Friday, October 7, 2016

Those who make them . . .

  The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
        the work of human hands.
    They have mouths, but they do not speak;
        they have eyes, but they do not see;
    they have ears, but they do not hear,
        and there is no breath in their mouths.
    Those who make them
        and all who trust them
        shall become like them.

      These phrases, from Psalm 135 (vs. 15-18), always seem to strike a chord. The critique in the psalm, of course, is directed at Israel's/Judah's neighbors, but also to those within their own communities who might be tempted to follow the lead of those "nations". That temptation stemmed from uncertainty or uneasiness with the way things were going, and no visible, competent, leadership to provide direction or hope. As the saying goes, "Nature abhors a vacuum", and so the tendency was to fill that empty space with something.
       It is easy, in our "advanced" twenty-first century, to look back on ancient peoples with a "pat-on-the-head" semi-condescension. Indeed, for several decades in the mid-to-late twentieth century, there was a belief among many sociologists (in the west) that modernism/secularism would supplant religion entirely. Many of those same scholars are now beating a retreat from that position, perhaps recognizing that the modern/secular positions don't address all of the significant questions people pose about the world and their place in it. On the other hand, we certainly have seen an exodus from organized religion over the last few years.
      That exodus has been analyzed and explained in many different ways -- dissatisfaction with a linkage between some religious groups and conservative politics; horror at a seeming focus on retrenchment in the face of justified criticism (e.g., the sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic church); disgust in seeing a passion, on the part of some, for raising obscene amounts of money that do little to alleviate significant social problems; and, yes, an acceptance of "scientific" answers to the questions of human origins that come into conflict with scriptural answers. Yet many of those who depart "organized religion" still claim to "believe"; the common phrase "spiritual but not religious" does define many.  And we see them searching for some kind of answers to their longings.
        Many, of course, DO find answers in a secular/humanist world-view, and it is not my intent to criticize them. But I do think that the verses above apply to them as much as they do to people of faith. When we build answers to questions relying only on our own limited resources/knowledge, the answers rarely stretch us to the best of our capacities. The answers of our sacred texts often both inspire and confuse me. The inspiration isn't hard to explain. But WHY would people preserve texts that were critical of themselves . . . unless those texts supplied answers that weren't self-evident.  And those answers rarely looked like the people as they were, but called them to be more.



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