I am working my way through part of NT Wright’s work, Surprised by Scripture, and his chapter on Western gods called “Idolatry 2.0” is a fascinating read.
His contention is the Enlightenment re-introduced Epicurean thought through men like Jefferson. Tired of the antics of the Church in the medieval period, the thought of God being “there” but far off was appealing all over again. They were tired of the angry god theory, so they shoved him off on a shelf.
With the rise of science, Wright’s contention is that science isn’t evil. What Epicurean thought introduced, though, was scientism. The world has autonomy, so God doesn’t have much to say much about science.
Or politics, for that matter. Get rid of the divine right of kings and let democracy develop its own way. Of course, that belief has the assumption that when countries elsewhere in the world throw off their old dictators they would naturally want to be Western-styled democracies. When that doesn’t happen, and it really hasn’t happened (think “Arab Spring”), then western civilization is left scratching its head.
In Wright’s view, scientism and political autonomy have given birth to secularism, the dominant motif of the West, especially the United States. Because of the underlying roots of Epicurean thought, secularism still has that “bad taste” in its mouth about an “angry god” so secularism works to shove religiosity from American culture. Get “god talk” out of the public square. Conduct all of life (politics, science, even marriage) as though all that exists is simply visible. No big scary thing out there to worry about.
But what happens when you create a vacuum? The saying goes “nature abhors a vacuum.” You can push God, or gods, upstairs and out of sight, but history shows again and again when you try that, other gods quietly sneak in to take their place.
The “big three” for Wright are these: Mars, Mammon, and Aphrodite. We have the god of war (or power), along with money and sex.
We’ve come to think of sex as simply a “life force” one can’t resist. Christopher Hitchens, preeminent atheistic priest, once said one should never pass up an opportunity to appear on television or to have sex. Even unnamed, Aphrodite is served by millions.
We think money fixes everything. Even those who don’t like evil capitalists and think the government can solve all our problems still need one thing as their catalyst: MORE MONEY. The problem with schools? Lack of funding. The problem with poverty? Lack of funding. The problem with (just insert anything here)? Lack of funding. It’s MONEY.
If a nation is trouble (like Greece today), it’s a matter of shoring up their financial system and moving on.
We bow to Mars as well. Got a terror problem? Send in the drones. Got a church shooting problem? Let the congregation start packin’!
Try and solve something by forgiveness and reconciliation? Get a life! Just shoot someone!
Aphrodite, Mammon, and Mars are present and powerful. They are even more powerful because they go largely unrecognized. That’s what makes a stronghold a stronghold. You don’t recognize it. If we did see it, the ugliness would be so horrifying we would actually work to get it out.
So, while society has tried hard to rid itself of the Christian God, they have instead welcomed in other gods. And those are the big ones. Wright names others as well.
And this, my friends, is called being “progressive.”
But it’s simply idolatry dressed up in a new skin.