This key is simple to explain, but I have found it opens lots of doors; it explains lots of things. Idolatry is the worship of something less than the Most High; of something other than God. Simple, no?
- Worship is apt and proper only in respect to the Most High. To worship anything else is to order your life according to something other than the Whole and the Ultimate Truth – the true Truth. It is then to enact a lie, somehow; or, at best, an honest error. It is therefore to vitiate your own being and power. It is to enact an incoherence, and thus it is to introduce into your actual self some inconsistency, thus some conflict. It is to ruin your shot at peace, and at rest.
- All things come of the Most High, abide in him, and return to him. Such is flux of the Tao. In him all things live, move, and have their being. As their origin and basis, he is then properly first in all their loyalties. By trying to put some other first instead, idolatry puts one at odds with the Tao; which is to say that it puts one at odds with Being per se, and thus with all other beings: with reality. That is the forecourt of Hell.
- The reason that such trying is the forecourt of Hell is that it cannot succeed. We can pretend that x is more important than YHWH, but that is an absurd notion, and any way of life informed thereby is bound to go badly wrong (despite however successful (on any dimension, aye even including the ecclesial) its outward appearances might be, for the nonce). It is a bit more absurd than the pretense that we can breathe water. Idolatry deforms life in a way analogous to the way that the belief that we men might breathe water would tend to deform our lives.
- Idolatry is a category error about who and what is Most High, and so about who and what is therefore worthy of worship. It might mean well, but it intends the right act – worship, which is the reasonable service and inveterate tendency of all men in virtue of their creaturity – toward the wrong object. As aiming at the wrong thing, it deflects the whole being from its proper course, and so wrongs the being.
- In every life there is operant a first principle. Upon it, other principles, protocols, and so then acts all hang. Crucial, then, to get your first principle correct.
- The gods of the nations are but idols (Psalm 96:5). They are symbols or depictions of angels or demons. To engage in the worship of angels, or a fortiori of demons, is to enact a category error, and is to make a grievous mistake, that cannot but have grievous consequences.
Excursus: One way to differentiate between angels and demons is that if you try to worship a demon, he will encourage you in so doing, whereas if you try to worship an angel, he will forbid, rebuke and correct you in all love (Revelation 19:10).
- True worship is hard. Idolatry is lots easier – this being one reason we so often fall into it. So, if your religion is not a more or less constant challenge, is not difficult, why then you are most likely engaged in some form of idolatry. If your praxis makes you feel pretty good about how you have done so far, it is in all likelihood infected with some sort of Pelagian devilry. True worship – the antithesis of idolatry – involves and entails an ecstatic apprehension of the infinite gulf between the vassal and his master. An encounter with the Infinite Eternal One cannot make a person feel pretty OK with how he – an erroneous concupiscent and thus in some pertinent part diseased member of the True Body – has done. On the contrary.
- The opposite of idolatry is humility. Philosophy – properly so called – has known this from the start. Wisdom – and victory – is filial (and, what is more, feudal) loyalty and formal subjection to the Tao.
- Idolatry then is a sort of pride.
- Addiction is a sort of idolatry. It is slavery. Worship of the Most High, per contra, is perfect total freedom. The sage is free. He can smoke as many pipes as he likes, without becoming an addict.
- Concupiscence is our tendency as Fallen to idolatry; to addiction.
- The road to Hell is paved with idolatry of the best, nicest sort. Whatever feels good in its own right, and quite apart from any tinct of theological warrant, is almost certainly ipso facto demonic. Who are the best sort of people, in merely mundane terms, are most likely hellbound.
- This, despite the fact that basic humanity per se cannot be at odds with her Lord; so that we are more likely to find humanity per se, and more purely, in the baser and more “ignoble” sorts of men, who, as being more occupied with mere survival, have not yet succumbed to the prevalent evil and irreal and purely symbolic Cult of Moloch, but rather live their lives based in hard costly reality, of jobs and tools and problems.
Excursus: I had rather spend time with the Hells Angels than with any coterie of Social Justice Warriors from the tidy safe suburbs of Philadelphia, or her academic campi. Indeed, so have I done. The Angels all at the very least understand and submit themselves to the reality of motorcycle mechanics; which is to say, the Lógos; so that, with them, I can be sure of at least one realm of discourse within which we might all approach a happy agreement. The Angels all of course also share with me a basic, fundamental, radical cynicism about the present state of the West; while at the same time, they share with me a basic, fundamental loyalty thereto. This, all, despite their evil; which most of them, of my admittedly limited acquaintance, would readily admit, and regret – even as they forged forward into the fray insofar as they could discern it, like ancient Greeks or Vikings unable to avert their horrible, compromised, ergo tragic, and in the end heroic fates.
Excursus: On such realms of discourse respecting the mechanics of life all agreement supervenes. If there is no way for us to agree with our fellows about first principles – as I found a way to agree for a few hours, happily, with a few Hells Angels – then there is just no way for us to agree at all, and thus no way for us to proceed coordinately.
