The atheist denies the transcendence of the human spirit, the aching need we experience to break out beyond the finite, the limited, the material, into the realm of unending beauty, joy, love and happiness.  But in his practice he contradicts himself, for in rejecting the real God he inevitably sets up and pursues his own self-chosen gods.  He cannot succeed in stifling his own spirit, for he, like the rest of us, requires absolutes, something to glorify and worship. Dostoevsky was correct in his observation that every human being  believes either in God or in one or more idols. What is first secularized, that is, declared autonomous and independent of all religious influence, is eventually deified, that is, declared to be sovereign and authoritative in all areas of life.

Among the idols that replace the living God in modern society four stand out: pleasure, prestige, society and sports.

cheering communist leaderMoney could be considered the supreme idol, but actually it is the supreme means, for without much of it the four gods could not be well served.  That the four idols are four gods can be seen in any large daily newspaper or in any extended viewing of TV.

The pleasure principle is so thoroughly adopted by millions of people that they act according to it without the least advertence.  For many the choice of food, friends, recreation, travel and leisure is based predominantly, if not exclusively, on how much and what kind of pleasure is available.  In its extravagant forms of drugs and self-centred sex, clear moral norms are readily rejected or set aside because the idol must be served.

Living in the minds of other people is idol number two.  One of the ways in which prestige is worshipped is the sheeplike acceptance of the decrees of fashion designers. The dead earnestness of famous dress designers and the meek acquiescence of women to the decrees declared from the heights of Rome, Paris and New York border on the ludicrous.  Men are now increasingly joining women in their worship of vanity via all sorts of idolettes: hair sprays, skin lotions, figure-revealing clothing, jewelry, etc. Far more money is spent on these trinkets than on food for the poor, care for the disabled, comfort for the sick, the enhancing of religious worship. Attending a cocktail party in a dress or jacket that is considered out of date would strike immeasurably more horror in the hearts of some people than being reminded that millions of people will go to bed tonight with empty stomachs.

sportCommunism in one way and capitalism in another worship idol number three, society. The former, however, furnishes the most obvious and ludicrous example of replacing one religion with another.

The fourth idol in many nations is sports. I recently saw a TV documentary that portrayed the intense rivalry between the fans of two football teams.  Not only was it plain that sports had become a type of religion complete with its rituals before, during and after the games, but I noticed an obvious absence of joy in the very playing.  During the interviews the ‘stars’ seldom, if ever, smiled.  The game was deadly serious business.

The void created by the theoretical or practical denial of God is especially obvious in the widespread illusion that the results of sporting games really matter. Nothing in the real world changes as a result of what happens on the playing field.


22 Responses to “Idols”

  1. 1 Victor August 24, 2009 at 00:51

    What a coincidence. At this morning’s Mass my priest spoke about this same subject, particularly sports because people prefer to go to a soccer match rather than church on Sundays. Sports have become the sacramental expression in our way of life and have emerged as the common religion of the land. I love sports but I always put my God and my Church first.

  2. 2 Mary Nicewarner August 24, 2009 at 01:40

    How true and how sad this is. These passing things can never take the place of God. We were made for Him and can only find peace in Him. I always tell my daughter that things do not matter and it is what is inside a person that counts. Beauty is fleeting but Love is forever.

  3. 3 anne bender August 24, 2009 at 01:46

    Gabriella, this is very interesting. I never would have thought of the four idols you mention but really, they do encompass everything, don’t they? Sports doesn’t thrill me in the least, but the other three…I definitely have a lot to work on!

  4. 4 Brian August 24, 2009 at 03:38

    Gabriella –

    “Sports” is a big problem here in the USA. I taught CCD for many years at my home parish. Every week I would ask the kids if they attended Mass on Sunday. For most of them – it was a unanimous “no.” And “sports” was the reason given most of the time. Sports was never meant to take someone away from their faith life. But this is what is happening. The Church should insist that children, in order to receive the sacraments i.e. Eucharist & Confirmation, must attend Holy Mass every Sunday. With their parents will be a plus. This will cause a lot of commotion but something has to be done to make parents GET THE POINT!

    Thanks for another VERY interesting post!

    • 5 Judy August 25, 2009 at 21:15

      Our family has been SO fortunate this year as to have had two experiences with sports (one in baseball, one in football) where there has generally been no playing on Sundays…and the few times where a practice was scheduled, the coach made a point to tell the boys that Sunday Worship was more important and that they would not be reprimanded for being late or missing practice if it was due to their worship. YAY for coaches like these!!!

