Since they seem to be recurring themes in my life and my writing, last week I had occasion to again contemplate idols and idolatry and also the way bullies operate. Both idols and bullies play with our psyche, of course, and can do great damage. They are like germs and bacteria that bring disease and make us exceedingly ill, but only if they can first penetrate the immune system.
In the case of bullies and idols, this involves a piercing of the spiritual and psychological immune systems. We all have our metaphorical scrapes and cuts — areas of spiritual weakness or psychological vulnerability — through which idols and bullies may enter and raise havoc.
Idols and bullies are of a piece in that they each stand between us and God; they differ only in process: the idol brings before us the shiny things we love and reflects us back to ourselves in their burnished, false light, until we are dazzled and God is forgotten. The bully obliterates the light, altogether, brings the dark things we fear and hate about ourselves and tells us those things are all we are or will ever be. We become so overwhelmed with that oppression that we can no longer believe we are at all lovable, even to God, and we want to die.
My First Things column this week warns that if our spiritual and psychological immune systems are weakened by these days of miracles and wonder, we are more likely to be made ill by idols and bullies, and reminds us what we must do to stay strong:
Informationally, the world is ever-broadening, but our interests continue to narrow as we close in on ourselves. In our reading, our entertainment, our news venues, our social media, our political involvements, we seek out echo chambers we may depend upon to repeat us back to ourselves in a reassuring loop, with dissenting ideas continually pruned away for the sake of purity. Settled within virtual enclaves of the like-minded, we bask in an illusion that most sensible people think as we do, and when we are forced to venture out beyond our unsullied orthodoxies and ideologies the world feels increasingly dangerous and disordered, and we cannot wait to get back to our safe zones, which are really ourselves.
We used to read about “the boy in the bubble” and feel sorry for him. He was trapped within a limited world free of exposure to even the “good” germs and bacteria that keep our immune systems adept, functional, and ready to withstand and beat back infection. Now we are become him. Though our bodies may wander freely, we keep our minds and spirits tethered to what is comfortable, unchallenging, and pristine, until our mental and spiritual immune systems become so weakened that a mere difference of opinion feels like an assault, and an encounter with an opportunistic bully can send us reeling to the canvas.
You can read the rest, here
Man in Bubble image courtesy of Shutterstock.com