sun, moon and stars, or any part of the created world. We were designed to worship the True God who made it all. He is our Creator and also our Savior (from sin).
This brings us to the fundamental definition of idolatry: Giving supreme time, attention and affection to anything that takes the place of God.
Human beings were created with a God-shaped vacuum inside. We can either give God his rightful place in our hearts and lives (Matthew 22:37-40) or we can fill that space with other things.
In the Western World, under the guise of science and progress, most people do not worship ancient gods and idols. Most of us don’t frequent temples and burn incense nor do we bow to pieces of wood.
But because man will worship, we have our own set of gods or idols.
One New Testament verse is the key to understanding the idols of the Western world– 1 John 2:15-17:
“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away, and also its lusts. But the one who does the will of God abides forever.”
“Do not love…the things in the world.” In other words, worldly things. That’s the definition of secular–being worldly rather than spiritual minded.
Polytheistic religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and animism produce “spiritual” idols or false gods. The religion of atheism or secularism doesn’t tout spiritual things, but because of the God-shaped vaccuum in every human heart, worldly people are driven toward secular idols or gods.
Let’s call it secular idolatry. The West is full of it–and according to 1 John 2:15-17, I believe the secular idols of the West center around three (though there are many more).
1. The Idol of Sex (lust of the flesh)
Can anyone honestly deny that sex in all its forms is one of the supreme obsessions of worldly people? It is a multi-billion dollar industry on the Web and nearly half of American men admit to being addicted to pornography. What are the supermarket tabloids luring you towards? What is becoming increasingly mainstream on television and in the movies?
Sex. This secular idol’s primary “temple” is the movie theater with supermodels and movie stars being the temple prostitutes. Of course, it’s not a new form of idolatry. The Greek and Roman bathhouses were full of fornication, homosexuality and adultery during their day and a significant number of Roman citizens were bi-sexual. As pointed out by Bill O’Reilly in his best-selling book Killing Jesus, Julius Caesar was the poster child of sexual indulgence with homosexual escapades and numerous adulteries (e.g. Cleopatra).
Secularists fill their God-void by “lusting after the flesh.” Erotica is a primary god in current Western civilization.
2. The Idol of Entertainment (the lust of the eyes)
The second Western secular idol is the god of entertainment which primarily involves the eyes. We have gone from being a “giving” culture (Judeo-Christian) to a “getting” mentality which focuses on pleasure. 2 Timothy 3:1-14 says that worldly people are “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”
Pleasure comes in many forms, but entertainment is high on the list. People want to “feel good” and being entertained fits the bill in many forms including music, television, movies, and sports.
In fact, probably the most obvious temples to modern gods in the West are sports stadiums and rock concert halls.
I remember when Christians used to be called “fanatics” and sports people were “fans.” (Obviously, the first label is worse than the second.) Today, it’s reversed. Look at the people in most sports stadiums on Sundays and you will see people that really love their gods (fanatics). They wear special costumes, dye their hair, paint their faces, and shout their lungs out.
If only Western churchgoers (fans?) had such passion for the True God.
3. The Idol of Money (the boastful pride of life)
The final idol of the Secular Trinity is the one that makes everything possible–wealth or money. If personal pleasure rather than pleasing God is the emergent god of the West, then money is the ticket to its fulfillment.
Money is the substance which allows us to boast about our lives. We are keeping up with the Joneses! We have made it because we have a good job which makes us look good and provides wealth to purchase the “things” that make us happy.
Money is the new American Dream. Tony Campolo amplifies: “We want more and more of what we need less and less of.” It’s what most Westerners live for–a comfortable lifestyle fueled by wealth that allows them to pursue hedonistic pursuits.
Generations ago American towns and cities were built around churches i.e. the centrality of worship to God. The cathedrals of today are not churches (they’ve been buried by the skyscrapers). They are shopping malls, areas of commerce, and high-rise temples of Wall Street finance.
And you thought that Europe and America had become irreligious? Abandoned all gods?
Nope. People will worship. It’s just that the gods have changed. They’re not made of wood or stone. They’re made of flesh, celluloid and paper and we lust after them with our bodies, eyes, and bank accounts.
