In contemporary understanding, the word ‘idol’ has a positive meaning. Television even uses the word idol in this good sense. An idol is someone to emulate. But in the history of faith, it is a very bad term. It signifies a false god that lures us away from the true God.
There are many examples from the Bible, the most prominent being the molten calf that the Israelites created in the desert while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving from the true God the Ten Commandments. Moses was so angry when he came down the mountain that he smashed the idol to pieces with the Tablets of the Law.
An idol is something or someone who we place in the spot where God should be. It is an unworthy and ineffectual substitute for God. In the past they were personified as false deities with names like Baal or Jupiter. But nowadays they can be even material things that we make for ourselves ultimate concerns: power, fame, money.
However, even more basic than these half-gods is an underlying orientation that can have deep repercussions: Do I believe in an authority above myself who gives me the rules of living well and to whom I am responsible and who will in the end judge my life, rewarding the good and punishing the bad? Is there anything higher than the self?
When we get to this question, we are at the point of discovering what is the true idol of our age: The Self.
Signs of the new idolatry are all over. How many times have you heard on TV in diverse kinds of shows, “Follow your dream!” or, “You can be anything you want to be!” or, “You have a right to this!”
What separates this from necessary affirmations that we need in life is that they are completely fictitious. You cannot be anything you want to be. No matter how much I wish it or train for it I will never be a quarterback for the New York Giants!
The other difference that is even more dangerous is that there is no higher authority within whose world you exist. In God we have Someone who sets the rules and to Whom we are accountable. In the worship of the Self, there cannot be a god. That would spoil everything.
Another problem with this new religion of me is that it tries to deny objective reality and hence objective truth. No matter how much I want that elephant to be a giraffe, it still is an elephant. There are some things I can change and some I cannot (at least without God’s permission).
This sort of rampant subjectivism has roots philosophically in the past but is no less incorrect. Who we are must conform to the reality around us. While there are elements of the reality that need to be changed and should be changed, for example racism, somethings are a given. Much that is objective about human nature is willed by God and must be followed. This is true about much in the world but not as much as in the human person.
The bottom line is that we are all accountable to God for our thoughts, words and deeds. We are not a world unto ourselves. If we give into the spirit of this age which makes of the self an idol, we will be taking our place under the flag of Satan and be against God and His creation. While this is understandable among atheists and other free thinkers who believe that they are law unto themselves, believers in God and especially Christians who have been given the Holy Scriptures and the Magisterium of the Church to guide them, have no excuse when they bow to this strange idol of the self.
It gets particularly sad when the “Self” thinks it can mess with biology. This is evident in the abortion controversy. Clearly God is creating another human being in the womb of the mother. He is doing that biologically. As soon as the child is conceived there is a new DNA given which is not that of the mother and not that of the father. It is the unique plan and pattern that God has for the development of the human child as he or she is formed. This child must be nurtured and protected both before birth and after birth. Amazing things happen in the womb biologically. This is Science. Those who are so insistent in following Science with climate change suddenly abandon it when it comes to the human fetus (Latin for ‘young one’). This is the tyranny of the unenlightened Self. It can kill in the name of its autonomy. But no one has a right to kill an innocent human being no matter what the age of that being may be.
To humbly bow before the true God and abandon this idol of the Self is to follow the first commandment of the Decalogue. God is God alone and you must not have strange gods before Him.