Idols in Our Midst

Written by Jeffery J. Ventrella |
Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Man is a worshipper who either worships the Creator-God, or Man worships what is not God, that which Paul characterizes as creation. And, when worship is false, that is, is directed toward the creation — idolatry results. The truth is exchanged for the lie. That false theology, according to Paul, correlates with unrighteous ethical conduct, what Paul calls unrighteous practices. Idols aren’t idle.

Well, it’s election season.  The first Presidential “Debate” occurs this week – pass the popcorn!  The 24/7 news cycle continues to be cluttered with reports, rumors, and rhetoric – all of which is largely poisonously partisan and unedifying.  Yet, for the faithful Christian, pietism and indifference – cultural withdrawal – do not reflect a mature Christian approach to the public square – a venue that the Lord desires the faithful to engage – to actually intercede – “when truth stumbles” there:

Justice is turned back,

and righteousness stands far away;

for truth has stumbled in the public squares,

and uprightness cannot enter.

Truth is lacking,

and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.

The LORD saw it, and it displeased him

that there was no justice.

He saw that there was no man,

and wondered that there was no one to intercede;

then his own arm brought him salvation,

and his righteousness upheld him.[1]

We need to think in totals, not bits, as Francis Schaffer put it[2] – in other words, we need to situate our thinking in God’s world as it is:  Creation, Fall, and Redemption – avoiding the idols that result when the Creation, instead of the Creator, is worshiped.[3]  Politics is no exception – it too can be idolatrous. Before we consider candidates[4] and culture, we need to understand Cosmology – to see in totals, not bits.  Only then can we properly choose between Christ, and two attractive and popular, though idolatrous, imposters:  Caesar, or Self.  Let’s get to the gist.


Ask folks to identify the source of authority informing the public square, and their answers will vary. However, they often reduce in various ways to two basic oppositional poles: the individual, or the collective; the Self, or the State.  Both can be idolatrous.

The public square manifests this point in several forms:  Philosophers ponder the One and the Many; political pundits debate libertarianism and progressivism; the media pit freedom against security; authors craft fictitious dystopias featuring both Big Brother as well as pleasurable feelies for the individual;[5]businesses wrestle with regulations that affect providing various services: baking wedding cakes,[6] photographing weddings,[7]and printing T-shirts.[8] And, sexual libertines bolstered by SOGI (“Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity”) laws, confront and restrict religious liberty.[9]  

Frequently, these debates crystallize around expressions of sexuality and sexual practice interfacing with the public square. The remarks of Stamp Corbin are typical.  Mr. Corbin, formerly Co-Chair of the Obama National Leadership Council and San Diego City Commissioner of Citizens’ Equal Opportunity Commission, pleaded:

[T]he most insidious word that is constantly used in our movement is tolerance. . .  I do not want to be tolerated.

What I want, and I hope the [LGBTQ] community at large wants, is acceptance. That’s right, approval and respect of my sexual orientation.[10]

Plainly, Mr. Corbin wants the State to approve, enforce, and impose on others his Self’s sexual desires. So, which is ultimate and ultimately authoritative:  Is it the One, the Individual, or the Many, the Collective? Why this recurrent public vacillation? Mr. Stamp seems to say “both:” Approve and enforce what I desire.  This pendulum appears arbitrary.  

One bishop described this phenomenon, noting that it expresses itself politically and legally, but never actually resolves things: 

“[T]he culture has lurched between deregulation in all areas of life — money, sex, and power, to put it crudely — and what you might call reregulation. Deregulationhappened because people wanted to do their own thing, to be (as it were) true to themselves and see what happened… The problem is that introducing new regulations doesn’t get to the heart of the problem.  Doing your own thing isn’t good enough, but rules by themselves won’t solve the problem.”[11]

What explains, if anything, this swerving between seemingly polar opposite options like a drunk driver?  Calls for unfettered liberty and simultaneous calls for regulation and uniformity.  Is there an explanation, a rationale for what is occurring? Is there grounding for understanding, and thereby avoiding both the Scylla of radical autonomy and the Charybdis of Statist coercion?

The apostle Paul provides such an analysis. His optics best describe where we are and why we are there. And, knowing this analysis provides a way forward culturally and politically.

The Apostle Paul’s Perspective:  Cosmology As a Key Cultural Optic

It is of course both arrogant and unfeasible to bring to bear all that this marvelous thinker contributes to this topic here. Accordingly, the focus of this analysis will spring primarily from one of St. Paul’s culturally foundational arguments as set forth in Romans 1:18-32.

There, Paul claims that “real reality” — expressed cosmologically — reduces to two starkly different and mutually exclusive options:  either there exists a Creator and a creation (created order); or there only exists a single metaphysical reality, some expression of monism – a paganism expressed is diverse ways.

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