Golly, this word, “Idol” is coming up a lot! – UPDATED

I wonder if the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us something..

Pope Francis has been talking about idols lately, and now we see the word creep into a secular headline: Book: Obama surrounds self with ‘idolizers,’ plots legacy with scholars.

A revealing new book from one of the media’s longest serving White House correspondents reports that President Obama surrounds himself only with “idolizers,” and top aides make sure that those whose view might “shake him up too much” are shoved aside.

In Prisoners of the White House, the Isolation of America’s Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership U.S. News correspondent Kenneth T. Walsh . . . credits Obama for trying to get out of the so-called “bubble,” but found that instead the president often relies on a tiny cadre of Chicago aides, thus living in “a bubble within the bubble.”

He called top Chicago aide Valerie Jarrett “one of the leading idolizers” who blocks the access of critics to her boss. “Jarrett has gone too far in limiting others’ access to the president, according to a number of White House and congressional sources,” writes Walsh in the book due out June 1. “Her goal is to keep Obama in a cocoon of admirers who won’t, in her mind, shake him up too much or present views that might be contrary to her understanding of Obama’s positions.”

Read the whole thing. It’s not really surprising to me that President Obama is being surrounded by people who idolize him; the whole, messianic, “he’s more than regular men” vibe — the Evan Thomas, “he’s like God” bit — has been part-and-parcel of the Obama story from the get-go, but there has been more than a whiff of idolatry in our politics and our ideologies for some time, and it’s something I write on in in the introduction to Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life:

My concerns about idolatry were routinely ignored, shot down, or simply jeered at by readers visiting my site until around the time of the 2008 elections, when some on the right finally found something akin to idolatry in the videos of children singing odes to Barack Obama. One saw a hint of it in Newsweek editor Evan Thomas’s claim that Obama was “above the country, above the world, a sort of god; [he’s] going to bring all different sides together.” Thomas took some heat for those comments and later clarified that he was not being “literal.” If Thomas was harangued by those who did not see a messiah in President Obama, it was in part because the 2008 presidential campaign did offer some troublingly messianic portraits of the man. And candidate Obama, a professed Christian, did little to discourage an excessive deference that permitted neither vetting, nor criticism, nor even the japeries of late-night talk-show humor.

Vetting, criticism, and mockery, allowed no target in Obama, consequently came down twice as hard on John McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin. As news outlets announced they were sending teams of investigators to Wasilla, Alaska to comb through the candidate’s trash, the comedy writers found their foil in Palin. In reaction, Palin quickly became, for many on the far right, their untouchable and adored one — their counterpart to Obama. The more the press savaged her, the less her fans would tolerate even the mildest of constructive criticisms from sympathetic bloggers (like me). By November of 2008, fifties-style partisan tribalism looked almost quaint compared to the divine illusions that were becoming attached to both candidates. I became convinced that Americans had wholly thrown themselves before two golden calves. Calves that — like the original one described in Exodus 32:1-7 — were nothing but bright reflectors, showing us back to ourselves.

If God created humankind in his image, we humans tend to create gods in our own image — or perhaps more correctly, we humans create gods so reflective and shiny that they keep us looking at ourselves. In the 2008 election, I believed I was seeing precisely that in the hyperbolic support of both Barack Obama and Sarah Palin. The urbane, polished, sophisticated, and well-educated looked at Obama, saw themselves, and they loved him for it. Putting him in the White House meant putting themselves in there. As a Catholic priest stands “in persona Christi,” Obama stands stood “in persona meum.” For the Palin fans, her plain-speaking, hard-working, up-from-the-middle-class story was their story, and elitist mockery of her non-Ivy college degree and her “you betcha” cheerfulness was a demonstration of disdain directed toward them. Voters over-identified with whichever idol best reflected them back to themselves. They loved the ideas they were hearing because the ideas did not challenge but only affirmed.

