Idolatry

In a previous post, it was mentioned that idolatry is nothing more or less than allowing something or someone to come between you and God. This is a broad definition which works quite well I think; however, studying the topic a bit more in-depth certainly can’t hurt.

The Last Days: Types and Shadows from the Bible and the Book of Mormon

The Last Days is a book written by a dude named Avraham Gileadi (“AG”) who was mentored by LDS scholar Hugh Nibley. The first edition of this book was pulled from Deseret Book due to the controversial indication that a “Davidic King” or “Davidic Servant” would be raised up by God in the last days to build Zion. This didn’t sit well with some of those in the Church as it conflicted with interpretations of Isaiah held by some in Church leadership, hence that book was pulled and ordered to be revised.

I would highly recommend this book as well as another one of this books Isaiah Decoded and also his translation of Isaiah. The first chapter “Twelve Diatribes of Modern Israel” discusses 12 sub-types of idolatry (shown below). I would highly recommend a full read of the essay which can be found here; however, if you don’t have time I’ve included an abridgment below.

Images

Somewhat self-explanatory, but AG goes into detail how television could be considered a medium through which we worship images of the world.

“The answer to this need lies in watching more television, until its addictive and narcotic effect on people enslaves them. Because their minds and hearts dull toward quiet, normal, everyday happenings, reality appears drab and uninteresting. Television advertising in part compensates for this by creating unnatural wants or needs in people. People satisfy these wants by selfishly indulging in consumer goods.

But more than this, television teaches a false social code, enculturating people, especially children, into norms of divorce, disrupted family life, the supremacy of the peer group, affluence, unisex, alcohol consumption, fast food or junk food habits, coercive health practices, and so forth. Closely linked to this chaotic social structure is television’s false morality. While television defines no clear-cut standard of right and wrong and denies the concept of sin, it accepts immorality as normal. Because the finer human emotions are not portrayed well on this medium, television inculcates a national taste for what is depraved, coarse, and unintelligent. It not only vulgarizes the use of language, but stunts its development, discouraging reading and intellectual growth.

That the effects of television, to name but one medium of modern imagery, parallel exactly those of ancient image worship—turning men’s minds and hearts away from God, alienating people through a diet of permissiveness, carnality, and servility to a false moral code—we cannot deny. The prophet Micah foretells that images would prevail among the Lord’s people in the last days. Micah uses the common rhetoric of “graven images” and “standing images” in predicting that men will worship the works of their hands (Micah 5:13). Jesus affirms that Micah’s prophecy relates to the last days when he says that those who will not repent in that day will be cut off from the house of Israel (3 Nephi 21:17, 20).”

Violence and Sex

This is extremely interesting. Baalistic influence is discussed at length and how it still affects our culture today by rearing its ugly head in the basic plot structure in our day-to-day media consumption.

“The Lord, on many salient occasions, warned the Israelites through his prophets about their carelessness in letting their neighbors’ Baalism influence them. Baalism itself, however, we have not understood well. The cult centers around a myth or fictional account of a life-and-death struggle between the gods. In this story, Baal, the hero, overpowers several rivals. He celebrates his prowess by having intercourse with Anath, his female partner.

The fullest available account of the myth comes from the Baal-Anath Epic of Ugaritic literature. Its alternating scenes of violence and sex—reenacted in real-life dramas that took their cue from the Baal myth—become explicit in their descriptive detail. Pornographic and violent imagery, carved or painted, accompanied reenactments of the story. The myth so incited Israelites who exposed themselves to the Baal cult that forthwith they “played the harlot” with non-Israelite women, losing all awareness of their chosen status (Numbers 25:1, 6).

In the Ugaritic myth, Baal obtains permission from a higher authority, El, to command the gods Yamm (Sea) and Mot (Death) to comply with Baal’s rule or face him in a confrontation. Yamm and Mot represent forces of chaos or disorder that will make trouble for Baal and for the world if Baal does not subdue them. They resist Baal’s authority and each fights him to the death.

Sundry emissaries and cohorts assist Baal and his rivals in their life-and-death struggle. The versatile craftsman Koshar fashions the weapons Baal uses against his enemies. These weapons can kill, injure, or maim from a distance. As the central figure of the drama, Baal himself literally kicks up a storm, he being the “lord” of thunder and lightning. Baal nonetheless suffers reverses and at one time appears dead. But with the timely aid of his violent consort, Anath, he escapes the clutches of death and wins the victory at the last. The myth thus credits Baal with restoring order in the world, everyone profiting from his extraordinary prowess. Sexual relations between him and Anath, hitherto hampered by adversity, now receive full expression in a lustful orgy.

