American idolatry

CharltonHestonTheTenCommandmentsC101021021This past June, I commented on the popular use of the word "icon" to describe Michael Jackson. In a way, the story below is a fitting follow-up to the summer stories of the deaths of other icons, such as Farrah Fawcett and Ted Kennedy. (Don't forget this Wall Street Journal piece that made fun of how low the "icon" bar had been set.) In this article, ABC News' Terry Moran looks at "Celebrity Culture and Worshipping False Idols: 'Idols' of Second Commandment Means Anything That Occupies Place of God, Pastor Says":

In America these days, idols are everywhere. Music idols like Britney and Madonna. Sports idols like Jeter or Manning. Fashion idols like Gucci, Armani or Prada. We even have television shows to make our own "American Idol."

It's as if there is a need, a hunger in America to idolize.

But wait a minute. Isn't that just pop culture? Modern life? Isn't the second commandment about worshipping the golden calf and graven images?

Just what is an idol?

Pastor Mark Driscoll of the Mars Hill Church in Seattle has a clear answer.

"An idol is someone or something that occupies the place of God in your life," he said. "[It] gives you identity, meaning, value, purpose, love, significance, security. When the Bible uses the word 'idol', that's what it's getting at."

I couldn't believe Nightline was running a story that looked at doctrine. Turns out this story is part of a larger series on the Ten Commandments.

Quick note -- while the Bible refers to ten commandments, it doesn't number them in a particular fashion. So while Jews, Eastern Orthodox, Reformed, Roman Catholics and Lutherans all have ten commandments, they're numbered slightly differently. I'm Lutheran and we number them as Catholics do. So we don't consider Exodus 20:4 (discussed above) the second commandment so much as a part of (or commentary on) the 1st Commandment (Exodus 20:3). So when the reporter refers to the graven image prohibition as the "second" commandment, he's taking a bit of a sectarian position. Not that people tend to get worked up about the numbering. (And you really should read this 1903 letter to the editor of the New York Times to see the earliest days of what GetReligion is all about!)

Anyway, the segment on idol worship is really interesting. Driscoll talks about how alcohol, sex, food, sports, work and health can all become idols if they're made more important than God. And he brings it back to Michael Jackson:

"When his face is on your T-shirt and when you listen to his music for hours, when you give large sums of money to him personally, when his death causes you to go into a steep depression and you have a collection of memorabilia -- I think if you walked in from another culture, you would say that's a very curious god they've chosen," Driscoll said.

Driscoll also warns of the dangers misplaced worship can have on the people others idolized.

"It destroys them. Because they invariably disappoint. People can't do what God does," Driscoll said. "They aren't perfect. They aren't continually faithful. They don't endure forever. That's why we live in a culture that when heroes fall we're devastated."

It's great to read what Protestants (and some other Christians) actually believe about the prohibition on idols rather than how the issue is typically treated in popular culture -- as if it's some archaic commandment with no relevance to today. But while Driscoll gives a very thorough look at how the commandment relates to life today, it's still just one perspective. I would love to get some more depth to this report.

Perhaps I'm just struggling to navigate the Nightline web site, but there's so much more that could be said about idol worship and speaking with more than one religious group is probably in order.

Also, while I consider the commandment referenced above to be part of the 1st Commandment, I don't see any story devoted to the 1st Commandment on the web site. I wonder why. There are panels and stories and polls, as you will not be surprised to find out, about the commandment against committing adultery ('We Can Have Big Sex'; Author discusses why her open marriage is not adulterous; Ashley Madison president says infidelity can save the save the marriage; Former sex addict speaks out against adultery in marriage, etc.).

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