Excursus: If such as I – a wet behind the ears quondam choirboy from Indianapolis, forsooth – can find common cause with a house full of Hells Angels, then any of us might live together fruitfully, and indeed joyfully. But this, on condition only that we all agreed about First Things – which is to say, at bottom, about Death; and, then, what is really important in respect thereto. Else, not, at all.
- Here we come back to idolatry. The Hells Angels are in a particularly good position to reckon Death; ergo, First Things. That is not to say that they all then make the right determination about First Things, and what we ought rightly to do in respect thereto. Nevertheless are they peculiarly apt – and so, vulnerable – to understand what is truly First. The Hells Angels live always *right up against the pavement.* And the pavement is not forgiving. There is joy and virtue in just that confrontation, day after day, with reality ineluctable; as I know well from my years *right up against the River.*
Excursus: Virtue is not possible except in confrontation with the real, the concrete, the difficult, the hard. In the limit, this means that virtue is not possible except in confrontation with the most real, the most concrete, the most difficult, the hardest: God; of whom all other difficulties are types and angels.
- In the final analysis, idolatry is a mistake about what it is to live. Ultimately, ergo really, life is not about oneself or one’s notions, but rather the adventure to be found in their transcendence. It is about the fearsome encounter with another, again and again. Of all others, the Infinite is othermost and most fearsome, and so is he in whom we ought properly to repose our ultimate trust, and whom we ought to bend all our effort to find and to meet; to whom we ought properly to seek to be meet; for, to him above all things must be our bounden duty. Anything less, or other, is in the end a turn from reality. Such is all idolatry. It is to mistake, and so to put awry, what is real; so is it to ruin life.
- Little wonder then, perhaps, that the apotheosis of idolatry as concretely enacted involved the sacrifice of the firstborn. In the sacrifice of the beloved son is the absurdity of idolatry made acutely manifest. The mistaken worship of something other than the Most High, who alone is truly worthy, is mirrored in the sacrifice of something other than the man himself. The idolatrous man thinks he might discharge his obligation by some sacrifice of something other than his entire life. So he picks out his son for the holocaust, or his first born bullock, or some doves purchased in the outer court of the Temple.
Not to demean such sacrifices, for they are indeed all costly. But, seriously: what idiocy can think a bullock – or anything – adequates to the Most High, or to what we poor fools owe him? Nothing might. The only just – albeit, nowise adequate – sacrifice to the Most High would be everything whatsoever. Indeed, such is an aspect of the Atonement: the Passion is the sacrifice of all things whatever; for, the Lógos is the nature of all things, so that his sacrifice is theirs. In the Passion, the God of Nature, who is the Nature of Nature, offers up in himself as sacrifice the Nature of the whole creation. The only adequate sacrifice to the Lógos is the Lógos. Giving himself to his Father, he gives all things.
The manifest, yawning inadequacy of any sacrifice less than that of the Only Begotten Son of the Most High is a central theme of Christianity. Noticing that inadequacy demolishes all other cults, root and branch. It renders them absurd, utterly vain repetitions. Girard got this absolutely right.
Excursus: Every cult involves sacrifice, for every cult takes at least a bit of at least some time and attention away from the rest of life.
- All the great heresies I have so far examined are in one way or another idolatrous, inasmuch as they all err about who or what is the Most High, and so misguide first the intellect, then the will, and in the end life. Ditto for the great philosophical errors.
- A generally useful tell: if someone says, “everything is x,” he is almost certainly engaging in idolatry. The Most High is not a member of any other species of being, and no sort of being is of his sort. Any veridical scheme of analysis must therefore reckon at least two mutually irreducible sorts of being: the Most High, and everything else.
- If you would not choose martyry over disloyalty to Christ, you are an idolater. That puts you in company not altogether bad, for it includes Pope Saint Peter. So, on the one hand, don’t beat yourself up about it: the sin is forgivable, if it be confessed and repented. On the other, get on in earnest with the project of figuring out why it is, exactly, that you would not choose martyry over disloyalty to Christ. What is it, that is more important to you than the most important conceivable thing?
- When we sin, we effectually take something less – ourselves, or some pleasure – to be more important than El Elyon and his moral and natural law for creatures such as we. We sin because we are idolaters.
- The core gist of the OT is the war of YHWH – of Jesus – upon idolatry. Sc., the First Commandment of the Decalogue. Sc., the temptations in the wilderness of Sinai. It culminates in the Temptations of Jesus in the desert, which are all to idolatry: “Worship me,” says Lucifer, “and I shall …” Jesus wins the war. The strife is o’er; the battle done; the victory of life is already won.
- Job is the book that examines the temptation of idolatry. Job is tempted to repudiate YHWH. Job is a type and angel of Christ.
One could go on. That is the way of the Philosophical Skeleton Keys: they keep on giving, without discernible limit.