      This post is so interesting…the four idols you mention really are all-encompassing…

      My son always said that even the atheist needs the TRUE GOD…for he/she must have Him there in order to NOT believe IN HIM.

      Thanks for your great blog Gabriella!

  5. 6 Antonella Oliver August 24, 2009 at 13:15

    What strikes me as very unbalanced is the money in sports and what the individual is paid as in soccer, rugby, tennis, golf etc etc… much money. Where does it come from and why dont the Governments put the money to good use like infrastructure and housing etc etc especially in Africa (which is where I am living) instead organisations and sponsorships all give/go to sports. Make the few really really wealthy while majority of Africans live in squallor and poverty… is unjust and criminal.

  6. 7 andrea August 24, 2009 at 13:17

    Chi vive per l’idolo,muore con l’idolo. L’idolo muore,si spegne,perchè l’idolo è una creatura o un prodotto,nel senso che può essere semplicemente una creatura umana o addirittura un prodotto del lavoro dell’uomo. Questo succede quando si sente dire da parte di alcuni di confidare e di vivere addirittura per “i cantanti ecc.. ecc… o,nell’altro caso,quando si permette che la nostra vita si aggrappi a “oggetti”,tipo portafortuna ecc… ecc… Anche il denaro è diventato un idolo. Da strumento utile alla vita terrena per quanto riguarda gli scambi delle risorse è diventato,a causa della corruzione umana,un idolo capace di schiavizzare l’uomo. Chi vive dell’idolo muore con l’idolo! Che tristezza pensare che,quando staremo per lasciare questa terra,abbiamo usato il 99,09% del nostro tempo per vivere di “cose” o sprecando parole su cose che non danno la vita. Che tristezza…quando invece potevamo utilizzare il nostro tempo nei “sani principi” e soprattutto rimanere sempre in contatto con Gesù attraverso la preghiera,le opere pie e coltivando così quell’amicizia stretta stretta con Gesù,ascoltare e sentire dentro e attorno a noi la dolcezza delle Sua presenza,lavorare per Lui,per il Regno. Che tristezza pensare di lasciare questa terra senza aver passato il nostro tempo amando Nosto Signore. Che tristezza! Che tristezza! Che tristezza! Attenzione però,anche noi “religiosi” a volte facciamo della nostra religione un idolo come tante altre cose. In questo modo,svuotiamo la religione del suo significato,la snaturiamo …e cosa facciamo così? Perdiamo solo tempo! E’ come se ci passasse inanzi Gesù,senza riconoscerlo. E così, Lui soffre. Che tristezza! Lui disse prima della cattura al Getsemani “l’anima mia è triste fino alla morte…restate con me”… Quando noi stiamo male,penso che ci faccia piacere qualcuno che ci sta vicino,qualcuno che conosciamo…vero? Penso di si. Lui non ci lascia mai,è sempre con noi,nella gioia e nel dolore,ma noi non stiamo mai con Lui,non lo riconosciamo mai. E quando ci rifugiamo negli idoli,che siano “politici”,”sportivi”,”religiosi” ecc… lasciamo Gesù sempre solo. I Santi,invece,gli innamorati di Gesù,chierici o laici che siano,quelli che ci precedono nella Gloria e partecipano alla Gloria di Cristo,stavano sempre con Gesù. Che tristezza pensare che a volte la religiosità(cosa sana in sè),nelle nostre mani e nella nostra ignoranza ha reso fertile il terreno per lo scatenarsi di superstizioni individuali e di popolo,cieca ritualità e cieco formalismo senza cuore e senza sentimento… Tutte queste cose appartengono alla cerchia larga dell’idolatria. Bisogna stare attenti,molto attenti!


  7. 8 Nives August 24, 2009 at 15:06

    Andrea tu dici: I Santi,invece,gli innamorati di Gesù,chierici o laici che siano,quelli che ci precedono nella Gloria e partecipano alla Gloria di Cristo,stavano sempre con Gesù. E’ vero ed è molto bello. Ma nel mondo d’oggi dove siamo circondati da idoli come dice Gabriella, sport, moda, ecc.. noi giovani che vogliamo stare sempre con Gesù è molto difficile farlo.. senza un aiuto, un supporto.. noi cerchiamo di elevarci a Dio e dappertutto invece, anche nelle chiese, troviamo un Dio che è stato completamente tirato giù al nostro livello..
    E’ anche giusto che dobbiamo stare molto attenti a non trasformare la religiosità in superstizioni individuali e di popolo ma non credi che questo è ormai passato? Non ce lo vedo mica nei giovani d’oggi. Che c’è molta ignoranza sul Cattolicesimo questo si (e magari sanno tutto sull’islam o il buddismo o il scientismo) però ho notato che dopo la Messa in Latino ci si ferma a parlare del vangelo del giorno o di attualità religiosa ed è bello mentre questo non succede dopo la Messa ordinaria, ci ho provato ma il gruppetto di giovani neanche sapeva qual’era stato il vangelo del giorno!

