Chapter 2: Idolatry Then & Now Part 11
In the previous post, I discussed idolatry by error. Here is one of my favorite stories that illustrates idolatry by error.
“During the 40 years after the Exodus from Egypt, a young Israelite solder went to the marketplace of a newly conquered tribe of idol worshipers. He regularly went to see a beautiful girl with dark eyes who sold cloth from a tent in the market center. At first he went for the low price, but after a few days he was invited in to sit and drink wine. Flush with wine and conquest, the soldier pulled her close and murmured in her ear. She pulled out an image of the idol Pe’or from her bodice and said to him “If you want me to do your bidding, bow down to this.”
He flung her back, eyes burning. ‘I will never bow to your trinket!’
She answered ‘What do you care if you only expose yourself to it?’ Since he had to disrobe anyway, what harm? As it turns out, exposing oneself was a way to worship Pe’or. His face burned with shame, but the sex was beyond fantastic.” – adopted from Babylonian Talmud[i] I like this story because it illustrates the allure of idolatry, the gradual way it can creep up on you, and the not uncommon discovery that one has already committed idolatry without even knowing it. And while giving reverence to a statue may not seem like a big deal today, in biblical times it was punishable by death. Seem harsh? Yes, but those were harsh times. But even then, the death penalty was reserved for the most serious crimes. And I think idolatry carried such a harsh penalty because it is so alluring.
And what is the problem with idolatry today? For the religious of course, idolatry remains a mortal sin. For the non-religious, I think of it this way. Modern psychology is clear that lasting happiness comes from connections to other people and not from possessions. A lifestyle of idolatry puts people second, and elevates the importance of something else which results in weaker interpersonal relationships, which in turn means less happiness. So, for a happier life, put people first.