In comparing the Baal myth with anything in today’s culture, we recognize readily the basic plot that inspires so many movies and dramas in our media. Their very success lies in the amount of violence and sex they contain. The hero and his cohorts get authorization to kill and do anything they please, so long as they subdue the enemy and restore order. They do battle using weapons that kill and injure from a distance, weapons that strike swiftly like lightning, that clap aloud like thunder.”

Sound familiar? Have you ever seen an action movie where you felt like you were vicariously living through the character? Where you felt the character’s power vicariously through the story line? Are our souls being cheated by these houses of bail? Are we subliminally being preached to regarding the lusts of sex and the power of violence?

Rock Music

This might be a sensitive topic for some because some really like their music, I’d even go as far to say they idolize it. I kid, I kid, but seriously there are types of music out there that definitely foster idolatry. Many music groups are idolized and lead many into whoredoms. Also, many rap artists (especially the “classic” wrap of the 90s) encourage nothing but pure idolatry. What kind of idolatry might you ask? The lyrics are almost exclusively about money, women as possessions and sexual objects, violence, and worldly possessions. I wasn’t very spiritual growing up, but one thing I couldn’t stand is when my friends would listen to that kind of rap music. I could almost feel my soul dying. “Please, please don’t consume this. You’re hurting me” is what my soul would tell me, but because I was a bit of an idiot I would tolerate it and would echo the same thought of Lisa Simpson, “shut-up brain, I have friends now, I don’t need you anymore”.

The Lord commanded not just ancient Israel but every covenant people to keep themselves unspotted from the world. This commandment applied as much in the days before the Flood as it does in the latter days. One account of the period leading up to the Flood tells how the people of the covenant, who lived on a high mountain plateau, lost their chosen status: they let the people of Cain, who lived on the plain, entice them down the mountain.

From the days of Adam, the first man, the Lord commanded the children of the covenant “not to mingle with the children of Cain, and not to learn their ways” (2 Adam and Eve 19:4). In the days of Jared—whose name means “going down”—the children of the covenant nonetheless mingled with them and soon became as they were. When the Flood came, it swept away both, the people of Cain and of the covenant alike. Only Noah and his immediate family, as a type of things to come, preserved their covenant status and were spared (Genesis 6:17-18).

Whether the account that the books of Adam and Eve give is accurate, or whether it represents but a folk memory, does not matter a great deal. What matters is the thing it describes, a phenomenon that could occur among any chosen people…

…In brief, what enticed the people to come down from the Holy Mount and mingle with the children of Cain was the appeal of a certain kind of music. This music possessed the power to ravish people’s souls (2 Adam and Eve 20:3). Once the people descended from the mount, all manner of lusts overcame them. The music had conditioned them for this (2 Adam and Eve 20:20, 30-32). The music transformed people who had kept the divine law, who had regularly prayed and fasted, from children of God into children of the devil (2 Adam and Eve 20:15-16, 27, 35).41 The music robbed people of their self-control, and thus of a measure of their agency (2 Adam and Eve 20:3, 9). The music’s intensity and momentum, when played at all hours by impassioned musicians, inflamed people’s hearts and won them over. A godly habit of life gave way to the abominations that were the commonplace of the Cainites (2 Adam and Eve 20:2, 4, 12-13).”

Organized Sports

Oooooooh, this one really cuts people deep. I can honestly say, this is one of the few forms of idolatry in which I’ve seldom participated. I can’t stand watching sports. My ADD precludes my ability to tolerate watching numerous grown men try to tackle each like some kind of caveman reenactment. How sports has garnered such a following is beyond me. I’ve been involved in other masculine idols like guns and cars, but darn’it just never got into those sports idols. I’d rather be stabbed in the forehead with a fork than be forced to watch 3 hours of Sports Center.

Labeling organized sports as an idol seems extreme at first, but it makes sense doesn’t it? Just the BYU vs University of Utah rivalry alone should illustrate the point. I’ve never seen so much unjustified hatred between two groups of people as I have between BYU and the UofU. A UofU student one time told me that if he ever went on a date with a girl from BYU he would spit on her for going to the school. Sure he was kidding, but to what degree?

Every time I see a vanity license plate with a school logo on it I cringe slightly as the person proudly displaying the plate is communicating to everyone else on the road one of the false gods he/she worships.

In our own culture, a widespread and rapidly growing preoccupation with sports—whether football, basketball, baseball, athletics, boxing, wrestling, car racing, horse racing, hunting—must make us ask whether we, too, like the Romans and Hellenists, find ourselves in a state of moral and civil decline. Although our laws prohibit bloodshed, so explicit appear the parallels of human behavior that we cannot say that we are different. The abandon and frenzy of the human spirit at such events, the foul language, anger, and even bloodlust reflect the kind of coarse disposition the Romans displayed.

