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Idolatry seems to be a common trait among human beings, and rather than lessening as time goes on and we become more "aware," it seems to be growing more widespread as marketing techniques grow ever stronger and more manipulative.  Idolatry is more than just worshiping false gods--it has to do with elevating simple human beings to a position of power in our lives, a position in which this person has power over us and our actions.

It seems somewhat ironic that as many people in our culture become more spiritually aware of themselves and their surroundings, many, many others are being held back by their infatuations with sports heroes, sports teams, singers, movie stars, race-car drivers, television stars, authors, wrestlers, and many other types of people who are being marketed as something more than human, and people are buying into it.  It's a sad fact about modern culture that the day after a loss by a football or baseball team in any given city, particularly in an important game, productivity at work decreases as instances of violence and depression and suicide increase.

Why are we putting so much of ourselves into these people and teams?  They're just people, and most of them aren't all that great--they just happen to have a particular talent that other people can make money from, so they've been elevated into the public eye so that they can start bringing in the cash.  

I've heard singers in church choirs who beat any singers I hear on the radio, but nobody's idolizing them.  But millions are idolizing the people in the public eye, treating them as if they're something more than human, somebody somehow superior to the rest of us.  But is it necessarily bad that we idolize them?

I don't believe that the writers of the Bible were concerned only with God getting angry with us if we were to worship false gods.  It seems pretty clear that they were also looking at the effect of the idolizing on those who were doing it.  When we idolize another person (or a team, or a cast of a TV show), we're giving that person or team power over us.  They become somehow more than human, and much of our own identity becomes wrapped up in who they are--or more accurately, who they want you to think they are.  And what happens to our self-image when we look to others to provide us with identity?  It diminishes, it lessens, and it grows very weak.  Watch the actions sometime of a person who consistently wears t-shirts of a particular pro wrestler, and see how much of that person's identity consists of posturing and acting just as he thinks the wrestler would.  That person isn't living a genuine life, but is basing his actions on what he thinks his idol would do.  It's hard to trust such a person's reactions or emotions, for we don't know if they're genuine or if they're based on his perception of what someone else would do.

It's important to keep in mind that these people are in the public spotlight because other people can make money off of them.  They want you to idolize them, for that will keep the ratings up, the sales up, the crowds large.  So they spend huge amounts of money trying to make you believe that these people are more than just people--they're somehow different than the rest of us.  But the only real difference between us and them is that they have a team of people behind them who are carefully crafting a public image (and who are very well paid to do so).  This public image is what we base our idolatry on, and it's rarely an accurate image.  But they know what sells, and they manipulate their audiences into believing that what they present is the "truth," that this image is the true character of the person.

Children are especially vulnerable to this type of marketing, but the marketers have learned that adults, too, are very vulnerable.  In fact, the vulnerable adults are more than happy to do their best to drag their kids into the idolatry, especially of sports teams, and the obsession becomes a family thing.

Of course, liking a football team isn't at all a bad thing.  Watching a game or two on Sunday can be a lot of fun.  But if my happiness depends on how "my" team does, then I have a problem.  If I spend my entire week just waiting for the big game to come, then I've spent an entire week out of touch with the present, focusing on a future event.  If I base my actions on what I think one of the WWF geeks would do, then I'm making a huge mistake, because I'm not practicing being myself, something that we all should practice all the time.  If I think that life is beautiful just because I happened to score a couple of tickets to a concert or a game, I need to look around and find out why I don't think life is beautiful all the time.

Idolatry takes away our focus on ourselves and our own lives, and it hurts us greatly when we shift our focus away from being the people we were created to be.  We need to recognize when we're living through others, living vicariously, or when our happiness depends on the actions or success of other people whom we will never meet.  We were made to be great people, too--it's just that most of us weren't made to spend our lives in the public eye.  For that, we can be thankful.



The mystery of idolatry is that persons reflect what they possess.
Idolatry is being possessed by a possession and thereby refusing
God's claim on oneself and shirking one's responsibility
toward others in the community.

M. Douglas Meeks


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Not only the adoration of images is idolatry, but also trust in one's own
righteousness, works and merits, and putting confidence in riches and power.
As the latter is the commonest, so it also is the most noxious.

Martin Luther

Idolatry is the denial of all hope for the future.  The idols of the past
were worshipped by people who were afraid of change, who wanted
things to remain the same, who did not want a future that was different,
who found their security in the status quo.  The same is true today.

Center of Concern, The Road to Damascus:
A Challenge to the Churches of the World


Ultimately all idolatry is worship of the self projected and
objectified:  all idolization is self-idolization.

Will Herberg


Oh senseless humans, who cannot possibly make a worm,
and yet will make gods by dozens.