  8. 9 Ward Torres August 24, 2009 at 15:41

    This is a very interesting post – and interesting comments.

    In today’s world, in our life, we are surrounded by these idols and sometimes we don’t even notice!

    How right you are Brian – I have been living and working in Ireland for the past three years and the situation is as you describe, if not worse.
    People will get up early and go through all sorts of sacrifices to attend a soccer match or follow a team around ………….. but to go to Mass? And here they call themselves Catholics!

    Believe me, there is more religiosity in the US than I have ever encountered here in Europe.

  9. 10 Helena August 24, 2009 at 16:13

    What utter nonsense!. The whole thing, bust especially this: The atheist denies the transcendence of the human spirit, the aching need we experience to break out beyond the finite, the limited, the material, into the realm of unending beauty, joy, love and happiness.”

    The Atheist wishes to preserve exactly those things by rejecting a hypothesis that cannot be supported by reason or evidence.

    In point of fact, the people who worship the ‘idols’ you talk about–if you ask them they would all identify themselves as Christians. People who have gone to the trouble of doing the intellectual and spiritual work to gain the independence of thought necessary to recognize that traditional, culturally inherited religion is false are the last ones who are going to surrender their hard won intellectual and spiritual freedom to popular culture. The monied interests that profit from sport, fashion, etc., depend on the unexamined passivity of the Christian masses for their livelihoods.

  10. 11 Daniel Oliver August 24, 2009 at 16:14

    This is quite an intense topic and one that is very interesting and the article has certainly broken down well the categories of idols that the world has to offer.A very sad but true reality!
    Atheism is a very fast growing trend but not because the very people who term themselves to be atheist really are but because it is somewhat trendy to different and rebellious.How many so called atheists even know what it means when met with the question?
    I do feel that society has let themselves down here and it is the poor example of many seniors and parents’ in our communities today that have neglected to set a proper example or in fact instill a proper religious foundation for their kids.
    The emphasis even amongst ‘believers’ is not on religion but rather all these other things such as sport and fashion etc.
    Nowadays,which i witness week after week,parents who come in to get their kids baptized do so only because it promises to be a good social and way of showing off the latest baby wear that they cant even be bothered to attend the sunday service preceeding the baptismal.
    All very sad but we must persist in finding faith within our society and encourage people around us to know the truth and understand the importance of serving the ‘right’ God and placing all other idols aside.A difficult task in a world driven by fashion,politics and sports stars.

  11. 12 Eremitica August 24, 2009 at 16:56

    Carissima, ero sparita proprio perchè volevo fare chiarezza. Sai bene come in questi mesi sia stata continuamente alla ricerca, continuamente in agitazione, senza trovare riposo, e ho voluto spegnere il pc per prima cosa, per ritrovare pace e silenzio per ascoltare Dio.

    Vedi, io credo che nulla avvenga per caso nella vita di chi ha Fede, e così il mio cammino spirituale.

    Forse non sai che più di 3 anni, prima di rientrare in piena comunione con la Chiesa Cattolica, ho frequentato una confessione evangelica pentecostale, proprio perchè io Gesù l’ho incotrato dopo anni di ateismo, di anticlericalismo nato dalla cattiva testimonianza dei cattolici, prima tra tutti i miei genitori che di cristiano hanno ben poco. Presi la Bibbia e iniziai a leggere il Vangelo quasi per sfida…e il Signore decise che era ora di aprire quella porta davanti alla quale attendeva.

