21st CENTURY IDOLS
“The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; they have eyes, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear, and there is no breath in their mouths. Those who make them and all who trust in them shall become like them” (Psalm 135:15-18)
What does the word “idol” evoke in you? A celebrity? Your favourite TV show or maybe your most adorable artist or stage performer? No matter what you are thinking right now, did you know that, from its etymology (“eidolon”: form or shape), ‘idol’ has to do with something that is adored or worshipped like some sort of deity? There you go! Idols were hand-made representations of some invisible gods. Yet, this precisely speaks to the falsity of those forms or shapes of divinities. To put it together, an idol is a false god. Although idols seem endowed with some superpowers, they are rather ‘deceptive’ emulations of the Almighty, uncreated, and eternal God. But let us get things straight here: There is nothing intrinsically wrong with admiring people for their unique abilities; nor is there any problem with making great use of things such as money, technological gadgets, or social media. On the contrary, these amazing people and artificial products are there to enhance our integral well-being. Nonetheless, idolatry steps in when we literally worship our fellow human beings or some man-made stuff as if they were the author and end of our lives, in which case they would no longer enhance, but rather hinder and even terminate our holistic maturity.
“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him” (Luke 4:8)
In my opinion, and speaking from a religious standpoint, to give cult or to adore means to deeply admire God for who He is, namely the “First and the Last Being”, the “One who is in Himself, without depending on another”. Worship is rightly given to God because He is almighty, eternal, infinite, immutable, ineffable, mysterious, immortal, and glorious. Moreover, God is adored and revered for his love, goodness, mercy, wisdom, holiness, justice, truthfulness, uprightness, faithfulness, and fatherliness. These mentioned qualities, among several others, make God genuinely adorable. Besides, with so many superhuman, supernatural qualities, it should be only right and just to adore, admire and revere God. In addition, the adoration of God, the supreme Being, requires that the adorer offer the oblation (complete and total offering) of one’s whole being: body, mind, heart, will, affection, strength, talent, treasure, and time. It is analogous to one who finds an invaluable treasure (perhaps a ton of gold or diamond) hidden in some distant land. What would you do if you were to get so lucky? I guess you would do something ‘crazy’, such as gather your most valuable possessions and sell them instantaneously, even if family and friends do not agree. You may even go ahead and get some loan if necessary, to purchase that invaluable piece of land (without, of course, disclosing your secret to the seller).
This very conscious act of gathering the best goods at one’s disposition and selling them to buy that treasure-containing piece of land is equivalent to the act of worship. The religious human being is one who recognizes the inestimable treasure that God is in their lives. For this reason, they offer their Lord the best gifts (spirit, soul, and body). Adoration is a natural call within rational creatures. Human beings naturally perceive the existence and activity of God. But perhaps, most importantly, human persons perceive that they are radically dependent on God. In fact, to be free indeed, freedom needs to quit the arena of self-referentiality. Moreover, when it is fully mature, freedom acknowledges and respects its right autonomy as much as its true limits. For, if we are beings in time or better, timed beings, we naturally intuit our limitations. Yet, humanity also enjoys the power of self-determination, an ability powered by man’s natural spiritual faculties: the power to know (mind), to love (heart), to understand (intellect), to explore (reason), to remember (memory), to desire (will), to feel (conscience) and to be free (freedom). All these abilities or capacities define the essence of the human person.
“So God created humankind his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27)
Furthermore, the ability to know, understand and love particularly connect the rational creatures to their supernatural destination. Mankind was fashioned with an eye for the truth. Hence, there is in every human being the natural desire to know the truth and, with such a desire, human persons are always interiorly driven to search for the truth which they naturally perceive. And, although they do not yet understand it in its entirety, they still cannot resist searching for it. The reason is that the human being is driven by love: deep love for life, unquenchable thirst for happiness, which can only be satisfied by God and in God. This search continues all the way, from the very dawn to the ultimate dusk of existence. Nonetheless, truth is hierarchical. Certain truths precede others as their very base, whereas other truths presuppose others and depend on them for their veracity and continuity. For instance, the truth about the ultimate cause of the universe grounds the undeniable truth about reality and life; but existence or life is itself at the bottom of the truth about man and about history itself. If nothing exists, then there is no life; and if there is no life, then there is neither human beings nor any other creature with the breath of life in it. Hence the most profound question: who then is the ultimate cause or author of the universe and life? Since when do time and history exist and why have they survived for so long? Finally, what is the source of material things? Are the visible and palpable realities the only things that really exist? If reality is more than what we see, feel, hear, touch, taste, and smell, then there is need to keep searching for truths which go beyond the things that only appeal to our senses, especially today, in an acutely materialistic and sensual age.
