Sunday, 30 August 2015

The idols factory

My weekend reflection led me to Psalms 115. Here is a full extract from verse 2 to 8:-

“Why let the nations say,

“Where is their God?”
Our God is in the heavens,

and he does as he wishes.
Their idols are merely things of silver and gold,

shaped by human hands.
They have mouths but cannot speak,

and eyes but cannot see.
They have ears but cannot hear,

and noses but cannot smell.
They have hands but cannot feel,

and feet but cannot walk,

and throats but cannot make a sound.
And those who make idols are just like them,

as are all who trust in them.”

Have we placed our trust on the wrong gods? Are we now being punished for fashioning gods in our own image? Have we effectively atomized our society to serve the individual and to put his/her needs above the society? What have become of us in this age of technology, market-driven economy, wealth creation and post-modern values?

I scarce to think that our "self" has never really been crucified at the altar and it is now making an insidious comeback under the covers of self-help, self-actualization and freedom of self-expression. It seems that the modern message is about helping the self rather than dying to it. The psalmist wrote most prophetically when he said that our idols have been silver and gold and the idols themselves differs little from the idolaters – from us. For we are blind and deaf to the dangers of materialism, having no sense of direction, unfeeling and helplessly seduced, wholly subservient and imprisoned to the gluttonous zeitgeist of the time.

There is no doubt that the post-war era has been most lavished and indulgent to the development of the human desires. Runaway economic growth has definitely catapulted prosperity and wealth to the economic stratosphere and way beyond our wildest imagination. From millionaires to billionaires, from humble inventors to captains of industries, and from travelling evangelists to prosperity preachers, our modern society has rewarded men for their inventiveness and re-inventiveness, and in return, they are heartily reaping what they had sown. Yet, something is still missing. There is a hole in our heart that cannot be filled. The irony here is captured in this observation by the economist Richard Layard, “There are many clear cases where people became objectively better off but felt subjectively worse.” We have returned to become an island in ourselves, languishing and lost, in a human archipelago of self-isolation.

Nothing can hide this anxiety that most of us are feeling and reeling from. All that glitters is indeed not gold. We have replaced the Source of life with the accessories of life and this has only added to our anxiety, depression and emptiness. This is how a theologian Walter Brueggemann sees it, “It is only God…who can deal with the anxiety among us…The causes for anxiety among us are wrongly discerned…Our mistake is to pursue autonomous freedom. Freedom which does not discern the boundaries of human life leaves us anxious. The attempts to resolve anxiety in our culture are largely psychological, economic, cosmetic. They are bound to fail because they do not approach the causes. The public life is largely premised on an exploitation of our common anxiety. The advertising of consumerism and the drives of acquisitive society, like the serpent, seduce people into believing there are securities apart from the reality of God.

Earlier I wrote that the self has made a triumphant comeback and it is not without assistance from the prevailing culture of our time. It is actually a vicious cycle of self-gratification that is fast changing how we process our values and beliefs. Technology itself is a mixed blessing for us. It has opened up a whole vista of efficiency, convenience and even hope for humanity. But this hope also comes with a cost. In the book Virtually You authored by psychiatrist Elias Aboujaoude, he writes that we are developing an online personality where nothing is really off limits. In other words, it is boundless and that’s the problem. Where we fail in the real world, we have become gods in the virtual worlds. In other words, we are taking self-worship into a whole new level with games like Second life, and have become less inhibited with our thoughts and actions. 

Dr Aboujaoude explains, “More specifically, against this background of disinhibited, disassociated personhood, five psychological forces will vie to assert themselves: grandiosity, or the feeling that the sky is the limit when it comes to what we can accomplish online; narcissism, or how we tend to think of ourselves as the center of gravity of the World Wide Web; darkness, or how the Internet nurtures our morbid side; regression, or the remarkable immaturity we seem capable of once we log on; and impulsivity, or the urge-driven lifestyle many fall into online.

Examples abound in this area. The cult of fame (or infamy) has produced a litany of 7-minute starlets who parade themselves online doing the silliest and most mundane thing conceivable. We have oversized men in semi-nude parodying various art forms, young surgically-transformed girls promoting food and product lines, mindless display of superstar wannabes singing and dancing to cover-hits, desperate teens offering to “rent” their girlfriends for dates in order to buy the latest electronic gadgets, companies inviting married men to commit no-strings-attached adultery, and people selling illegally harvested kidneys and livers at competitive prices. And I have yet to include sex-depraved and morbid sites where online customers are invited to a pay-per-view to watch live executions, child rapes and other sadistic acts in what is commonly labeled as “polymorphous perversity”. In such a private, self-gratifying and boundless online environment, where everything is accessible to the young suggestible minds, depravity with deluded impunity is the order of the day.

Indeed, we have become idols-making factory. And in running helter-skelter to escape from the Truth that is immutable and transforming, we pursue, mimicry and embrace transient concepts of fame, power, superficial beauty and materialism. One author challenges us with this question, “Who are we without buying, owning or experiencing?” Alas, we may just discover that we are running empty. We have lost our core identity for we have traded it for the idols of this world; a world that caters only to the worship of self.

Let me end with the sagely thoughts of John Kavanaugh: “Having patterned ourselves after the image of our commodities, we become disenfranchised of our very humanness. Reduced to commodities, we lose the intimacy of personal touch. We cannot truly see or listen as vibrant men and women…We do not walk in freedom, since we are paralyzed by what is. Such is the result of idolatry. Those who make idols and put their trust in them become like them.” 

For the Creator’s image has become the images-creator and is now a slave to them. Cheerz.

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