As ever, we love what reflects us back to ourselves. But God won’t be mocked. We daily find the means of creating idols to place before him; they block our access to him. It’s something we really need to ponder and become aware of, and then try to stop doing, I think. For the good of the nation, perhaps; for the good of the world, possibly. For the good of our souls, without a doubt.

Msgr. Charles Pope
has a piece that is different, but related: The West is no longer a culture; it has become an anti-culture.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Dagnabbit_42

    Obama claims to be a Christian, but does anybody really believe it?

    Oh, he’s probably baptized and I’m sure his family has a Christmas tree with presents under it every winter, if that’s all one means by “Christian.”

    But with regards to the beliefs and attitudes that influence his actions daily? I don’t think there’s much evidence to convict him of being a Christian; do you?

    Isn’t it vastly more in accord with the available evidence to assume that he labels himself “Christian” because not doing so would have been a political obstacle? He wouldn’t have been so easily accepted by black voters, especially the large percentage of them whose political life centers around the sermons in all-black churches.

    Not that I think Obama’s a Muslim. No evidence of that.

    Nor is he a hardcore atheist, at least not of the evangelical, crusading variety so popular these days.

    No. He’s an indifferentist. The whole topic is a bore to him; isn’t that what his remarks about “clinging to guns and religion” suggest?

    While speaking at a black church, he suddenly sounds like a southern black baptist preacher so that the (in his view) yokel black community will accept him as one of their own. (Have you seen the videos? It’s hilarious how his whole speaking style changes.)

    But when speaking to a young highly-educated secular crowd, he gives them the “clinging to guns and religion” comment: Just enough code to allow them to be reassured that he’s every but as secular-minded as they, and only talks about being a “Christian” so as to not ruffle the feathers of the yokels.

    And of course there’s the non-tithing. A committed Christian gives 10% of pre-tax income, as a general rule. But Obama? That year when he gave $23,000 to Rev. Wright, he and Michelle brought in, what? 1.2 million? Seen in that context, his “tithing” is a pretty lukewarm statement of faith.

    No, no. This man is not a believer. He just knows that in the black community, a chief political power base is to be had in the churches. Accordingly, he went there and hobnobbed, and learned the vocabulary and cadences sufficiently well to fit in.

    Does anyone really think that’s not the best explanation of the evidence?

  • Strife

    “But the truth is that it is only by believing in God that we can ever criticize the Government. Once abolish the God, and the Government
    becomes the God. The fact is written all across human history; but it is
    written more plainly across that recent history of Russia; which was
    created by Lenin. There the Government is the God, and all the more the
    God, because it proclaims aloud in accents of thunder, like every other
    God worth worshiping, the one essential commandment: ‘Thou shalt have
    no other gods before Me.’” – G.K.Chesterton (Christendom in Dublin 1932)

  • nitnot

    It’s called code switching. Demonstrated in video at this NPR site:

  • MainlineP

    A very interesting piece by you on two different groups idolizing Ms. Palin and the President for their own needs, and there is a lot of truth to it. But are idols only people or do they include material things, or groups or anything we place on a level with the divine? Does it include those, whether evangelical Protestants or some here, who too easily conflate secular political positions with faith, as if one were dependent upon or necessarily intertwined with the other? Is it not even more problematic for an RC to do that as a member of a universal faith totally divorced from national political boundaries (unlike, for example some of the Orthodox churches). When your faith becomes only a soothing patina for your politics, a thin veneer for pushing partisan politics, is it faith at all? Just raising questions, not pointing fingers. Shouting “But I must be in the public square with my faith” is a dodge, if the faith always takes second place to pushing a particular party’s talking points.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    It does not surprise me that Obama surrounds himself with idolizers. His ego is famous and egotistical people need to keep feeding on itself for more self-gratification.
    I have to say, he hit the bottom of the barrel when he gave his speech to Planned Parenthood last week. To say “God bless you” to the abortion industry has to be one of the worst moments of presidential history.

  • MeanLizzie

    Yes my book looks at all kinds of idols, including the nationalistic one. You might want to read it.