Of course, it their proper place, all these things are fine. Sex is wonderful in a godly marriage; We all need some restful entertainment at times; Money can be used to serve God and bless people. But when these things become supreme desires, affections, and time wasters, they turn from being tools into idols.
The Super Bowl is a great example of Western idol worship. You have great athleticism (entertainment), promoted by by scantily-clad cheerleaders (sex), raking in billions of dollars in advertising (money). No wonder it’s the most watched Western TV extravaganza each year.
All three Western idols are involved.
One of the clearest truths of the Bible is that God judges all false gods or idols. He doesn’t want people to hurt themselves by worshipping things that don’t satisfy them or bring Him glory.
And where are the idols of the Western World leading us?
- Consuming sexual lust is multiplying venereal diseases and destroying the family unit.
- The opiate of entertainment is making us fat, passive and uninformed.
- The love of money is leading us to a debt-laden financial collapse of biblical proportions.
What must we do?
The book of 1 John ends with these words (1 John 5:21): “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.”
That includes Western ones.
Dick Morris served in the Clinton administration and was the political strategist behind Clinton’s widely successful “triangulation” strategy. I do not always agree with him, but in terms of political instincts I value his wisdom and perspective. This article, written in January of this year, is a sobering look at the coming four years in American political and economic history. It’s quite troublesome and appears almost prophetic to me–not in a literal sense, but a thoughtful prediction. I share it with you because some of it has already become true, and the current healthcare debate is the linchpin for “changing America.” I agree with many of Morris’ concerns and want all of us to rise up in prayer and action. Let’s shape this one by our faith in God and undying love of liberty. RB.
By DICK MORRIS
Published on TheHill.com on January 20, 2009
2009-2010 will rank with 1913-14, 1933-36, 1964-65 and 1981-82 as years that will permanently change our government, politics and lives. Just as the stars were aligned for Wilson, Roosevelt, Johnson and Reagan, they are aligned for Obama. Simply put, we enter his administration as free-enterprise, market-dominated, laissez-faire America. We will shortly become like Germany, France, the United Kingdom, or Sweden — a socialist democracy in which the government dominates the economy, determines private-sector priorities and offers a vastly expanded range of services to many more people at much higher taxes.
Obama will accomplish his agenda of “reform” under the rubric of “recovery.” Using the electoral mandate bestowed on a Democratic Congress by restless voters and the economic power given his administration by terrified Americans, he will change our country fundamentally in the name of lifting the depression. His stimulus packages won’t do much to shorten the downturn — although they will make it less painful — but they will do a great deal to change our nation.
In implementing his agenda, Barack Obama will emulate the example of Franklin D. Roosevelt. (Not the liberal mythology of the New Deal, but the actuality of what it accomplished.) When FDR took office, he was enormously successful in averting a total collapse of the banking system and the economy. But his New Deal measures only succeeded in lowering the unemployment rate from 23 percent in 1933, when he took office, to 13 percent in the summer of 1937. It never went lower. And his policies of over-regulation generated such business uncertainty that they triggered a second-term recession. Unemployment in 1938 rose to 17 percent and, in 1940, on the verge of the war-driven recovery, stood at 15 percent. (These data and the real story of Hoover’s and Roosevelt’s missteps, uncolored by ideology, are available in The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes, copyright 2007.)
But in the name of a largely unsuccessful effort to end the Depression, Roosevelt passed crucial and permanent reforms that have dominated our lives ever since, including Social Security, the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission, unionization under the Wagner Act, the federal minimum wage and a host of other fundamental changes.
Obama’s record will be similar, although less wise and more destructive. He will begin by passing every program for which liberals have lusted for decades, from alternative-energy sources to school renovations, infrastructure repairs and technology enhancements. These are all good programs, but they normally would be stretched out for years. But freed of any constraint on the deficit — indeed, empowered by a mandate to raise it as high as possible — Obama will do them all rather quickly.
