Tag Archives: religion

50: Idolising

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King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide,a and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.” Daniel 3:1 NIV

The culture of celebrity is a huge deal these days, but at least none of the walking egos that deign to grace our tv screens and magazines have gone to quite the lengths of King Nebuchadnezzar to persuade people to worship him. I’m sure there are some celebrity “personalities” who would like to have a 90-foot statue of themselves built out of pure gold, but fortunately none of them have gone that far just yet. Give it time and one of them will.

The scripture itself doesn’t specify that the statue is of the King himself, only that he sets it up and requires its worship, so it may in actual fact have been a statue of one of the Babylonian gods. But for our purposes let’s imagine it was of Nebuchadnezzar. Was this pure ego, or was it a canny way to discover those amongst his people who would not fall down and worship at his say so? Was it a way of controlling the populace? State religions have always had that dubious honour.

What might that do to a person’s spiritual, physical, mental and emotional health, to be literally idolized in this fashion? I truly dread to think. And yet, we all do this to some extent. I mock the famous people I think are egotistical above, knowing full well I am no better than they. What right do I have to set myself up as judge over their behaviour? All measuring and judging comes from a place of smugness, or self-righteousness, or of a desperation to imagine ourselves better than someone else so that we can proclaim ourselves worthy or entitled. This is how the ego defends itself. And if the world tells you that you are right, by making you a king or an heiress or a billionaire, if the world watches your every move and records your image constantly, then this may well feed your grasping ego to the point where it nears bursting with pride, and where it feels completely natural and right to feel superior.

Religion can have similar effects. We only have to look at the Pharisees to see that. And there is an ugly kind of salvation smugness that believes itself now so incapable of sinning that it happily looks down its long nose at everyone else’s moral behaviour, and usually through a microscope. Let us never forget then, not even long enough to write a scathing opening paragraph, that we are each a child of God, beloved beyond ideas of merit, and that each life and path is so different that it is impossible and ill-advised to fall into any comparison. As soon as we do that, we start building that golden statue in the coldness of our hearts.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay of a golden statue of Buddha in Urumqi, China, not disparaging Buddhism, just wanted a picture that shows the scale of a large gold statue and surprisingly there aren’t that many about. J

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35: Fundamentals

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You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently persecuted God’s church. I did my best to destroy it. I was far ahead of my fellow Jews in my zeal for the traditions of my ancestors.” Galatians 1:13-14

“The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself.” Augustine of Hippo

 

I’m fascinated at the moment by the dynamics of various groups I belong to on Facebook. A lot of them seem to have one particular bugbear that, if you go near it, sets off a great uprising of offence. A lot of pleasant, amiable people can swiftly turn nasty if you mention a certain idea, or in one case, even one word. I’ve seen people pounced on for the slightest misunderstanding. And these are not religious groups, but ones focussing on art, wildlife and even clouds. Our zeal, it seems, can be put to use anywhere, and is especially dangerous within a group.

Paul understood this better than most, having been one of the golden boys of a group that was so sure of itself it was quite happy to put people to death. How strange it must have seemed to look back at the days when he wanted with all his might to destroy Christ’s church, when he would have seen its demise as an absolute necessity. I wonder if his encounter with the risen Christ that changed everything, was also a change of sight, and whether that is one of the reasons he had to be blinded for three days. A huge metanoia, a turning round, a repentance, a change of heart, sight and mind had to take place.

We need to be very wary of certainty, especially where it is feverishly protected. The truth does not need quite so much armour, for it needs no defence as Augustine rightly said. Yesterday I posted a prayer on unity and not rushing to guard our certainties as much as we reach out in understanding to one another. Immediately afterwards I faced a situation where someone posted something that offended my faith. I was tempted to delete it, but then realised that was hardly practising what I had just “preached” (prayed anyway!). Here was an opportunity to stand back from religious zeal, and be kind. So I quoted scripture and left it at that, and received a kind comment back. In the end I think that probably served Jesus’ ends more than letting my offence, albeit on his behalf, be dogmatic.

The Lord desires that having done all I can, I stand. The creator of all things does not need me to stick up for him, as though he had to hide behind me in the playground cowering from the bullies. Surprisingly, God can take care of himself. My zeal is better used in passionate articulation of the wonders of my God and King, in traversing the deep fissures of prayer, in ardent praise and the avid contemplation of his heart in all creation.

Paul defended his first religion by killing. He defended his second by dying. Perhaps there in a nutshell is the difference between fundamentalism and faith, between religion and relationship.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile