Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Regain Control of Your Life Through Stories About People

Chapter 1: My Corporate Idolatry Part 12

Busting Your Corporate Idol: How To Reconnect With Values & Regain Control Of Your Life is a book full of stories..  The longer a story has been told, the more likely it is to resonate with fundamental ideas about people.  I include stories from ancient sources like Aesop or the Bible, as well as modern stories, like the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller or the movie The Devil Wore Prada.  Across industries and level, in the Bible and in literature, I see the same story again and again. Excess devotion to things (like a company) comes at a high price, while focus on people (like family or community) brings greater happiness and internal peace.

The book is divided into three parts.  The first part of the book, “Corporate Idolatry Busted” tells the story of idols and corporations to help you see the world in a different way.  In today’s world, ‘idol’ generally refers to a secular object that is blindly or excessively admired. ‘Idolatry,’ however, refers not to feelings but actions. To give a trivial example, it is one thing to admire the winner of the TV show American Idol.  It is quite another to dye your hair and change your speech patterns to mimic the winner in daily life.

But idolatry is anything but trivial.  According to traditional Jewish teachings, you are allowed to commit any sin if it will save your own life, with the exception of murder, incest, or idolatry.  Idolatry as bad as murder???  Why should I take a bullet to avoid having to bow down to a statue?  The short answer is that the idol is not just a statue; it represents a value system and a way of life.  The First, and arguably the most important, Commandment says there is only one God, which as I show in Chapter 2, can be translated for unbelievers into “there is only one set of unchanging universal values.” In Pagan Idolatry, there are many gods, each with their own set of rules, meaning that individuals can, and did, pick which set of rules to follow, including some systems where murder was permissible.

Some people look at multiple religions and see nothing but conflict.  I see the commonalities, a single gold standard of values that transcend religion and do not even require belief in God.  In Chapter 2 we will become acquainted with the Golden Rule, the Rule of Self Preservation and the Rule of Universality that together constitute the Fundamental Universal Values (aka Fun-U-Val for the corporate junkies who can’t remember anything without the aid of an acronym.)  Idolatry, then, is the adoption of values that conflict with Fun-U-Val.  Chapter 3 strips away all the anthropomorphisms, demonization, and lionization that we attribute to corporations.  They are institutions created to make money, and are a very efficient way to create goods and services.  But corporations are no more capable of noticing people than an anthill is capable of noticing the ants digging the tunnels.

What stories have inspired you to make a change in your life?

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  1. I’m really enjoying hearing your exposition on idolatry from the Jewish background. I grew up in a conservative Christian family that was deeply into the Old Testament. I’m a pastor now (of a different flavor of Christianity) but all that time with the Old Testament has given me a deep appreciation for these things. I’ve always thought that the OT’s focus on idolatry was one thing that was universally applicable and relevant, but I’ve never heard someone outside the area of religious discourse talk about it.

    In my teaching I’ve suggested that to worship something is to give that thing so much worth in your life that it becomes your guiding principle. You know it’s attained the status of worship when you’re willing to sacrifice other good things in order to serve this principle. Idolatry is the making of anything other than God into your core guiding principle that you worship.

    You’ve nailed it on the head, I think, about how in our culture we’ve made work, career, accomplishment and the accolades that go along with it into idols. The sacrifice of other good things–family, children, emotional health, rest, spiritual journey–is obvious to see.

    Thanks for the engaging series that’s forcing me to think across various lines and boxes, and put these ideas together in a new way. Great stuff.

    • Greg Marcus says

      Thanks Marc. Your definition of idolatry in relation to guiding principles is great. And I agree -idolatry is a concept that is universally applicable because everyone believes in something. The trick is to recognize what is really guiding you.

      As I’m sure you are aware, God is such a challenge. Not everyone is a believer, which in my opinion doesn’t mean that they are are not following people-first values. And on the flip side, sometimes believers can be the biggest practitioners of idolatry, using the name of God to justify their own ideology of hate or bigotry.

      I find it fascinating that Jesus essentially called out the Hebrew priesthood for their idolatrous practice of misusing their holy office for personal gain. And 1500 years later, Martin Luther accused the Catholic hierarchy of idolatry on the same grounds. I think there is something about institutions that can bring idolatry out in people.


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