But it is not his spending that will transform our political system, it is his tax and welfare policies. In the name of short-term stimulus, he will give every American family (who makes less than $200,000) a welfare check of $1,000 euphemistically called a refundable tax credit. And he will so sharply cut taxes on the middle class and the poor that the number of Americans who pay no federal income tax will rise from the current one-third of all households to more than half. In the process, he will create a permanent electoral majority that does not pay taxes, but counts on ever-expanding welfare checks from the government. The dependency on the dole, formerly limited in pre-Clinton days to 14 million women and children on Aid to Families with Dependent Children, will now grow to a clear majority of the American population.
Will he raise taxes? Why should he? With a congressional mandate to run the deficit up as high as need be, there is no reason to raise taxes now and risk aggravating the depression. Instead, Obama will follow the opposite of the Reagan strategy. Reagan cut taxes and increased the deficit so that liberals could not increase spending. Obama will raise spending and increase the deficit so that conservatives cannot cut taxes. And, when the economy is restored, he will raise taxes with impunity, since the only people who will have to pay them would be rich Republicans.
In the name of stabilizing the banking system, Obama will nationalize it. Using Troubled Asset Relief Program funds to write generous checks to needy financial institutions, his administration will demand preferred stock in exchange. Preferred stock gets dividends before common stockholders do. With the massive debt these companies will owe to the government, they will only be able to afford dividends for preferred stockholders — the government, not private investors. So who will buy common stock? And the government will demand that its bills be paid before any profits that might materialize are reinvested in the financial institution, so how will the value of the stocks ever grow? Devoid of private investors, these institutions will fall ever more under government control.
Obama will begin the process by limiting executive compensation. Then he will urge restructuring and lowering of home mortgages in danger of default (as the feds have already done with Citibank).
Then will come guidance on the loans to make and government instructions on the types of enterprises to favor. God grant that some Blagojevich type is not in charge of the program, using his power to line his pockets. The United States will find itself with an economic system comparable to that of Japan, where the all-powerful bureaucracy at MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry) manages the economy, often making mistakes like giving mainframe computers priority over the development of laptops.
But it is the health care system that will experience the most dramatic and traumatic of changes. The current debate between erecting a Medicare-like governmental single payer or channeling coverage through private insurance misses the essential point. Without a lot more doctors, nurses, clinics, equipment and hospital beds, health resources will be strained to the breaking point. The people and equipment that now serve 250 million Americans and largely neglect all but the emergency needs of the other 50 million will now have to serve everyone. And, as government imposes ever more Draconian price controls and income limits on doctors, the supply of practitioners and equipment will decline as the demand escalates. Price increases will be out of the question, so the government will impose health care rationing, denying the older and sicker among us the care they need and even barring them from paying for it themselves. (Rationing based on income and price will be seen as immoral.)
And Obama will move to change permanently the partisan balance in America. He will move quickly to legalize all those who have been in America for five years, albeit illegally, and to smooth their paths to citizenship and voting. He will weaken border controls in an attempt to hike the Latino vote as high as he can in order to make red states like Texas into blue states like California. By the time he is finished, Latinos and African-Americans will cast a combined 30 percent of the vote. If they go by top-heavy margins for the Democrats, as they did in 2008, it will assure Democratic domination (until they move up the economic ladder and become good Republicans).
And he will enact the check-off card system for determining labor union representation, repealing the secret ballot in union elections. The result will be to raise the proportion of the labor force in unions up to the high teens from the current level of about 12 percent.
Finally, he will use the expansive powers of the Federal Communications Commission to impose “local” control and ownership of radio stations and to impose the “fairness doctrine” on talk radio. The effect will be to drive talk radio to the Internet, fundamentally change its economics, and retard its growth for years hence.
But none of these changes will cure the depression. It will end when the private sector works through the high debt levels that triggered the collapse in the first place. And, then, the large stimulus package deficits will likely lead to rapid inflation, probably necessitating a second recession to cure it.
So Obama’s name will be mud by 2012 and probably by 2010 as well. And the Republican Party will make big gains and regain much of its lost power.
But it will be too late to reverse the socialism of much of the economy, the demographic change in the electorate, the rationing of health care by the government, the surge of unionization and the crippling of talk radio.