In Pursuit of False Gods: A Small Meditation on the Golden Calf

In Pursuit of False Gods: A Small Meditation on the Golden Calf November 13, 2021




I’ve been reflecting a lot on the arc of the spiritual path.

It has numerous aspects. There is the principal thread, the cord that pulls us into the depths. But along with it are numerous points about ourselves, strengths, weaknesses. All the things that make us, that stand in the way for us, and that open doors for us.

One of those things turns on the question to what do we give our attention. By one definition these are the gods of our lives. Now, I’m not a monotheist, thinking there is one true. But, there are a lot of divinities in our lives, a lot of things that claim our attention, some for the good, some, well, not.

Which has turned my thoughts to the Golden Calf.

In 2001, the Golden Calf from Cecil B DeMille’s classic film “The Ten Commandments,” was sold at a Christie’s auction for a tad over $15,000. It was, as you might imagine, in fact roughly carved wood with gilt paint. Pretty expensive for what is ultimately little more than a tawdry souvenir. Although I suspect today someone might pay a bit more for it.

I loved the movie. I may have seen it in the theater, but I would have been eight. My memory is fixed by it playing in regular rotation on television starting in the very early 1970s, usually near Easter and Passover. And with that for good and ill my image of Moses as well as the voice of God is Charleston Heston. While Pharoah is and forever will be Yul Brynner.

Also, I have seared into my mind the image of the evil overseer, Dathan, played deliciously by Edgar G. Robinson. What I was unaware of when watching the movie was how DeMille, after considering a host of actors picked Robinson in part because he’d been blacklisted during the Red Scare, and felt he deserved a juicy part for his rehabilitation.

Robinson’s Dathan stood in for all the vacillation, compromise, and venality of, well, actually, everybody. So, of course, when it came time for the Golden Calf scene, its Dathan who does the deed, even whipping the crowd into a frenzy, and even offering an implied human sacrifice. Rather, it is worth noting, than the biblical Aaron, brother of Moses, who in the scriptures actually authorized the making of the calf.

The Golden Calf has entered our Western psyche. It stands for all the false idols of our lives. And, at least out of the film version, Dathan stands for that part in each of us that, well, there’s the list: vacillating, compromising, venal.

The parts that worship the false.

The question here is, among those divinities within your life, what are false gods?

I did a small personal assessment and I have found several that have a place in my life, both useful with a right amount of attention, others, well.  I suspect if you look inwards, you probably can see yours as well. Your friends can, especially the not healthy ones. You can bet on it.

So, what are yours? For good and ill?

A big step on the way of wisdom.


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