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"The Most Popular Idol"

    The dictionary defines "idol" thus:  
  [1] an image of a god, used as an object or instrument of worship, 
  [2] in monotheistic belief, any heathen deity, 
  [3] any object of ardent or excessive devotion or admiration. 
The Hebrew prophets railed against idolatry, calling the idols of
neighboring nations, "the work of men's hands."  Sculpture,
engraving and painting suffered for centuries in their tradition,
because of the perceived danger of idolatry.
     But the notion is more important, when taken figuratively as
in the third definition above.  Then "idol" doesn't mean art; it
means what humans care most about.
     Nineteen hundred years ago, the most popular idol was called
ROMA.  Later it was called HISPANIA in one area and FRANCIA in
another and BRITTANIA in yet another.  In the name of that
imperial idol, great quantities of murder and enslavement and
arson and theft took place.  All of that was excused with
explanations of "civilizing responsibilities," and "the white
man's burden," and "the spread of the message of the Prince of
Peace and his salvation." 
     In our day and place this same most popular idol could be
called AMERICA, but our arrogance has carried us on beyond such
obvious nationalistic idolatry.  We have deceived ourselves as a
result.  Our idol is called simply "God."  The generic term makes
it so simple, so slick, and so hard for some folks to spot.
     Many people assume that "God" is an American.  Some go so
far as to believe, and even say, that God is a Republican, but
let's not get into partisan matters.  For many "God" is indeed an
American who has his priests and prophets, for "God and country."
     God is a major participant in our national Holy Days.  Proud
smug prayers accentuate the celebration of Independence Day. 
God helped found this country in the wilderness, we're told. 
The people who were already here, with their established
civilizations, didn't count, except as part of the fauna.  They
were wild beasts that had to be exterminated, along with their
towns and granaries.  Treaties with them did not require
truthfulness in word or intent.  This same cynicism carries over
into current uses of assassination, double agents, deception and
diplomacy, all necessary aspects of the conflicts this God-obsessed 
nation keeps getting into.
     Thanksgiving Day was set aside to offer thanks for the
special protection the deity gives, not to humanity, or to Planet
Earth, but to newly arrived land-grabbing white Europeans.
     Memorial Day is to commemorate the war dead, and to continue
to justify the bloody history of the nation.
     Armistice Day was originally observed to note the end of the
war to end wars, but it didn't happen.  Ike called World War II a
Crusade, but ending war itself was no longer the goal.  Since
then we've had the Cold War and Korea and Vietnam and Nicaragua
and El Salvador and Iraq and Serbia and now Afghanistan.  Armistice Day 
has been converted into a confusing group of Holy Days, all called
Veterans Day, when we honor the soldiers!  Not the end of war,
but the perpetuation of it, with an obscene war budget.
     The American war god is named "God."  It's a brilliant
trick.  If he were called Mars or Northrup or Lockheed or
something like that, this clarification would not be necessary. 
     The idolatry can be spotted, when the "God" is limited to a
part, and does not deal with the whole.  Anytime the deity is the
god of some portion, a form of partiality results, and that's
idolatry.  People ask me in all sincerity, "What does, 'God bless
America' mean?"  Thee is no quick and easy answer.
     The worship of the American war god flies in the face of all
the implications of monotheism.  If there is only one God, he
can't be "ours."  He can't be anybody's.  If there's only one, he
alone has to be enough for everybody.  He has to be the God of
the Poles, the Nicaraguans, the Ethiopians, the Mohicans, the
Aztecs, the Chinese, the "communists" (whether they believe in
him or not!), the Iranians (no matter how fanatical their beliefs
are!), the Afghans.  He has to be there, the same for everybody. 
How many Gods are there?  One, or more than one?
     Partisans of American military nationalism don't like that
sort of thinking.  They're sure that America is first and best,
and they assume that "God" thinks so, too.  Precisely that
indicates the idolatry.  They think of the planet as something
America can take, by purchase, or conquest, or "cultural
influence."  They hate it when people thwart us in any way, as
has been done in Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Panama, Chile, Nicaragua,
Lebanon and Libya.  The recent "attack on America" brought
American civilians into this conflict, more than we've been used
to since the Civil War.  And the end is not yet.
     Nationalism is a very dangerous plague which infects this
whole planet and needs to be eradicated.  Americans aren't the
only offenders, just the most powerful.  The French nationalists
no doubt think that "God" is French and the Muslim fundamentalists 
think Allah is a Muslim.
                            *   *   *
This article is excerpted from Harry Willson's book, FREEDOM FROM
GOD: RESTORING THE SENSE OF WONDER, which has just been published.
Copyright © 2001 Harry Willson

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