We are warned in the Ten Commandments about having false idols. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” How seriously do we take this? Sure, very few of us are worshippers of Baal or Ashtaroth or any of those other parochial Middle Eastern deities, which so often proved very attractive to the fickle Hebrews. Should we stop there, satisfied that we have met the requirements of the First Commandment?


The Second Commandment goes on to talk about not making carved or graven images, and to not bow down or serve them. If all the Commandments were talking about were idols such as the Golden Calf, then there would not be two commandments. The First Commandment is separate from the Second. The Second is not a continuation or explanation of what was meant by the first. It stands on its own. So what is the First Commandment talking about?

Well, there are a lot of things that we make into false gods. Let’s start with money, or material possessions in general. We may not think we worship that new vehicle we just brought home from the dealership, but if we spend more time thinking about it, washing it, driving it, talking about it, than we do tending to our spiritual lives, that’s a pretty good clue that we have lifted it up to a greater status than it deserves. No, we may not invest it with divine properties such as omnipotence. Nonetheless, if we think that new SUV is going to make us happy, we have invested it with a power it does not have.

Let’s consider fetishes and totems. By fetish I am not referring to the psycho-sexual neurosis first explained by Sigmund Freud, where a non-sexual object (such as a shoe) becomes necessary for a person to achieve sexual satisfaction. There is a larger sense in which the fetish is any object which is imbued with some form of power it is not usually recognized as having. So, if we think that a cross has the ability to keep vampires away, we have fetishized it. A totem may have the sort of powers attributed to a fetish, but their primary purpose is to identify a group. So, if you were in the Turtle clan of the Iroquois tribe, you would know not to marry another Turtle, and turtles (both real and artistic depictions) would be held in special reverence by your clan — but not by members of the Wolf clan.

So it is easy to understand how money can be a fetish for many, a false god. It does have some power — you can buy things with it — but many think that it has the power to make them happy or secure, and it does not. But a material idol doesn’t have to be expensive. A peace sign hung around my neck may have the power of a totem to unite me with other like-minded people — and this may not be a bad thing — unless I think that I therefore have the power to know God’s will in all circumstances, because I have the power of Peace.

If you have spent any time around the peace movement at all, you must have seen examples of this kind of arrogance. I’ve been pretty arrogant myself.

I’m not trying to pick on “peaceniks” here, so I will give another example. Take, for instance, the Constitution of the United States. Now, let me say up front that I have the greatest respect for this document. I think it is the greatest instrument of governance yet designed. I think that the men who wrote were, in some part, divinely inspired. But the document itself is man-made. I have respect for it, not reverence. There are many for whom it has the power of a talisman to ward off evil. This is a form of fetish.

Enough of materialistic things. Let’s turn to some other idols.

Watch as the presidential campaign ramps up over the next year. Fetishes,totems, graven images and idols of all sorts will emerge. Watch your own attitudes. Are you looking for the person who will create some kind of golden age? Do you invest politicians or the political process with power to make you happy, secure, or prosperous that they do not have?

What about doctors and medicine? Do we expect them to cure all our ills? Do we think that pills, so often called the Magic Bullet, actually have superpowers? Do we treat physicians like gods?

And then there are even more intangibles. Cannot love itself be an idol? When we sing “All You Need Is Love”, does that cast an enchantment that is, in fact, not true? As important as love is, and as important it is for our fulfillment as human beings, there are people who love each other who commit acts of disrespect, degradation, or outright violence against each other every day.

OR Power. We think that the more power we have over a situation, the more security we have within it. This is wrong. No human brains have the ability to collect and comprehend all the necessary information in any given situation, just for starters.

And then there is God. That sounds pretty funny doesn’t it? How could God be a false idol? Of course He isn’t. But our ideas about God sure can be. We may be so certain about who God is, what He wants, where He’s leading … all of these lead us away from the real relationship with Him which is what the First and Second Commandments are all about. Let’s face it — all those people who are so certain about God’s will can’t all be right. But they all think they are right. Somehow, they have made an idol of their certainties.

I don’t know what to tell you to do. I’m still working through my own idolizations. I want my faith where it belongs, not in magical thinking.

2 thoughts on “Idols

  1. Dear Bruce ~ You have brought up many points for each person to self inquire what items, thoughts or delusions have created a form of self righteousness, elitism, arrogance or any other form of security system that suits an individual’s needs in life. We must constantly ask ourselves the questions behind our thoughts and deeds, whether they are to protect self or self-serving only, or rather for a higher good. Great blog! Debby

  2. “We can see the manifestation of God anywhere, only when we use our senses in a sacred way:

    Why don’t we start this idol issue with our body? This sacred and perfect vesture that God created for our temporarily prolonged (by ourselves) journey, called: Life.

