Things You Don’t Learn in Sunday School: Idols Aren’t Figurines


The story of Moses going up on Mount Sinai for a face-to-face meeting with God is a very popular story in Sunday School. In case you’ve forgotten the plot, check out Exodus 31:18-32:35.

Moses was gone so long, the people of Israel were certain Moses wasn’t coming back. They convinced Moses’ brother, Aaron, into letting them create an image of the local god to worship.

The Sunday School curriculum writer’s wanted to scare you about worshipping false gods and used phrases like graven image to get their point across. My six year-old imagination had a heyday with that thought! The concept of God is difficult enough for a child. What is a child supposed to think about false gods? A child doesn’t even have language for those concepts.

Having Catholic friends helped with the whole idolatry concept. Now there was a group of people who worshipped idols. They had statues and special saints they prayed to, and everyone wore a St. Christopher necklace! They also had to go to confession before they went to church on Sundays because they had to tell the priest about all of their sins. If they went to church without confessing their sins, they would be taking a detour through purgatory to heaven. If you couldn’t go to God directly and had to talk to this priest who was hid in a special closet, how did you know you weren’t worshipping a false idol? And since the entire church service was in Latin, how did you even know what was going on in the first place? Who’s to say you weren’t being tricked into worshipping a false god? (I warned you about my active child imagination).

I must confess that I haven’t really been thinking about idolatry much these days. I have American politics to thank for bringing me back to reality. Not only are Americans worshipping at the altar of politics, but the conservative right has been trying to back-pedal on their accusations that Mormonism is the worship of a false god, now that they need to get behind their preemptive candidate, who happens to be Mormon.

Idolatry, or the worship of false gods, is the admiration, love, or reverence for something or someone other than God. The tricky part about idolatry is that it’s easy to hide behind rhetoric. Since idol worshippers aren’t worshipping a figurine, but an ideology that’s not grounded in biblical principles, it’s sticky and difficult to pin point. Instead of using politics to shape one’s faith, the faith community needs to confront the idolatry of politics.

Faith needs to inform politics. As people of faith, our scriptures and sacred texts give us guidelines for how we are to live our lives and the issues we must concern ourselves. Submitting to the opaque influence of Super-PACS and monied-donors undermines our democracy. Following the powerful instead of heeding the needs of the powerless, weakens our understanding and charge to care for the poor, sick, and orphaned. Unlimited funding of defense at the expense of social safety net programs and education is idolatrous worship at the altar of might. Focusing on divisive, hot-button social issues instead of supporting human dignity and human rights for all people is blatant idolatry before the God in whose image we are all created.

No, idolatry is not the worship of a figurine. It would be so much easier to discern if it were merely a figurine.

Photo credit: J Williams, Ten Commandments Monument from the grounds of the Texas State Capitol. Austin, Texas.

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