Michel de Montaigne


What first truly stirred my soul was not fear or pain, nor was it pleasure or
games; it was the yearning for freedom. I had to gain freedom--but from
what, from whom? Little by little, in the course of time, I mounted freedom's
rough unaccommodating ascent. To gain freedom first of all from the Turk,
that was the initial step; after that, later, this new struggle began: to gain
freedom from the inner Turk--from ignorance, malice and envy, from fear
and laziness, from dazzling false ideas; and finally from idols,
all of them, even the most revered and beloved.

Nikos Kazantzakis
Report to Greco


Constantly exposing yourself to popular culture and the mass media
will ultimately shape your reality tunnel in ways that are not necessarily
conducive to achieving your Soul Purpose and Life Calling.  Modern
society has generally "lost the plot."  Slavishly following its false
gods and idols makes no sense in a spiritually aware life.

Anthon St. Maarten

Articles and book excerpts on idolatry:

Killing the Buddha      Melody Beattie



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When people say, "I know God forgives me, but I can't forgive myself," they
mean that they have failed an idol, whose approval is more important than God's.

Timothy Keller

Whatever controls us is our lord.  The person who seeks power is controlled
by power.  The person who seeks acceptance is controlled by acceptance.
We do not control ourselves.  We are controlled by the lord of our lives.

Rebecca Manley Pippert
Out of the Saltshaker and Into the World


"Idolatry" is the practice of seeking the source and provision of what
we need either physically or emotionally in someone or something
other than the one true God.  It is the tragically pathetic attempt to
squeeze life out of lifeless forms that cannot help us meet our real needs.

Scott J. Hafemann


A careful reading of the Old and New Testaments shows that idolatry is
nothing like the crude picture that springs to mind of a sculpture in some
distant country. The idea is highly sophisticated, drawing together the
complexities of motivation in individual psychology, the social environment,
and also the unseen world. Idols are not just on pagan altars,
but in well-educated human hearts and minds‎

Richard Keyes

Technology presents us with a unique spiritual challenge.  Because it is
meant to serve us in fulfilling our created purpose, because it makes our
lives easier, longer, and more comfortable, we are prone to assign to
it something of a godlike status.  We easily rely on technology to give our
lives meaning, and we trust technology to provide an ultimate answer
to the frustration of life in a fallen world.  Because of this, technology is
uniquely susceptible to becoming an idol, raising itself
to the place of God in our lives.

Tim Challies
The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion


To discover the ultimate Reality of life—the Absolute, the eternal,
God—you must cease to try to grasp it in the forms of idols.  These
idols are not just crude images, such as the mental picture of God
as an old gentleman on a golden throne.  They are our beliefs, our
cherished preconceptions of the truth, which block the unreserved
opening of mind and heart to reality.  The legitimate use
of images is to express the truth, not to possess it.

Alan Watts
The Wisdom of Insecurity


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If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning
in life,
then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough.  It's
the truth.  Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will
always feel ugly.  And when time and age start showing, you will die a
million deaths before they finally grieve you.  On one level, we all know
this stuff already.  It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams,
parables; the skeleton of every great story.  The whole trick is
keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

David Foster Wallace

When something becomes so important to you that it drives your
behavior and commands your emotions, you are worshipping it.

J.D. Greear


One of the primary laws of human life is that you become like what you worship;
what’s more, you reflect what you worship not only to the object itself but also
outward to the world around.  Those who worship money increasingly define
themselves in terms of it and increasingly treat other people as creditors, debtors,
partners, or customers rather than as human beings.  Those who worship sex
define themselves in terms of it (their preferences, their practices, their past histories)
and increasingly treat other people as actual or potential sex objects.  Those who
worship power define themselves in terms of it and treat other people as either
collaborators, competitors, or pawns.  These and many other forms of idolatry
combine in a thousand ways, all of them damaging to the image-bearing quality
of the people concerned and of those whose lives they touch.

N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope



Yes, life can be mysterious and confusing--but there's much of life that's actually rather dependable and reliable.  Some principles apply to life in so many different contexts that they can truly be called universal--and learning what they are and how to approach them and use them can teach us some of the most important lessons that we've ever learned.
My doctorate is in Teaching and Learning.  I use it a lot when I teach at school, but I also do my best to apply what I've learned to the life I'm living, and to observe how others live their lives.  What makes them happy or unhappy, stressed or peaceful, selfish or generous, compassionate or arrogant?  In this book, I've done my best to pass on to you what I've learned from people in my life, writers whose works I've read, and stories that I've heard.  Perhaps these principles can be a positive part of your life, too!
Universal Principles of Living Life Fully.  Awareness of these principles can explain a lot and take much of the frustration out of the lives we lead.



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