Fred will never forget the first time he picked up a handgun. The weight of the steel. The cool precision of the parts. The click of the hammer. It gave him a feeling of power and control. He was hooked. He subscribed to Guns & Ammo magazine, traveled to gun shows in New York and Ohio, and joined a gun club. He became a frequent visitor to the local gun store and noticed that that same “customers” were often there. Usually, they didn’t buy anything. They hung around the store, asked the clerk to see this or that new gun, and socialized. Fred frequently bought and sold guns. No gun quite satisfied him and there was always a new gun that he just had to have.
A few years later, Fred became religious. Going to a “born-again” church, listening to Christian songs, and reading the Bible were new experiences and he was excited. His guns sat in their case. He didn’t look at them or shoot them very often. He didn’t go to the gun store very often either. He realized that his past interest in guns was excessive and that he had been guilty of “worshipping” them.
Very few people think that they worship false gods; however, almost all of us, unknowingly, do just that. There is a fine line between liking cars, guitars, rock stars, sex, firearms, money, power, status, etc., and being obsessed with those things. The affection we have for things becomes idolatry when we love them more than we ought to. Idolatry consists in hoping to get from things what only God can give us.
However, Fred’s spiritual journey out of idolatry did not end there. Over time, he came to realize that religion itself can become an idol. One can stop swearing, stop drinking, go to church every Sunday, listen to Christian music, read the Bible and still be far from God. Many of Fred’s Christian friends obsessively talked about religion, had passionate religious debates, and loved acting as God’s policemen, but, he wondered, were they, was he, really worshipping, loving and serving God?
In a way, some of his Christian friends reminded him of the “gun nuts” he once knew. Guns were designed for hunting, target practice, self-defense, police use and war; yet many of the gun nuts he knew didn’t use their guns for any of these purposes. He believed that many of them were practicing a form of fetishism (attributing religious or mystical qualities to guns) or that they were using them to compensate for feelings of inadequacy or insecurity. He thought that some of his religious friends were using religion in a similar way. Perhaps, he thought, some of them were guilt-ridden or had problems accepting their sexuality. Certainly, many of them did not seem very loving, humble or self-sacrificing.
There is a reason why the first of the ten commandments forbids idolatry: Because it is the most important! The temptation to idolatry is the most powerful, seductive, and deceptive of all the temptations. Excessive self-love (pride) is a form of idolatry (self worship). It is the sin that drove Lucifer and his followers from heaven. It is the root of original sin, which spiritually handicaps all of us. It is ironic that hardly any one of us believes that we have broken the first commandment, when hardly any one of us has not! I cannot stress enough that we are usually blind to the fact that we are idolatrous. May God root out this poison from the hearts of His faithful.