Faith: The idolatry of ideas

Fr. David Henderson

It’s becoming almost cliche to say that we find ourselves living in a divided nation. These divisions run deep, usually centered around political affiliation, but certainly not limited to that. We seem to be retreating into what many call a kind of tribalism, complete with the fear and outright hatred of the “other.” All of us have experienced this personally, among friends and even family members. We seem to be divided on just about everything these days, and as a result, we can hardly talk to one another unless we share the same beliefs and ideas.

One prominent thinker has likened the present situation to the biblical story of the Tower of Babel — we’re each building our own towers to heaven, convinced that our way is the right way. We have made idols of our “positions,” and demonized those who disagree with us. The result is utter confusion. We speak different languages, and find ourselves descending into utter chaos.

The Bible identifies idolatry as the root of all evil. Idolatry consists of worshiping anything other than the One True God. When we do this, all hell breaks out — literally. It makes sense. We set up false gods, we value something other than God as the highest good, the One who alone is worthy of our absolute devotion. God gets knocked down the ladder a few rungs, and everything is thrown out of order.

We all have beliefs, we all have “ideas” to which we are committed. Many, in and of themselves, are worthy of our commitment and attention. But Scripture tells us that even our most cherished values, even those persons for whom we hold the highest devotion, must come after our ultimate faith and trust in God. “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37) Even love of those closest to us, those we love the most, can become idols, if not placed in proper relationship to our love of God.

Practically speaking this means we are always to be motivated by God’s love for every single person. As St. Paul tells us, “In Christ, there is neither male nor female, slave nor free, Jew nor Greek.” We are not to circle the wagons around our particular tribe or identity-group, no matter how virtuous we think our “tribe” may be. We are not called to worship an idea, any idea, no matter how lofty or noble. We are called to worship Christ.

All of this is to say that in these days of great division and conflict, Christian love must conquer our ideological, tribal instincts. This means we have to actually see one another as Christ sees us. We must listen to one another, seeking to understand. We must stop presuming the worst of one another as a knee-jerk response to those with whom we may disagree.

Our unity is in Christ, not in ideologies, political positions, national identity, or anything else. We are called to be one, as Christ and the Father are One. As St. Paul writes in Ephesians 4, we are to “speak the truth in love.” This is another way of telling us to not make idols of our ideas and beliefs. Rather, we are to lead persons to Christ, who is Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Maybe if we approached others with this in mind, we would find ourselves less concerned with being right, and more concerned with the salvation of all.

Fr. David Henderson is priest at St. John the Baptist Orthodox Christian Church. He can be reached at

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