When Moses was absent from the Israelites for 40 days and 40 nights, the people grew afraid and asked his brother Aaron to construct a Golden Calf to give them an object of worship. This is one of the most infamous cases of fair weather friendship in the history of the world. After all, the power of God was just demonstrated through dramatic miracles that delivered a people from 400 years of slavery. But these miracles, which everyone must of seen with their own eyes, were insufficient to overcome the strong cultural bias towards idol worship.
If we set aside the questions of divinity, this story says something powerful about culture: an entrenched culture cannot change overnight, even if an overwhelming set of evidence is presented that is should. During their time in Egypt, the Israelites had fallen into idol worship. And after hundreds of years statue worship, it was too big a jump to start worshipping an abstract God that no one could see.
The solution in the Bible is to create a Tabernacle an intermediary structure that was kind of like the Egyptian temples, yet worshipped God. This same principle applies today.
If you are trying to change the culture of a company, or to change yourself, a dramatic change is exceedingly difficult to pull off. It is better to create an intermediary goal, something similar to what you are doing today, but a significant distance towards what you are trying to achieve.
And if you are hoping the culture of your company will change, even a great leader like Moses may not be able to pull it off.
Chapter 2: Idolatry Then & Now
In the last post, I argued that a culture of idolatry is built on relative values, which is in contrast to the idea of a single creator who taught a single set of universal, absolute values that do not change with circumstance. “The Search For Universal Values I: The Ten Commandments” is the first in a series of posts to define a set of universal values.
According to Thomas Cahil, in his books The Gift of the Jews, the Ten Commandments are a great place to start when looking for a universal set of values. The last eight “commandments “reflect a tendency that is already there,” a set of ideas that at a high level are fairly uncontroversial. But what about the first two commandments? I don’t think it’s a coincidence that twenty percent of the Ten Commandments concern idolatry. (In fact as a marketer, 20% of anything will get my attention.)
The first commandment affirms the supremacy and unity of God, and the second forbids the worship of other gods. But one need not be a believer to benefit from a universal set of values. From a humanist standpoint, the first commandment (I am the Lord your God) can be interpreted as “Follow this set of universal values”. The second commandment (You shall worship no other God but me) can be interpreted as “Accept no substitutes.”
Value systems matter – they impact how we make decisions, and what we do in life. And the first two commandments together argue that there is a single set of values that does not change with circumstance. This stands in stark contrast to the sensibilities of the Ancient world, with many gods each with its own set of values. But what is that set of unchanging values?
I discovered as I studied further, that The Ten Commandments don’t hold any special place in Judaism. They are but 10 of 613 commandments in the Torah. (The Torah is the Hebrew word for the five books of Moses in the first half of the Old Testament, which is the foundation of Jewish law and tradition.) This was going in the wrong direction – as much as I like the idea of a set of universal values, it would be impractical and career-limiting to walk around with a Torah Scroll under my arm. I needed a way to summarize the entire Torah in three bullets. Moreover, if the values are truly universal, they should exist in other religions and philosophies from around the world.
The answer for me came once again from the Talmud, a collection of stories and Rabbinic commentary that was compiled ~ 200 C.E.
It happened that a heathen came before [Rabbi] Shammai and said to him “Take me as a proselyte, but on the condition that you teach me the entire Torah, all of it, while I stand on one foot.” Shammai instantly drove him away with a builder’s measuring rod he happened to have in his hand. When the heathen came before [Rabbi] Hillel, Hillel said to him “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. This is the entire Torah, all of it; the rest is commentary. Go and study it.”[i]
“What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man” is the Jewish version of The Golden Rule. The heathen in the story is by definition an idol worshiper (the only monotheistic religion at the time was Judaism.) So therefore the only thing needed to escape idolatry was the Golden Rule. And as we shall see in the next post, the Golden Rule is found in more than a dozen religions and philosophies worldwide.
Note: This post is an excerpt from Busting Your Corporate Idol: Self Help for the Chronically Overworked, a 5 Star Amazon Best Seller in the Work Life Balance Category. Learn more.