Monday, August 19, 2013

Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life by Elizabeth Scalia

Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday LifeStrange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life by Elizabeth Scalia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The "you shall nots" are less a list of restrictions and limitations than an invitation to keep turning back to God, who will "satisfy the desire of every living thing." (Ps 145:16). The "shall nots" say, "Don't steal that, look at me. Don't objectify her with lust; look at me. Don't nurse your anger unto death! Look at me. Do not look out over there, not even to your past, be it good or bad; and do not look to your earthly desires. look at me, and let me love you, and you will have no need of the rest.


By instructing us to look at God with love and do the same with everyone else, Jesus is telling us, "Take your eyes off yourself." God does not say, "Love me first," because God has rejection issues, and Jesus does not add, "And then love your neighbors," because he simply wants us to play well with others. These commandments are, in fact, deeply personal ones. They are meant to lead us away from those empty depths of our being where the idols are formed and polished and brought to the fore of our regard.
Of course, Elizabeth Scalia is here discussing the Ten Commandments, especially in the context of the idols we make for ourselves in everyday life. We tend to think of idols as being as identifiable as a golden calf but the simple truth is that our idols often are set up without us noticing that we've turned away from God and are worshiping something else. Scalia examines the ways we idolize ideas, prosperity, technology, sex, and more. These sound remote and intellectual, but there is nothing remote about them, as we can see from this excerpt.
The Internet is a tool of staggering power, and it's a great gift for the gleaning of information and ease of communication; but the Internet might well be the greatest tempter to ego gratification since the hissing serpent of Eden. As such, the Internet is a most cunning inducement to idolatry. Like any good trap, it seems so very passive. We discover it with delight; we engage, we become adept (in some cases addicted), and are perpetually distracted. The evil one loves distraction--aims for distraction--because it is the means by which we lose track of God and dwell among the idols.


On the Internet, we are in many ways like gods. Using the Internet makes us identifiers of what is good! We are able to banish what is evil from our sight by banishing it from our site with the click of a button. ... We feel great while we are there, particularly when our tweet is noticed and passed around with approval, or our drop is liked and shared. ... When we are online, some of us feel more alive than at any other time of the day. That is an insidious illusion, beloved of Satan who wants us to be delighted, engaged, addicted, and distracted. How can we be alive to God and to the workings of the Holy Spirit, if we are spending hour after hour alive to only ourselves, reveling as our ideas, opinions, and words are reflected back at us, forever and ever, Amen?
Note that she's not saying any and all use of the Internet is bad (so you're safe to keep reading here!) but that it is whether our use is intentional or not, whether it is mindful or not, whether we are in danger of putting it before God and the people in our lives. I myself had already identified the way I get lost for hours on the internet. However, that is a particular problem I have. If it were not the internet, it would be a book, a computer game, and so on. For me, the struggle is to notice what new idol I am allowing to suck my time away so I can be mindful.

Your idols will vary, of course. If Scalia doesn't touch on one of them then you are not being really honest. Don't worry that she is shaking a nay-saying finger at us. She uses her own life and experience as the examples to bring her topic alive. Written in an accessible, conversational style, this book is for anyone who ever enjoyed Scalia's blog, The Anchoress, but without the politics. It is the best of how she writes, focused on a topic we need to consider for our own lives. Get it. Read it. Highly recommended.

Note: this was a free review book by a pal ... but if I didn't like it, you'd never have heard of it from me.

1 comment:

  1. You are a good pal to her and a tough grader!

    I liked it well enough that I would have given it five stars, but then again, you have the blogs and I don't. Heh.