So all-consuming have today’s games become that they govern people’s very thoughts, moods, and actions. In the cause of sports, men desecrate the Sabbath. Family life suffers to the point that we hear of “sports widows and orphans.” Upcoming events are no longer victories we ourselves win in working out our salvation, but the next game or the one after.

The fanfare and pageantry we impose on the games, the vast resources of money and man-hours we devote to organized sports, betray an entrenched cult, a full-blown diversion from life’s real contest. It is of absolutely no consequence to us, in the eternal perspective, whether so-and-so wins a match, or whether such and such a team retains its ranking. Our all-absorbing quest to become Number One in sports means that we become second-string players, or perhaps mere bench warmers, in our quest for Zion. When we love sports with all our might, mind, and strength, as we do, we are indeed damnable idolaters. Once we catch its infectious spirit, it will not leave us alone. We must ever be following the progress of a team, making that, not the gospel, our daily talk, the focus of our thoughts. To be a “fan” of, or “faithful” to, something other than God means that we entertain a substitute for true worship.

The type we outline teaches us that few, if any, involvements with organized sports exist—in their modern embellished form—that are not idolatrous in nature, that do not divert the mind and heart from being preeminently involved with things of the spirit. This, of course, does not include our individual pursuit of excellence while magnifying our talents. But where sports form an end in themselves, where they become an all-consuming quest for excellence for its own sake—or for the sake of money or becoming popular with the world, beating the world at its own game—then we overstep the bounds on the side of idolatry. The total abstinence by pious Jews from the games cult that swept away a civilization, and with it the early Church, surely constitutes a type and shadow of a latter-day contest.

Human Idols

“Isaiah, through a subtle play on words, identifies prominent figures in society as “idols.” By using terms possessing different levels of meaning, Isaiah implies that the people idolize certain “celebrities” or “bigwigs”; the people are “enchanted” and “captivated” by them, and exhibit “covetous desires,” “fawning adulation,” and “carnal lust” toward them (Isaiah 1:29-30). The idols, on the other hand, exercise “immunity” from the law on account of wealth, power, or fame; they and their enterprises make up the very spark that sets off a fiery destruction of the Lord’s people (Isaiah 1:29-31).”

How many of us spend time following celebrities in the news? How many of us are concerned with the frivolity of, say, the Kardashians, or idolize the opinions of those in power? Furthermore, how many of us put our religious leaders on a pedestal? How many of us fawn over religions leaders and revere them without critique? How damming is this activity?

Imaginations of the Heart

Imaginations of the heart are, in other words, simply the biases and carnally pleasing ideas and thoughts that satisfy our lusts, whatever they may be.

Virtually every instance of the expression “imaginations of the heart” in the Bible equates such imaginations with idolatry and following other gods. At a covenant ceremony, Moses warns Israel, “Lest there should be among you a man, woman, family, or tribe whose heart turns away this day from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that bears gall and wormwood” (Deuteronomy 29:18). Moses goes on to cite a classic kind of self-deception, at the same time harking back to the curses he has just enumerated in connection with the covenant: “And it come to pass, when he hears the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace [salvation], though I walk in the imagination of my heart, to add drunkenness to thirst” (Deuteronomy 29:19).

Moses thereby gives us to understand that self-deception or “drunkenness” follows a personal lack of or “thirst” for the knowledge of God. Paul concurs with this when he says that imaginations, or reasonings, form a kind of conceit or pretense that exalts itself “against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Moses thus concludes his warning by showing how the Lord will not withhold his anger and jealousy from such but will bring “all the curses that are written in this book” upon them, separating them unto evil from his people, blotting out their name from under heaven (Deuteronomy 29:20-21).

Imaginations of the heart nonetheless constitute something each of us has to live with. They form an integral part of being mortal, expressing a person’s innate disposition to think or do evil. Unavoidably, “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21). People possess a natural tendency to be proud, mischievous, and wicked (Proverbs 6:18; Luke 1:51).62 But when people let the imagination of their hearts rule them, when they do not make captive every thought in obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5), then they fall. Then, though “they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:21).

Nature Cults

“The nature lovers among us for whom nature has become a religion could hardly have been outdone by the primitive cult. The fervid weekenders and their sport, and even backyard enthusiasts, display a sophistication the ancients would not have guessed. Today’s proliferation of campers, dirt bikes, dune buggies, four-wheelers, skis, snowmobiles, yachts, speedboats, gliders, and related accoutrements betoken a rampant and costly cult. When recreation becomes an end in itself, when promiscuity seeks out recreation as a means of self-expression, then there results a classic kind of idolatry.”

