Monday, September 15, 2008

Idolatry Is Alive and Well

One of my favorite subjects to teach this year is world history. I've always enjoyed the subject and the text we are using, Christ the King, Lord of History, is excellent. I would have understood a great deal more about the Old Testament in my teens if I had used this book. We just finished the chapter on the Kingdom of Israel, spanning the time of Saul through the liberation by Cyrus the Persian.

I was particularly interested in the part about Jezebel. Everyone knows who she is, sort of. She was a queen and a nasty woman to cross. I just never thought about why. Jezebel was a foreign queen in Israel. Like most foreign queens, she brought her gods, Baal and Astarte, with her. These two had some particularly objectionable traditions and forms of worship. Since Astarte represented, among other things, love and fertility, her holy days included enough free sex for the sixties. Baal required child sacrifice. All in all, a recipe for moral and spiritual disaster. Jezebel was very faithful in her efforts to enforce worship of her gods and no others. Faithful Hebrews were forced into hiding. With things this bad, you know God would send a prophet.

He sent Elias. For three and a half years, it didn't rain in Israel. Considering that the society was pastoral/agricultural, three plus years of severe drought was not something to be taken lightly. However, it didn't get the country back on track. It took something spectacular, the humiliation of 450 prophets of Baal and fire coming down from Heaven to incinerate an altar satuated with water, to return the people to God.

Fast forward 3000 years. Despite all Elias did, despite all God's warnings and consistant messages throughout history, idolatry is still here. Baal and Astarte, under different names, still receive their worship. The common attitude toward sex is often to go ahead and do it if it feels right, that people simply cannot control their sexual impulses and, well, let's be responsible and wear condoms since it's obviously going to happen. Though we are expected to exercise self-control in all other areas of life such as eating and finances, we are expected to be slaves to our sexual appetites, slaves to Astarte. In the wake of this, we sacrifice one million babies a year to Baal. We call him choice, or freedom, or reproductive rights, but it's still Baal, demanding the blood of innocents. Sexual promiscuity and the devaluation of human life go hand in hand. If we can use this other person for pleasure, reduce them to nothing but a vessel for our pleasure, it is easy to reduce all people to either useful or useless. How very easy then to dismiss even the most basic rights to those unseen and unheard.

This time around, each of the faithful is called to be Elias. Each one is called to stand against the false gods. I don't think there will be fire from Heaven, but we can pray for a denunciation of the pagan gods just as public and dramatic, and with just as strong a shift in public practice.

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