Richard draws attention to some of the great false gods around us, powered by fear —
But what are idols? Needless to say, they are not statues made of stone or wood! Rather idols are that to which we give our absolute allegiance; they are, in Paul Tillich’s idiom, our “ultimate concern”.
But what turns us into idol factories? Calvin makes another acute, if less well known, observation in the Institutes, paraphrasing the first century pagan Roman poet Statius: “Timorem primum, fecisse in orbe deos: fear first made gods in the world” (I.IV.4). If idolatry is the primal sin, fear is the primal negative emotion that fires it.
If this reasoning is correct, then perhaps the best way of unmasking our idols is to discover what we’re afraid of. So over the past few weeks - in casual conversations, in watching the telly, in reading the papers - I’ve been taking a little survey to see what frightens people - and then drawing some conclusions about some of the chief idols of our times.
- fear of foreigners leads to idiot xenophobia,
- fear of getting fat leads to the narcissism,
- fear of insignificance leads to a cult of celebrity.
The fact is, perfect love casts out fear. When people are in the grip of fetishistic alternative gods, the give-away is fear and hatred, explicit or implicit.
So — “Christianity” founded on fear of “Fundamentalism,” what is that? Christianity powered by fear of “Liberalism,” what is that? Very much less than the real thing?