idolatry

The Problem Is We Practice "No Other Gods Before Me"

Of the “Ten Commandments” perhaps you can name a few: Don’t steal, Don’t murder, honor you mother and father, keep sabbath. Many of these are straight forward, but Peter Rollins mentions an interesting point from philosopher Slavoj Zizek. The point that I gathered is Zizek argues that commandment “You shall have no other Gods before me” might me that we should not have gods “in front” the God of the Bible. As in physically before, in front of. The idea being that we all have little gods and perhaps the commandment is saying, keep your other little gods, just don’t worship them in before (in front of or prior to worshiping) God.

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This may sound odd but the Bible does not begin at monotheism. Monotheism says that there is ONLY one God. However, when you read the Bible you will see that there are in fact many gods. For instance, Psalm 82 assume there are many gods: God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment (82:1). In a monotheistic worldview there is no need to mention other gods.

However the Bible does not stay in the polytheistic world very long before it makes a theological step toward monotheism. Before arriving at monotheism, there is a long stop at something called henotheism. Henotheism might admit there are other gods, but that our God is the best. Psalm 95 says, For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.

This is where Zizek’s observation comes into play. The Ten Commandments is in the era of henotheism and thus having no other gods before the God of the Bible makes sense in a henotheistic world.

But today we are supposed to be monotheistic. That is we are supposed to understand that there is only one God. No others. This God is the Alpha and the Omega - the greatest and the weakest. God is all there is.

However, a case might be made that we are stuck in the henotheism. We live our lives taking the commandment “no other gods before me” very literally. That is, we worship our little gods of power, money, ego, prestige, nature, resentment, and envy but we don’t do it “before” we worship God of Jesus Christ.

The problem is not that we worship God, it is that we practice having no other gods before God.

The Bible is Authoritative (not Authoritarian)

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

We call the Bible authoritative for the Christian life but we are seem to forget what it means for something to have authority but not being authoritarian. Knowing if the Bible is authoritative or authoritarian may be thought of in terms of where the Bible is located in our lives. Namely, does the Bible have the first or last word?

Major court cases in the United States ask a number of questions to make a judgement. Among the first questions asked is "what does the Constitution say?" The Constitution for the Untied States is authoritative for the rule of law. The Constitution did not say much about Native people living in the early days of the Untied States. When Chief Standing Bear sued for a writ of habeas corpus the government took the Constitution as an authority and saw the Constitution did not even consider Natives as human. By the end of the case, the judge ruled that an Indian is a person". When the judge gave the Constitution the first word on the matter, he did so because there is deep respect and reverence for the Constitution. The Constitution is authoritative, not Authoritarian.

When something is Authoritarian, we do not give it the first word, we give it the last word. When the bumper sticker says, "The Bible says it, I believe it" the last statement is "that settles it!" This gives the impression that the Bible is no longer authoritative but more Authoritarian in that person's life. Authoritarian systems cannot and do not tolerate questions or deviations. There is not room for interpretation or grey. Kings of old would make a decree and then say "thus says the King!" If you had any questions, the King had the last word and that was that. The King was the Authoritarian ruler and others were to fall in line. Those who did not were not out of the King's punishment.

The Bible is authoritative for me. I have great respect and reverence for the Bible. It has the first word in my life because it is authoritative. I have too much respect for the Bible (and God has too much love for me) to make the Bible Authoritarian for Christians. 

The Failings of the Church Justifies Her Existence Not Eradication

Over the weekend, while the Judicial Council of the UMC made a big decision, I could not help but think about Lillian Daniel's book When "Spiritual But Not Religious" Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places Even the Church. While the whole book was fine, it was the first chapter that spoke to me. I share a short excerpt from that chapter with one modification. While Daniel is critiquing the "Spiritual but not religious" category, I offer one slight modification to her writing here. The addition is what is in (parentheses). 

"The church has done some embarrassing things in its day, and I personally do not want to be associated with a lot of it. But, news flash, human beings do a lot of embarrassing, inhumane, cruel and ignorant things, and I don't want to be associated with them either. And here, I think we come to the crux of the problem that the (progressive/conservative) spiritual but not religious people have with the church.
     If we could just kick out all the human beings, we might really be able to do this thing and meet their high standards. If we could just kick our all the sinners, we might have a shot at following Jesus. If we could just get rid of the Republicans (exclusionary language in the Discipline), the Democrats could bring about the second coming and the NPR would never need to run another pledge drive. If we could just kick out all the Democrats (Discipline disobedience), the fiscally responsible would turn water into wine, and the church would never need another pledge drive.
     But in the church, as everywhere, we are stuck with one another, and being stuck with one another, we don't get the space to come up with our own human-invented God. Because when you are stuck with one another, the last thing you would do is invent a God based on humanity. In church, in community, humanity is just way too close to look good."

Perhaps ironically it is the divisions in the Church that keep me connected to the Church. I know it is the Church, with all of her divisions, that help us from creating a God in our own image. Humans are too peaty to model a God after. The failings of the Church justifies her existence not eradication.

Just a problem with living in the moment

A common practice in popular spirituality is to "live in the moment". "Live in the moment". "Savor the moment". "Being in the present", There are a number of slogans that emphasis the importance of being present moment-centric.

There is a story of Jesus going up on a mountain with some disciples and Jesus is transfigured before them. While some of the disciples want to 'live in the moment' and build shrines so not to come down the mountain, God commands that they must come down from the mountain.

Why?

When we are present moment-centric then we do not think about the future. Which is a bit problematic for those who believe that we should be doing what we can to better the world around us. Why would I want to better the world around me if I am only living in the moment? 

It is clear that to live in the moment does not take seriously the work of the future or the lessons of the past. Present moment-centrism might be good for the individual for a time, but that is all that it is. Good for the individual.

And when we have a spirituality that is focused on the individual I am not sure if that spirituality is not just an idolization of the self.