I’m in the process of re-reading the Old Testament, so I’ve been thinking about the notion of worshipping other gods which is a constantly reoccuring subject matter there. There aren’t very many traditions of polytheism currently being practiced in North America these days, which leads us to hear to the oft-repeated question in Sunday School classes, “What are the other gods we might be tempted to worship today?” And people tend to think of cars or wealth or position or power or celebrity.
I think it might be helpful to consider what the patterns and desires are that were expressed in ancient worship as we try to consider what the parallels in our era might be, so, drawing upon my meager knowledge of South Asian and African cultures that do include differing gods and my understanding of ancient Greek and Roman religious beliefs which also included gods competing for mortals’ attention I can come up with the following:
Worship most commonly involved:
- A belief that a god’s opinion of you, or that being in his or her good graces, is the most important source for your success in life and your material well-being and emotional stability.
- A belief that sacrificing things that are important to you in order to win a god’s good opinion and help is effective in gaining what you desire.
- A belief that the gods that other people look to for help are not as powerful or effective as the ones to whom you look for help.
- A strong sense of tradition and custom that feels familiar and comfortable.
So, therefore, in considering the answer to the above mentioned Sunday School question…
From which people or institutions do I seek approval more than I seek to please God in my quest for social success, material well being and emotional stability? And, is one of those people me?
For which goals or for which people’s approval do I sacrifice things that are most important to me?
Are there things, philosophies or people that I think are more effective in helping me achieve my desires than God is? Do I act like there are?
As I consider the people who I feel I most need to please in order to succeed, or the philosopies or assumptions that I most need to conform to in order to be succesful, how many of those are ones I embrace simply due to tradition and a comfortable sense of the familiar or established?
Food for thought.