Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

A Mistake You Can’t Afford To Make

Chapter 2: Idolatry Then & Now Part 14

There was a time when I thought my work in the genomics industry was going to revolutionize medicine.  The products I managed were going to help scientists find all the genetic predispositions for disease, and usher in an era of personalized medicine, where an individual would be prescribed the most appropriate medicine based on his or her genetic makeup.  My mistake, however, was thinking that anything the company asked me to do was in service of this laudable goal.  In other words, I had made an idol of my company, in that I let it be the mediator of my altruistic aims.

The Rambam, one of the great medieval Jewish philosophers, explained the origin of pagan idolatry as a similar error. “At first men believed in one God who governed the world through intermediary forces” like the stars and other heavenly bodies.  They worshipped the intermediaries as a way of bringing honor to the creator, and then made statues to give their worship a point of focus.  After a few generations, people forgot that the statues and heavenly bodies were only intermediates, and thus began to worship the idols outright. [i]  And the values associated with the statues began to drift and diverge from God’s values.

Intermediaries distort the original message.  This can be an innocuous process, like a child’s game of telephone, or may constitute deliberate manipulation by unscrupulous individuals.  Karen Armstrong, international expert on comparative religion and TED Prize winner gave the following example “Often when people talk about God, we attribute to Him the thoughts and feelings and opinions we have ourselves.  … It is often noticeable that the opinions of the deity coincide with those of the speaker.  This is a form of idolatry because what you are doing is worshipping a deity in your own image.”[ii]

Take a moment to reflect on your values, goals, and passions.  Now, reflect on how you are spending you time.  What is the biggest influence on how you spend you time?

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[i] Maimonides: Torah and Philosophic Quest  by David Hartman the Jewish Publication Society (1976) p 54-56

[ii] NPR Talk Of The Nation: Interview with Karen Armstrong January 10, 2011 about her book Twelve Steps To a Compassionate Life. Listen here.

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