    The body is the most wonderful workshop in the entire world, because it is the temple of the Lord. In this spiritual factory, impulses ought to be sublimated, impurities have to be weeded out and good tendencies nurtured. The uprooting of impulses is the goal, though it’s a very difficult task. While intoxicants enslave us only temporarily, impulses can overpower us for a whole lifetime! But they can be overcome with will-power, faith and determination. We must not give up, whatever the hardship we may face in this struggle. The body, sense organs, mind and intellect are instruments for a human being. Only when we understand the secrets of these instruments we will be able to comprehend the Divine Principle. If we cannot understand the vesture we are wearing, how can we understand the mystery of the infinite, indwelling Spirit? The body is the basic instrument for all the actions in life and for the acquisition of all knowledge and skills. But it should be primarily regarded as an instrument for realization of the Divine. Attachment to the body and utilization of it for physical pleasures should be given up. It is essentially sacred and precious, for it is the abode of the Soul/Divine Self and should be used only for sacred purposes.

    In this Dark age (Kali or Metal) human beings move around like cruel beasts. Compassion is vanishing and ostentation is the order of the day. People claim to love God, but hardly one in a million actually does so. To deride God during times of adversity and to praise Him when all goes well, is not real love for the Divine. Divine love does not flinch in the face of difficulties, nor does it gloat over prosperity. It remains equally serene come what may! Life is full of transient ups and downs, but true love should remain unaffected by this. As long as people are full of hatred, the world too will appear so. It is only when people develop love, the dualism of good and evil can be transcended and we can experience the joy of oneness with the Divine.

    Demons are people’s bad qualities such as arrogance and negative thinking. When the Lord metes out a punishment, it may appear harsh. The penalty depends on the time, place and the circumstances in which the Lord acts. Butter can be cut with a finger, but a hammer is needed to break a piece of iron. The Lord deals with peaceful people in a peaceful way and uses excitable means against this type of person. Fearful forms and qualities have been attributed to the Divine, but this is not correct. The Divine has only one attribute: Love. Love is God and it pervades the Cosmos. We must view the world through the eyes of love, then we will experience bliss. Acquisition of the Divine presence and the achievement of the bliss of adoration is very important. The Vedic scripture defines the Divine thus: the Soul is immanent everywhere just as ghee permeates every drop of milk. When the seeker pursues the Truth with this conviction, his spiritual practices are called Truth-based. The Lord declares, “In My latent form, I am in the entire Creation, operating the mystery. See in Me all and see all as Me.” The Lord promises this vision of immanence and transcendence to whomsoever that persists with sincerity on this Truth-based path. In other words, whenever and wherever we put ourselves in touch with God, it is the state of meditation.

    Krishna, the manifestation of universal love, bears a flute which is the symbol of the ego-less, desireless seeker. In the Truth-based path, seekers meditate on these pleasing personifications and the significance of the symbols and adore the Divine in the delight that wells up in their hearts.

    We should not seek to discover or discuss the evil in others, for the attempt will tarnish our own minds:

    The root of the word ‘Veda’ means ‘to know’. Vedas are also known as Chandas, which means pleasant, joyous. Other important meanings of this word are vital, strong and shielded. All these are the qualities of the Vedas as it is shielding, fostering, promoting the welfare of humans engaged in the unceasing round of worldly affairs, and conferring the ultimate liberation. So, the Spiritual path or the Spiritual Conversion leads to liberation of souls from the circle of life i.e. being born again and again. Humans are ever caught up in activities pursued with the profit available as the purpose. They have to be moulded as righteous men and women. The Vedas and other Spiritual scriptures shield people on the path of action from engaging in unrighteous acts, and protect the seekers of knowled from the temptation of the senses. The senses can do nothing by themselves; they are not independent. If the mind is brought under control, the senses can also be controlled. Some people undergo mere asceticism of the senses in order to control the mind! They are ignorant of the real discipline that is necessary – the destruction of desires. However vigilant warders may be, a clever robber can still steal in a hundred amazing ways. So too, however skillfully you may try to control the senses, the mind will drag them to its side and execute its desires through them. If only the outer door is closed and the inner door is left unbolted, calamity is certain. Therefore the aspirant should establish mastery over the external senses. But the mind too has to be controlled by means of peace and renunciation. When this is done, one can experience spiritual bliss and visualize the Soul/Divine Self within, at all times. Spiritual path is the path of detachment, of sense control, of rigorous mind training. So the Spiritual scripture through their role as armour or shield, shower bliss on all who rely on them. “

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