“For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (Mark 8:36)
“You shall not make for yourself an idol… You shall not bow down to them or worship them” (Exodus 20:4.5)
Hence, let us return to our primordial question: what does the word “idol” evoke in you? Did you know that a lot of things that attract and seduce us today are literally false deities? Again, in themselves they are good and are meant for our use and integral development, but once we begin to worship them, that is when they become false gods (idols)! But do not forget, the idols of the 21st century, like those of centuries past are lifeless. Although they look alive, with eyes, mouths, noses, ears, hands, and feet, and hence, even though they pretend to communicate with us, making us momentarily happy, yet they are lifeless things which actually end up procuring us much discontentment. Furthermore, even though our idols offer us a temporary sense of belonging, nonetheless we become even more lonely and isolated eventually. Besides, these idols of our time do absolutely nothing to help when life turns upside down for us. Two huge lessons, among others that we have gathered from these excruciating COVID-19 months, is that all life matters and, that there are only a handful of things that are essential. Other things have proved themselves secondary or even superfluous. That most people engage in certain activities or live in a given way does not make those things essential. Having made that point, I shall now list, among several others, some twenty-four idols which really capture our undivided attention today more than ever.
1. The Self (the ego)
3. Technological Gadgets
4. Internet and Social Media
8. Sports and Athletes
9. Music and Musicians
10. Law and Law Enforcement
11. Social Events and the Spectacular
14. Work and Busyness
15. Gain and Interests
16. Possession or Property
17. Friends and Followers
23. Public Opinion
The first major idol, captain of the whole gang of idols, may be named the self. Otherwise called the individual’s ego, this commander in-chief has two mostly interchangeable ears: wants and needs. This two-sided fundamental idol is comparable to the two parallel rails of a train. The second major idol of our time could be named happiness (or “success”). You may liken this idol to the head compartment of the train. It motivates and drives the rest of the train compartments. Furthermore, the next batch of nine idols plays a decisive role in animating and enhancing the ego’s craving for happiness, just like the mid compartments of an exceptionally long train. They include technological gadgets, Internet and social media, celebrities, pornography, entertainment, sport and athletes, music and musicians, law and law enforcement, social events, and the spectacular. Moreover, in response to the deep longing to catch up with what is happening in front, the next twelve idols truly show the inseparable connection between the preceding idols and this third set: looks; money; work and busyness; gain and interest; possession or property; friends and followers; relationships; fame; drug; libertinism; gossip; and public opinion. Finally, comparable to the last segment of a train is the idol of superstition. This twenty-fourth idol comes behind the others because, realising that happiness does not come from any of the preceding gods, the individual tends to recourse to magic, sorcery, and things of the sort.
“Jesus said to him: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)
But guess what? In the long run, the truth of the matter is this: people today offer to the various idols the oblation (that is, the complete and total offering) of their whole body, mind, heart, will, affection, strength, talent, treasure, and time. In other words, more and more people today are able to go to any extent in acquiring some, most, if not all those idols. Huge amounts of money have been wasted by so many people in pursuit of elusive happiness. Lives have been endangered or even lost on the path of the illusory. Consequently, despite the apparent socio-cultural and techno-scientific progress, basic humanity has suffered an unparalleled moral, intellectual and religious retrogression. Thus, the purpose of this brief reflection, my dear reader, is to help you and thereby help myself think for a moment about the idols that we all, in one way or another, worship today. Let us be mindful of how so much artificial progress has not matched up with basic human dignity, love, and fraternity. How do we come back to those essential things of life? We certainly do not need a pandemic to remind us again. May our reflection on the twenty-first century idols challenge us therefore to seek out and stick to the true goods of life, our only true pathway to the ultimate Origin and Destination of human life: God.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:29)
Rev. Fr. Patrick C. Ezimora CCE
St. Mary’s Parish Brampton (Ontario)
 Romans 1:19-23: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things that he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles”.