My relationship with faith is complicated and has always been. It’s not so much the idea of religious faith that I have an issue with; my problem has always been more with the imperfect people who are arbiters of faith traditions.
In my opinion, people are imperfect and, far too often, take something that should be positive and turn it into something not so positive.
Despite this complicated relationship, I have long understood that – religious or not – human beings are drawn to worship. If it’s not God, it’s something else.
Definition of Worship
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, one of the definitions of “worship” is: “to regard with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion.”
This definition encompasses much more than a deity. It can refer to anything in life that, through our actions, we make ultimate.
As I’ve become older and somewhat wiser, though my wisdom is always a work in progress, I’ve come to realize even more that humans need to worship (to show extravagant respect, honor, or devotion) is deeply ingrained in us.
Pastor Tim Keller, in his 2009 book Counterfeit Gods, put it this way: “When anything in life is an absolute requirement for your happiness and self-worth, it is essentially an ‘idol,’ something you are worshipping.”
When you think this through, you know it’s true. I’m sure we all know people for whom success, work, sex, relationships, drugs, alcohol, material things, political ideologies, political leaders, or a combination of several of these or something else entirely, is necessary for their feelings of happiness and self-worth.
Whatever it is they are worshipping, they’ve made that thing a sine qua non of their own identity and sense of self-worth and joy. They are worshippers of that thing in every sense of the word. It has become a god to them, or as Keller called it, an “idol.” They will do anything for what they worship, sacrifice any relationship, and take any risk for it.
The things that people worship are not always, in a vacuum, bad things. For example, wanting to be successful is not bad; in fact, it’s a positive aspiration. But, when it becomes an ultimate thing for a person and is the only thing that can make someone feel worthy or happy, it can become something negative.
If the price of success is a series of destroyed relationships, neglected children, and shady business dealings, I would argue that success has become an idol, and its pursuit will eventually destroy that person.
Similarly, sex is not a bad thing. It’s a good thing to be celebrated, but when it’s the only thing that provides someone with a sense of self-worth and joy, it also turns into an idol that can destroy that person.
The great reformer, John Calvin, famously wrote: “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”
Does anyone doubt this truth?
When world events happen, I tend to sit back and observe. When you do this, you see the truths as presented by Calvin, Keller, and so many others clearly.
If someone holds a political ideology that is so rigid and unbending that they allow it to negatively affect their personal relationships with those closest to them, I would argue they are worshipping that ideology. It provides them with so much meaning that they are willing to sacrifice everything else of importance for it. We see this a lot today.
Similarly, a sense of safety is one of the newest things that’s being worshipped. There are so many people who are so convinced now that if they get sick, they will die that they’ve made their safety from illness an object of worship. This is seen clearly in the emotional attacks on others who they deem as a threat to their personal safety (e.g., the attacks on those who don’t wear masks while outside).
A good thing – wanting to feel safe – has become an object of worship, which means they are willing to do anything to ensure everyone else complies with their rule so they can have a feeling of safety.
In history, we’ve seen what can happen when people worship things or ideas to the extreme. The history of the 20th Century is littered with the dead of more than 100 million people due to the worship of the Communist and Fascist ideologies.
Because I view the world this way, I have an internal struggle with labeling everything an “addiction.” To me, that label pathologizes actions and behaviors that are not true illnesses in the traditional sense but are instead issues of the heart. Some of the things we label as addictions, to me, are really spiritual issues about the objects of our worship.
This doesn’t discount the reality of life for people who are stuck in the worship of things that are harming them. If labeling something an addiction is what it takes to stop worshipping that thing, then it can be something positive. I’m not sure, however, that this gets to the root of the problem.
Those who have issues with porn, for example, might, upon defeating the problem, begin worshipping something else that could end up having a similar negative effect on their lives, thus, continuing the cycle.
To be clear, I’m not discounting the fact that addictions to alcohol, opiates, and benzodiazepines are real. In fact, attempting to stop them on your own without medical assistance could kill you. Even with those examples, besides the biological issues, there is also a spiritual worship component.
Examine What or Who You Worship
A useful exercise I try to periodically do (since our lives are not static and our objects of worship tend to change) is to search my own heart. I begin with the premise that, as a human, I’m hardwired to worship. Knowing myself better than anyone else, try to list out the things or beliefs that are, or are dangerously close, to become things that I don’t think I can be happy without or that provide me with the totality of self-worth.
I then try to understand my motivations for needing those things and attempt to rationally put them in their place. I remind myself that the things in my life are a means to the end of my flourishing and happiness, but they are not an end in themselves.
This involves an ongoing process of self-awareness and of searching our hearts and minds in order to recognize what we are elevating into objects of worship.
I try not to let one belief or thing have such a great hold on me that I can’t imagine a happy life without it. Sometimes I succeed, but I have also failed miserably.
It’s a difficult process that involves a great deal of internal inquiry. We might not like what we uncover about ourselves, but it is preferable to a life spent turning good things into objects of worship that end up controlling our lives.
Of course, some might argue that the solution is simpler and involves truly and fully worshiping God, which is the rightful object of worship. That may be the solution, but I’m not qualified to provide an opinion on how to do that. I’ll leave that to others.
An important often overlooked part of any self-improvement effort is to recognize that your nature is calling you to worship something, and you must take steps to ensure that whatever that is doesn’t take over your life. The fact is nothing in this world is ultimate, and whatever it is will, in the end, let you down.
A continuation of this line of thinking by Padre
God Should Be The Focus Of Worship And Fulfillment
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