What Are the False Gods of Our World?

“Jesus tells us to be awake! This is what spirituality is about – waking up!” Matthew Fox challenges his hearers to recognize the false gods of today at the second Christ Path Seminar.

Jesus talks a lot about false gods. He’s talking about idolatry all the time, and about projections and the shadows of avarice and envy, for example, which as I say constitute our economic system in its present state.

So again, I ask: How are we doing today with living his message?

The names of the false gods of today could all be written in capital letters: for example, Nation with a capital N, or Religion with a capital R. My Religion can beat up on your Religion, my God can beat up on your God – and we’ll devour your Goddess!

Family with a capital F – that’s scary, though I think what happened just a little while ago in the Supreme Court regarding gay marriage was a breakthrough in that regard. In America our media is so narcissistic that it rarely mentions the fact that this is going on all over the world: in Argentina, in Mexico, in Spain, in Canada, and in many other countries it’s already settled that gay people have the right to marry the one they love. But at least we’re making progress there.

But of course if you spell Family with a capital F, do you know exactly how it’s defined and are prepared to enforce that definition? Or do you realize the sacredness of family and community in all its expressions, and realize that it evolves and is flexible as to its makeup?

Tradition can be spelled with a capital letter and can become an idol, of course. Likewise Consumer Capitalism, Wall Street with its strange definition of wealth and complete blindness towards Main Street (except when it needs bailing out of its avaricious overkill).

Jesus says, “Beware!” He’s not saying that none of these things hold promise. But he tells us to be awake! This is what spirituality is about – waking up! Paul uses that language, and  of course Jesus uses it, and they use it in the East. Kabir uses it: Wake up! You have been sleeping for millions and millions of years.  Why not wake up this morning?

In speaking of Jesus, Marcus Borg talks about conventional wisdom versus subversive wisdom, and he says Jesus was preaching subversive wisdom. Conventional wisdom is “encultured consciousness,” he says, consciousness shaped and structured by culture and tradition.

He names the areas in which Jesus addresses the conventional wisdom of his day: Issues around Purity, Religion, and Family. He retells the Gospel story, how one day a crowd called out to Jesus, “Blessed are the breasts that nursed you and the womb that bore you.” And Jesus shouts back, “No! Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

He is deconstructing Family with a capital F.

Truth is, Jesus had troubles in his family. His brothers thought he was crazy for going out and eating locusts in the desert with John the Baptist for six years, while they had to hang at home and work the family garden and all that. No wonder they were jealous when he returned! He created the story of the Prodigal Son from his experience with his brothers – it wasn’t his father, who was deceased, but his mother who welcomed him back…. And he had a difficult relationship with his mother.

And right there it’s a slap in the face. Imagine the reaction of his listeners: “What? Your literal mother is not the whole picture?” No, he’s broadening the field: everyone who hears the word of God and keeps it is my mother, my brother, and my sister. And he says to you – “Leave your parents,” and even “Hate your family” – this is shocking stuff for those who spell Family with a capital F!

This is rattling the cages of those who worship Family as idol. He’s not saying that family is not important – and in fact, James, his brother, and the others took up the cause. Late, after his death, but they took it up.

But the point is that he’s doing exactly what we need to do: to shake up the idolatry, the idols of conventional wisdom. Not in raw anger, but with a broader wisdom, what Borg calls the subversive wisdom, another way of seeing the world.

So it was around the idols of Family, Wealth, Honor, Purity, and Religiosity, according to Borg, that Jesus stood up and was not only counted but considered a revolutionary in his day: he disturbed the complacent.

He says, “Call no man on earth your father: you have one Father, who is in heaven.” Now what does this do to a patriarchal consciousness? It deconstructs it! Pulls the rug right out from under it! Now, has the Church been developing these notions? Well, you have to look at the different churches. In the Catholic Church in which I was raised, all priests were called Father – so they rather blithely ran over that particular radical statement by Jesus.

This is revolutionary stuff, folks. Nobody would have dozed through these talks as if they were a sleepy Sunday sermon. They were designed to wake up the listeners, get them thinking and questioning and excited. Edgy, risky stuff. And this is just the beginning!

In my next post I’ll be looking at Jesus’ revolutionary words about the political and religious hierarchy of his day. And I want to ask you – what are the false gods that are taken for granted in your world?
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About Matthew Fox

Matthew Fox – author, educator, activist, and spiritual pioneer – has spent the past 40 years doing the culture-changing work to lay the foundation for the values of a new generation. As today’s leading voice of the ancient mystical Christian tradition of creation spirituality, he has helped to midwife the birth of a movement that celebrates embodied spiritual practice, oneness with creation, personal awareness, educational empowerment, and social, environmental, and gender justice.


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