In your raving idolatry I find a bit of peace…

Last night, I logged off fairly early and missed a big donnybrook on Facebook that had to do with people angry at me because of this piece from yesterday. Lots of namecalling and screaming in my direction, mostly because I dared to find anything worthwhile in Obama’s speech, even as I identified it as a cynical move to divert attention away from his awful presidency.

Apparently my near-constant criticisms of the man since 2007 were insufficient bona fides to allow me one instance of (mild) praise, before I called him cynic. So it goes. In our brave new world, things have become very narrow, indeed. A few Patheos bloggers tried to defend me as “not” being “crazy” but that’s always been a near-thing in my case so their efforts, though appreciated, were gallant kamikaze missions.

A friend who had witnessed the thing sent me an email this morning asking if I’d seen it, and hoping I’d not been hurt.

I wanted to answer like Tracy Jordan, on 30 Rock:Please, you can’t hurt me. I’ve done stand-up. I once had an audience throw a motorcycle at me.”

But instead I wrote, “Nah, that guy had just made an idol of his issue and was being an idolator to his hate. You’d be amazed at how freeing it is to ponder things in light of idolatry. When you realize what someone else is serving, it doesn’t touch you at all.”

Like making good use of the confessional, making use of that realization is worth a couple of years of therapy bills, I think. We all have the ability to get down on ourselves, and if we’re honest, we all do things that deserve some critical introspection. Sometimes we earn the disapprobation of others, as well; we get a stern talking-to, and it is worth heeding. But there are other times — particularly when emotionalism is clearly entering into things (and namecalling is a good clue about that) — where one needs to be detached and balanced enough to understand that something else is going on that really has nothing to do with us, and so we can just kiss it up to God and move on.

Once again, God has given us all we need, if we only utilize it, in this case, with his very first commandment.

When someone is screaming at me that I am insane (or calling me a name) simply because my perspective is different, very often their idol and ego are what is really being catered to. Likewise, when someone is passive-aggressively sowing seeds of division under the guise of “worrying” about me for having a different point of view. In both cases, the person is serving something within himself or herself, and I can just put all of that in God’s hands and let it roll off the shoulder.

“It’s not about you” is a good balancing tool, whether we use it to detach from our own idols or someone else’s.

This is from my book, Strange Gods; Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life:

It is interesting to ponder for a moment both the order of the Ten Commandments and Jesus’s famous sermon. While it is certainly the case that all the sins warned against in the Decalogue are serious, there does seem to be a bit of a hierarchy to them. Murder is a crime against God and humanity, and it is obviously a pretty big deal—certainly a bigger deal than coveting your neighbor’s donkey. And yet, this is not the first or second or even the third commandment. It’s not even the first “You shall not.” The warning against strange gods is the first of those. Neither the greatest commandment nor the Sermon the Mount present things like murder as root sins. The true roots of sin, the roots that grow into actions like murder, are seeded within the mind, which is where idolatry always begins.

No idol is constructed in the act of murder. Rather, the murder is, at its end, an offering to an idol. The real idol is the enlarged anger within us, and it forms through our willingness to sustain an idea about our righteousness and, therefore, an idea about ourselves. We cling to a resentment or feed a jealousy until it grows into something we burnish daily with our justifications. We get it to glitter in our minds like something alive, like a genuine force outside of ourselves. We go so far as to proselytize our grudges to others through spin, gossip, and even lies — see my anger, my resentment, my jealousy, and my spite! Acknowledge it with me; let us have communion in our shared umbrage! Worship me with me! The great evil of murder, then, is the fruit of the idolatry that is first an idea, and the idea is almost always about the self:

o I am angry because I have been disrespected.
o I resent her success while my efforts are ignored.
o He hurt someone I love; I will have vengeance.
o I am afraid of this; I am better than that.
o I . . . I . . . I

Even if the murderous thought lasts for but an instant, allowing it — and a thousand ideas like it — can be compared to shaking dandelion fluff. It is visually gratifying to let the wispy seedlings blow about, but eventually weeds take root.

An idea — a thought alone, Jesus warns us — is sufficiently evil to lead us astray, to keep us from loving God with our whole heart and mind and soul. Jesus says that to look on another with lust is the same as committing adultery. How? Because the actual act of commission is the mere end product; it is the sacrifice to the luminous image in our own mind’s eye: the image of the pretty girl that craves me; the image of the hunky man being available for me; the image of the ideal object of desire actually wanting me, which makes me ideal as well. It makes me perfect and like a god. Objectifying another (whether we do so in lust or in anger) is a key component to idolatry, but that object is most often not the idol. Oftentimes, the strange god placed before the Creator is myself.

