When we speak of the sin of Idolatry, we often consider it as an antiquarian collector would view an old vase from a bygone era. At the very least, we have an old movie rolling in our heads showing brightly cloaked people bowing to a strange statue while exotic music plays in the background.
If idolatry were a thing of the past, why would God put it first in the list of the Ten Commandments? What is an idol? It is a false God. It is something that we wrongly and destructively think can replace God as the main desire of our lives; the non-negotiable must-have for our future.
As seen in this way, there are many possible idols that are not artistically represented by statues and the like. Some people worship power and make that the must-have of one’s life. For others, it is fame, notoriety and popularity. One idol that has become, within the last half of the last century, very prominent to a very destructive effect is the idol of sex: sex as a right, a duty, a promise and an overriding concern.
If one harkens back to the 50’s, one can see a rather moralistic attitude about the uses of sex. According to the teaching of both Catholics and Protestants, sex was created by God for the purpose of procreating and to help husband and wife to stay together in one marriage over a lifetime. Any other use of sex was forbidden. So strictly was this seen that no one on TV would see a man and a woman in bed together! For example, in the hit TV show “I Love Lucy”, Lucy and Desi slept in separate single-beds!
With what has been termed the ‘Sexual Revolution’ of the 60’s, all that changed: divorce rates went through the roof; everyone talked about sex in graphic terms; movies showed every aspect of sexual contact in extreme ways; and previously unmentionable sexual situations became talked about openly (masturbation, premarital sex, abortion, birth control, homosexuality, etc.).
Instances of happy marriages on TV and in films (Donna Reed, Leave it to Beaver etc.) began to be replaced by incidents of marriages in crisis (Kramer vs. Kramer) and the termination of human life in the womb (Maude). It was the Age of Aquarius and Free Love; couple swapping became okay.
This was considered a liberation; but when we see the results of this permissive culture, we realize that we are in a worse shape now than when we were earlier. Millions of developing human persons in the womb killed; the proliferation of child sexual abuse, single parent homes, cohabitating couples with no commitment in view; and perversions of all kinds accepted (like the play “Sylvia” about a man’s sexual love affair with a goat!).
In order to be able to have sex any time we want it, birth control and abortion had to be available. The real ‘pro-choice’ position is to accept the possibility of new human life emerging before one has sex, before one gets into bed as it were. (Proponents of sex-on-demand often bring up at this point the case of rape, even though they know that this extreme example is present in only a very tiny percentage of cases; but they will still bring it up to stop the discussion even though it makes no logical sense to the main argument that we need to engage in sex with responsibility.)
Once we begin to use the very attractive allure of the beauty of a man or a woman for commercial purposes (as we do in the many ads and commercials), there the exaltation of sex becomes an economic issue. And once it becomes an economic issue, it will logically become a political issue as well.
So now we can see how we have built up the very real power of attraction that sex depends upon into an idol that must be worshiped, on whose altar we sacrifice human beings and their spiritual and psychological happiness with the lie that sex can bring us ultimate fulfillment and transcendent meaning. This is a false god we worship, but we do it without acknowledging the reality of what we are doing.
The very essence of idolatry is to make of a limited and relative good an absolute good. God is the only absolute good. Whenever we place in God’s place something of lesser value, it becomes an evil. Hence, the beauty of sexual relations in a life-long committed marriage becomes the ugliness of an exchange based only on mutual pleasure. It drains the sexual of its meaning and its power. The sacred becomes ordinary. The human body becomes an ordinary object. The person becomes a thing. The essence of sin is when the beauty of God’s plan turns into the ugliness of our expedient convenience.