    Ho lasciato la comunità pentecostale subito dopo poco più di 7 mesi, perchè trovavo ridicolo e lontano dalla Parola di Dio il loro modo di lodare il Signore (tutti ricercavano solo il dono delle lingue…che era in pratica un continuo sberciare per 2 ore…e conoscendo bene i moniti di San Paolo…me ne andai presto), ma una cosa mi hanno lasciato nel cuore…l’amore che avevano tradi loro, la bellissima sensazione che avevo di sentirmi veramente parte di una famiglia. Ci si sentiva spesso, ci si vedeva anche fuori dalla chiesa, se uno stava male non mancavano le visite e gli aiuti anche materiali da parte dei fratelli e sorelle…e questo non l’ho più ritrovato nella Chiesa Cattolica. Sono 3 mesi che manco dalla parrocchia…nessuno si è mai preso la briga si sentire se sto bene e perchè non frequento più. Nessuno.

    Per questo posso dirti chiaramente che non è vero che fa parte dell’umanità trovare il fratello in chiesa che critica chi ha affianco, perchè ho sperimentato che quando Cristo entra nei cuori, Lui ci cambia veramente.

    Il problema sta tutto quì…in questi 3 anni, sia in parrocchia, sia nell’OFS, non ho mai trovato persone veramente cambiate dalla Grazia, persone che si sono lasciate cambiare da Cristo mettendo in discussione lo stile di vita, le opinioni, le azioni…niente di tutto ciò che la Parola di Dio testimonia dei cristiani.

    Sinceramente sono stanca e stufa. Mi si dice sempre di lasciar perdere, di considerare l’educazione ricevuta, ma a me tutto questo lasciar perdere non quadra, perchè se c’e’ una cosa chiara nella Scrittura, che non può essere travisata da opinioni teologiche o dogmatiche, è proprio che chi accoglie Cristo, DEVE NASCERE DI NUOVO, ovvero diventare un’altra persona da quella che era…

    Per questo ho deciso di gettare la spugna…e affidarmi all’unica certezza che non è mai crollata…GESU’ Cristo e la Sua Parola.

    Detto questo ti abbraccio di cuore, e sono felice che ci siamo ritrovate.

  12. 13 Mannono August 24, 2009 at 17:57

    Sorry Helena, but there are many proofs of God’s existence. 2300 years ago even someone who had never heard of Christ managed to arrive at it, and then from Aristotle’s proof 800 years ago. St. Thomas gave 5 more. You oviously have never studied them or never understood them. Pretty sad.

    • 14 Helena August 24, 2009 at 20:26

      On the contrary, you’ve obviously never read the well known refutations of these proofs. Something like Aristotle’s unmoved mover is just gibberish when viewed form the perspective of modern physics.Aquinas’s work is even further removed from reality.

      In any case, what makes you think I’m an atheist? I simply corrected the straw man depiction of atheists given in the original blog post which is far removed from the character of real atheists. (and I notice you didn’t address that in your response).

      In point of fact I am not an atheist but am of the same religion as Socrates and Plotinus–the mythology is o much beautiful than Christianity’s.

  13. 15 andrea August 24, 2009 at 18:33

    Bisogna parlare il vangelo,non parlare del vangelo. E lo dico soprattutto a me stesso. Per quanto riguarda la messa in latino premetto che ne sono un accanito sostenitore,ma purtroppo dove abito non ce ne sono! Il fatto che dopo la messa in latino si parli del vangelo avrebbe una spiegazione sociale. Premettendo che coloro che scelgono,laddove si possa scegliere,di andare nelle parrocchie dove si sente la messa in latino sono quasi tutte persone più istruite o che comunque hanno una certa familiarità con il latino,e dunque più abituati “alla riflessione intellettuale”,è cosa logica e ragionevole che ci sia più probabilità di interesse e di riflessione nei confronti delle “letture” appena ascoltate. A volte il silenzio di una chiesa(e la relativa aria di santità che vi si dovrebbe respirare) dinanzi al Santissimo e innanzi alla Santa Croce è molto più efficace di dieci minuti di predica. Secondo me il problema non è questo. I problemi sono altri.


  14. 16 Cinzia August 25, 2009 at 06:06

    Dear everyone
    I believe we have to make a clear distinction between “idols that replace the living God” (as Gabriella says)and things we do and use and wear that are very much part of this world but DO NOT replace a living God.

    By this I mean that if someone likes to follow a sporting match, for example, or likes tennis, it does not mean that he/she has made this their idol and forsaken God. There is a huge difference between the two.

    We all love to travel, I am sure! I know I do. Give me an opportunity any day to go to another country and I’ll drop everything and go … does that make travel my Idol? NO! Nothing changes by way of my love for God and my faith. The same goes for clothes. I have always had a passion for beautiful clothes -I love to dress up and look nice. (Show me a girl who doesn’t!)If I can buy a new dress and it’s beautiful, then GOOD. If it also has a D&G tag, so much the better. Again, going from this to being a sheeplike follower of the big fashion houses and turning fashion into a false god … there’s a big chasm in between.