Oooooooooooor, perhaps AG was alluding to something like the following?

Mammon

We go through hoop after hoop, justification after justification, to rationalize away why having wealth isn’t bad. I usually engage in this rationalization on a semi-monthly basis. The scriptures are abundantly clear regarding wealth.

  1. It’s only okay if you truly seek to administer relief to the poor, sick, and afflicted only after you’ve first sought the Kingdom of God. (Jacob 2:18-19)
  2. If we want to be equal in heavenly blessings we must be equal in earthly things (D&C 78:6), and that it’s not given that one man posses that which is above another and as a result the whole world lieth in sin (D&C 49:20).
  3. Sending a camel through the eye of a needle is easier than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God. (Matt 19:24) We’ve gone through all sorts of mental gymnastics to try and justify what Christ said; but like Hugh Nibley said, the tradition that the eye of the needle is referring to the gate to city can be found nowhere in ancient writings. I.e. it doesn’t exist. I.e. it’s impossible for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. I.e. you have to shed your riches before entering in.

Since the selfish pursuit of riches is so widespread today, what do the ancient parallels portend for the future? The Lord warns us, the Latter-day Saints, not to become as the Nephites of old (D&C 38:39). Yet the Nephite prophets foresaw that we would indeed become like them. In another type of the last days, the people of the Church at Laodicea had grown rich and increased in goods, lacking nothing (Revelation 3:17). Spiritually, however, they were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (Revelation 3:17). Because they were neither hot nor cold but lukewarm toward the gospel, the Lord spewed them out of his mouth (Revelation 3:16).

Hosea describes Ephraim as saying, “I have become rich, I have found me out substance: in all my labours they shall find none iniquity in me” (Hosea 12:8). But the Lord responds that he will yet make them dwell in tents (Hosea 12:9). Likewise, before the Lord came to the Nephites a great inequality existed among them, so that the Church broke up (3 Nephi 6:14). This happened because of the immense wealth of some, while others suffered in the depths of humility (3 Nephi 6:10, 13). Finally, the scriptures warn us that first will come the day of the rich and the learned, the wise and the noble (D&C 58:10). After that will come the day of his power, when “the poor, the lame, and the blind, and the deaf, come in unto the marriage of the Lamb, and partake of the supper of the Lord” (D&C 58:11).

Babylon

“Isaiah, for example, defines Zion as both a people and a place: those of the Lord’s people who repent, and the place to which they gather—a safe place in the wilderness during the Lord’s day of judgment. According to Isaiah, the Lord’s people must urgently repent of Babylonian idolatry—worshiping the works of men’s hands. Scriptural precedents prove the principle that those who leave Babylon under the Lord’s direction inherit a promised land.83 According to Jeremiah, a person leaves Babylon in order to go to Zion, throwing in one’s lot with the Lord by an everlasting covenant (Jeremiah 50:1-5). To leave Babylon means to go out from among the wicked to establish Zion somewhere else (D&C 38:42; 133:4-9). All who remain in Babylon do so at the peril of their lives.

As for the works of men’s hands in today’s Babylon, we need say little more to recapture the ancient scene. Essentially the same materialistic economy that prevailed then prevails in our day. Like the ancient port city of Tyre, Babylon’s mercantile arm, latter-day Babylon encompasses every kind of trade and merchandise—whatever the souls of men lust after by way of material possessions (Revelation 18:1-24). The manufacture and promotion of contemporary works of men’s hands form virtually an unlimited enterprise. Reduplicating the socioeconomic structure of ancient Babylon is the very stuff of modernization.

Technology of almost magical proportions consumes humanity to the point of enslaving us to it. By orienting our lives around their production, sale, and maintenance, we set material things above the glory of God. Taking care of the works of men’s hands and servicing them are terms synonymous with loving and serving idols. And yet, as with her ancient counterpart, men do not discern modern Babylon for what she is. The wine with which all nations of the earth are drunk blinds men to life’s divine charge and to Babylon’s looming collapse (Revelation 17:2; 18:3). As with many other peoples who have grown up in captivity, we ourselves are not cognizant of, or else take for granted, the fact of our bondage.

The question remains, what will Abraham’s children do? Will they continue to imbibe the wine of Babylon, or will they ask the way to Zion?”

Also, highly recommend Hugh Nibley’s Approaching Zion on this topic. You can also read it for free here.