Dare I say it? Heh, yeah: Read the whole thing.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Gloria Laudes

    Dear Elizabeth, I’m a fan and finally convinced to not be a tight wad and ordering your book tonight. Keep up the good work, you are awesome.

  • Victor

    Anchoress! What can I say about your pain except tell you to learn how to role with the Vampire Bites and by the way, me, myself and i also enjoyed reading your book.:)

    God Bless

  • Kristin

    I’ve been recommending your book to all of my friends, and knew that my husband, the beekeeper, would love it simply because of the bee analogy with which you ended.

    BTW, any plans for a small group study guide to accompany it? What an amazing tool it could be for adult catechesis

  • Kathy

    A study guide would be GREAT, I agree

  • Manic Doodlings

    I’ve read your book & found it very, very helpful to me. It reminded me of many of the ways I can make ANYTHING an idol, especially my ideas, beliefs & personal tastes which I often confuse with some kind of universal truth…

    If you’re insane, I’m insane & so is most of the world–but that’s just like, my opinion, man…

  • Lady Bird

    It still hurts! But, this kind of hurt goes away fast when you have the tools to handle criticism as you do. I was thinking of getting out of a ministry for similar reasons because in my retirement I don’t appreciate the palpable gocentricity. People go ballistic over the smallest things. And as I tell my husband, “I used to get paid the big bucks for putting up with jerks, I’m not doing it in retirement.” And then a friend confirmed to me, “When you bring your head out of the hole someone will shoot at it.” After hearing this Sunday’s readings, I changed my mind. I’m sticking it out! It’s not about me, it’s about Christ in me and me in him and the obligation that follows: building His kingdom.
    I feel as probably many women do and some men that you speak for me and to me in such a thoughtful manner. I too am an anti-anti-President Obama. I think our country is in a downward spiral due to his lack of leadership and understanding of our country. As I told my liberal cousin, the personal part of his speech touched my heart. He carries a wound that many Blacks and other marginalized peoples do never to be understood by those with the real power. One has to have sympathy for him and the collective of those like him. We need to change that and I trust as Christians, we will help move the dialogue along through prayer and action. However, I think Obama is the worst president for this time and in our entire history. Pray for him as we are instructed.

  • Reader

    I truly enjoy reading your blog and other writings because they are thoughtful and, of course, come from a Christian perspective. Nevertheless, when I read some of the comments left for you on this blog regarding your Trayvon Martin piece, most people did not seem to have a problem “simply because” your “perspective is different.” They had a problem because the facts on which you based your opinion were completely erroneous.

  • MeanLizzie

    This post refers specifically to a melee on Facebook that was all about Obama, and rarely mentioned the Zimmerman case. I was being called “nuts” for daring to like any part of Obama’s speech. Apparently that is not allowed. Ever.

  • TerryC

    Glad to hear that you were unaffected by that nonsense. I’ve come to expect an irrational response from everyone on Obama. Conservatives seem to believe in the words of a well known essayist of the past, “every word he says is a lie, including ‘a’ and ‘the’”. I expect they believe he gets his jollies pulling the wings off baby flies. Liberals on the other hand seem to hang on his every word, and seemingly would believe the sky is taupe if he so claims.
    I agree that any speech by him at this point is a diversion. He will never again have to face an electorate and seems quite willing to attempt to bypass the other branches of government completely, if so allowed.

  • Cathy R.

    Dare I say, that we are called to love Mr. Obama! No, I don’t like his actions and most of what he stands for, We are still called to pray for him! I pray for his change of heart, that God touches him in a very real way. Think of the good Mr Obama could then do!

  • Andy

    First your book was one of the first I bought for my new Kindle Paperwhite – loved it the kindle and your book. I think that our country has been on a downward spiral for 40 years. We have embraced the demon mammon as a measure of man – this idol has come to say that people are commodities and thus expendable.

    The other idol that is now in place is “the other is wrong” – regardless of who the other is. I thought that Mr. Obama’s speech was good – I didn’t see it as race-baiting, nor will I add did I see it as an attempt to distract. It struck me that for the first time he spoke from his heart – not from script.

    I read some of yesterday’s commentary and was shocked. The tragedy is that two lives have been ended — Mr. Martin’s because he is now dead, and Mr. Zimmerman’s because he will never be the same, taking a life does that to you – ask any veteran or policeman who has shot and killed someone.

    The true downside is that the behavior yesterday has caused me to wonder why I am a Catholic. I saw nothing Christ like or even an awareness that both men were children of God. I hear and rwead all the time that Catecheses has failed – that liberals do not know what the word of God is. If yesterday’s behavior is an example of what people learned then indeed teaching in the church has failed. To end – I am planning a long time in the solitude of the woods behind our house to consider and pray if remaining a Catholic is worth pain that the screaming hordes of conservatives and liberals present.