    Money too – we cannot live without – that’s the way life is. We all go to work to have money so as to live decent lives and also enjoy the occasional holiday, give our children more than they need, drive around in cars and not bombs and so on …. I am sure we are all happier when we have a bit more money than we need, so as to save for the future or go buy something like a Plasma TV. Is that so wrong?

    I love things that are beautiful (see Gabriella’s earlier post on beauty and how that brings people to faith and to God). For me beautiful things include nice clothes, nice homes, nice architecture, nice music. So, someone please tell me, is all this wrong, and am I worshipping false gods or idols? or are we really getting two things mixed up here?

    I would love to hear your comments – am I right or wrong?

  15. 17 Antonella Oliver August 25, 2009 at 08:56

    Dear Readers

    I personally think that if we prayed the Rosary daily and there are promises attached to this…..then we would not go astray or be in error as Our Lady would make sure of that. I know that some of you might say……all these repetitions etc and my mind wanders etc……..but still grace works in the soul that prays.
    As St Augustine says : Love God and do what you will.

  16. 18 Benedek August 25, 2009 at 11:02

    Helena those refutations are already obsolete and you cannot deny that if one isn’t filled with the love of God, then that person is surely filled with superstition or love of some sort of idol, there’s no way out.

    Cinzia I think you got it right. All is good unless you place it before God. When God comes first in our lives then we can enjoy the rest as blessings.

    Antonella love love love who or what? love love love the idols?

    Daniel, Victor, Brian and Ward, I totally agree and couldn’t have said it better.

    Mary and Anne, I love you.

  17. 19 Cinzia August 25, 2009 at 12:46

    Thank you Benedek. I really appreciate knowing from others what they think or what is right …. ’cause I am always so full of doubts myself. 🙂

  18. 20 Tim Troutman August 25, 2009 at 13:14

    Something like Aristotle’s unmoved mover is just gibberish when viewed form the perspective of modern physics.Aquinas’s work is even further removed from reality.

    What in particular, about modern physics refutes Aristotle’s unmoved mover argument or Aquinas’ theology?

    There is no straw man in this article. The consistent atheist certainly denies the sort of transcendence of the human spirit as described by the author. Describing Judeo-Christian monotheism as a position that cannot be supported by evidence or reason is not a credible statement given the fact that nearly all of the great minds throughout history either explicitly believed it or , like Aristotle, practically did.

  19. 21 Antonella Oliver August 25, 2009 at 13:20

    Benedek……..Love of God as St Augustine says: Love God and do what you will……thereby if you LOVE God you will not do what is contrary to His teachings or attach yourself to any idols…..Love is the answer. God is Love. If we Love we will not displease God or hurt our neighbour in any way or hurt ourselves. Obviously not love of idols….Im sure you were joking !!!

  20. 22 Antonella Oliver August 25, 2009 at 15:21

    As Italy’s national lottery jackpot reached a record level of Rand 1.5 billion (not sure Euros), an italian bishop warned that the gambling fever was a form of idolatry. Through its SuperEnalotto game, the state has encouraged Italians to “trust their lives to fortune” and deceive themselves that a winning number will solve all their problems. Bishop Domenico Sigalini of Palestrina told Vatican Radio. “It is not moral to continue to promote this kind of hope”

    Clearly this is a form of idolatry because we are not turning towards God but toward money.

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"Whatsoever I have or hold, You have given me; I give it all back to You and surrender it wholly to be governed by your will. Give me only your love and your grace, and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more."

(St. Ignatius of Loyola - Spiritual Exercises, #234)

"Mia madre è stata veramente una martire; non a tutti Gesù concede di percorrere una strada così facile, per arrivare ai suoi grandi doni, come ha concesso a mio fratello e a me, dandoci una madre che si uccise con la fatica e le preoccupazioni per assicurarsi che noi crescessimo nella fede".
J.R.R. Tolkien scrisse queste parole nove anni dopo la morte di sua madre.

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. (1 Corinthians 16:13)

“Beati sarete voi quando vi oltraggeranno e perseguiteranno, e falsamente diranno di voi ogni male per cagion mia. Rallegratevi ed esultate perché grande è la vostra ricompensa nei cieli”.