Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Witty Atheist and his Lessons on Idolatry




The great lyricist of Tin Pan Alley, Yip Harburg , was that odd thing - a witty atheist.


Take, for instance, this little ditty ...


Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree;


And only God who makes the tree
Also makes the fools like me.


But only fools like me, you see,
Can make a God, who makes a tree.


More to the point of my recent posts is this one ...


"Speaking of the Common Man," said Lincoln, "God must love him."
And the Common Man, he must love God -- He made so many of Him.


Here the Atheist has more of an insight into the First and Second Commandments than do most believers. For the first two Commandments forbid having "other gods" before the true God and worshipping false gods of our own making - which is called idolatry, and which Scripture calls the source and summit of all evil (Wisdom 14:27).


This relates to a quote from the most recent post on my blog, from the book The Marketing of Evil by David Kupelian ...


No matter what kind of person you are, a form of Christianity has evolved just for you. There’s a politically liberal Christianity and a politically conservative Christianity. There’s an acutely activist Christianity and an utterly apolitical Christianity, a Christianity that holds up a high standard of ethical behavior and service, and a Christianity for which both personal ethics and good works are irrelevant. There’s a raucous, intensely emotional Christianity drenched in high-voltage music, and there’s a quiet, contemplative Christianity. There’s a loving Christianity and a hateful, racist Christianity, a Christianity that honors Jews as God’s chosen people and a Christianity that maligns Jews as Satan’s children.


... which is to say, in Yip Harburg's words, we fools have made "so many of Him", so many gods in our own sick image.


St. Paul tells us (Romans 12:2), "Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind ..."


The problem with the fragmentation of the Church, the splitting apart of the Faith, and the sectarianism of followers who rally around men instead of God, is that this is all an example of conforming to this world rather than being transformed by the renewing of our minds.


More accurately, this is all an example of idolatry.


For once a man breaks away from the Deposit of Faith, as taught and interpreted by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, which is protected from error by the Holy Spirit when teaching formally on matters of Faith and Morals, then, literally all hell breaks loose and the most obvious sign of that is rampant idolatry, man remaking God into man's own selfish and twisted image.


If you want a god who condones torture, you can ignore Catholic moral teaching and make Him.


If you want a god who shuns the poor and degrades the dignity of man, you can ignore Catholic social teaching and make Him.


And apparently, whether you're Catholic or Protestant, if you want a god who is obsessed about sex and who encourages you to "follow your bliss" by following your gonads, you can make Him as well.


St. Paul said it best. "My dear friends, flee from idolatry." (1 Cor. 10:14)


For if Harburg is right and if God is merely a fiction made in the image of man, then I'll join forces with the atheists and burn all the churches. If God is merely our own selfish sinfulness projected onto the heavens, then may God save the heavens! If God is merely our own lusts writ large, then hope is a sick joke and faith a hollow scam, and the last thing I want to do is read these lusts, however large we have written them.


That is why Paul implores us to "be not conformed to this world".


We don't want a god of this world, but a god beyond this world. We don't want a god of this age, but a god of the ages. To paraphrase Chesterton, we don't want a god that is right where we are right, but a god that is right where we are wrong. We don't want to trade the glory of the true God for images of "corruptible man", worshipping "birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things" - which are really images of our beastly selves. (Romans 1:23)


Harburg the Atheist and I, the former atheist, are in agreement: if we are worshipping gods of our own design, we are simply damned fools.


For we are worshipping but ourselves.


As Harburg says ...


No matter how high or great the throne,
What sits on it is the same as your own

1 comment:

Wade St. Onge said...

"Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains a constant temptation to faith ... Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc". (Catechism, paragraph 2113). And, one may add, sexuality.

One who finds God beautiful and is attracted to Him primarily (or even solely) because sexuality is an image of the Trinity, is not really worshiping God, but sex - "the creature rather than the creator" (Romans 1:20-25).