The Arm of Flesh

In short, cursed is he who putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. (2 Nephi 28:31).

To Israel’s prophets, Pharaoh king of Egypt epitomizes the arm of flesh on which the Lord’s people lean in times of national crisis. Ancient Egypt—the type of a great latter-day superpower86—exemplifies human industry, wealth, and political stability (Ezekiel 31:2-9). At Israel’s judgment, however, Pharaoh proves to be but a “splintered reed which enters and pierces the hand of any man who leans on it” (Isaiah 36:6; Ezekiel 29:6-7). When put to the test, Egypt’s ample resources of chariots and horsemen prove no match for the ruthless world power the Lord raises up against his people.”

Do we trust more in the following institutions or people than our God?

  1. Government (State or Federal)
  2. Employer
  3. Doctor
  4. Family
  5. Religious Leaders
  6. Our Church
Elitism-Pharisaism

Parallels between the ancient types and their modern counterparts have till now seemed easily discernible. The two remaining parallels I leave for the reader to judge. Anciently, both conditions of idolatry immediately preceded the destruction of the Lord’s people, the Lord delivering only a remnant. If the types hold true, therefore, the recurring of these forms of idolatry will signal the same result. Conversely, when the calamities of the last days appear at the door, it will be because these and other forms of apostasy have grown prevalent among us. For in the last days all types come together, whether for good, as in the restoration of keys and blessings of former dispensations, or for evil, as in the idolatry of Israel that precipitates the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

Do you experience this in your church?

Pollution of the Temple

“A final kind of idolatry, one that caused the Lord’s presence to depart from his people as invading armies advanced on them (Ezekiel 8:6; 9:1-11), concerns the pollution of the temple by idols. Several kinds of idolatry polluted the house of God anciently, including the symbol of envy,102 a man-made idol situated at the inner entrance and exit (Ezekiel 8:3, 5). Men also viewed all manner of images portrayed against a wall (Ezekiel 8:10-12); elders of Israel made clouds of perfume or sweet odors (Ezekiel 8:11);103women at the temple bewailed the death of a popular cult figure (Ezekiel 8:14); and men worshiped the great luminary in the temple’s precincts (Ezekiel 8:16).

Because the Lord’s people polluted the house of God by setting up their abominations in it (Jeremiah 7:30; 23:11), the temple proved no place of protection for them in the time of judgment (Jeremiah 7:4-10). When Israel’s enemies entered the land, they went in and destroyed the temple (Jeremiah 52:13), or polluted it yet further by setting up their abominations in it (1 Maccabees 1:54). Beginning at the temple, they slew all except a certain few whom the Lord protected (Ezekiel 9:6-7). The latter sighed and cried continually because of the abominations in their midst (Ezekiel 9:4).”

  1. Has the LDS temple been polluted by envy?
  2. Has the temple become an idol itself? The attendees ignorant as to why they are there? (See Isaiah 1)
  3. Do you find images in the LDS temple?
  4. Has the LDS temple been sufficiently polluted to induce covenant curses (calamities)?

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2 Comments

  1. jonathan
    April 5, 2017
    Reply

    Regarding temples: “Early in the week, Elder Thomas S. Monson of the Quorum of the Twelve suggested deep spiritual meaning in the physical presence of the temple. He recounted the late Elder Matthew Cowley’s story about a grandfather who took his small granddaughter on a birthday visit to the Salt Lake Temple grounds. With permission of the groundskeeper, they walled to the large doors of the temple. He suggested that she place her hand on the temple wall and then on the door, saying tenderly to her, “Remember that this day you touched the temple. One day you will enter this door.” His special gift to his granddaughter was an appreciation for the House of the Lord. Likewise, counseled Elder Monson, “As we touch the temple, the temple will touch us.””

    Is it possible that the building itself can become an idol?

    Would like to see a post about the relationship between sin an idolatry. Clearly, all idolatry is sin, but not all sin is idolatry. Is there any sin that cannot become idolatry? For example, what is the difference between loving golf more than God as compared to loving energy drinks more than God? If loving God means loving the things He loves and hating the things He hates, if we love the things He hates, is that idolatry? What about if we hate the things He loves? God vs Satan (i.e., good vs evil)? Static vs dynamic?

    • Mr. Admin
      April 5, 2017
      Reply

      Depends on the goal or the God. Maybe to a satanist, we Christians are all idolators. We are told that everyone who is of the truth heareth the voice of Christ. Those that love truth accept Christ as their God. Perhaps the idolatry is introduced most heavily when we profess to follow God yet simultaneously whore ourselves out to idols of the world.

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