“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” [Matthew 6:24]

“Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.” [Carl Jung]

“… a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.” [2 Pet 2:19]

Having just read Peter Rollins’ brilliant “How (not) to speak of God“, and learned a little about his community IKON, I have been made aware of a fascinating duality. I speak of idols and icons, more generally put the iconic and the idolotrous. IKON presents itsself as having 5 significant facets: iconic, apocalyptic, heretical, emerging and failing. Regarding the duality we are discussing here, this is how they view it:

“Idolatry can be understood as the sin of viewing something as that which renders God’s very essence visible to human experience […] either aesthetic (like the Golden Calf mentioned in the book of Exodus) or conceptual. In the later we make God intelligible by constructing a doctrinal image which we view as a manifestation of Gods essence.

To treat something as an icon is to see it as that which draws us into a deep contemplation of that which cannot be reduced to words, images or experience.”

So an Idol is a created thing usurping the place of the creator. An Icon is a created thing mediating between created and creator. Although it initially appears clear cut, the line between them is surprisingly hard to define once one starts to explore it.

One main point in “How (not) to speak of God” is that of the nature of the idol: idols are traditionally thought of as statues or things but can be conceptual. This can mean any ideology, such as Consumerism, Materialism, Unfettered Industrial Progress or Militarism, but as it turns out, is very often Theology. The very thing we think of as sacred, as the opposite of these human, fallen thoughts can turn out to be an idol. What I term “Biblism”, a combination of literalism, superstition and piety, is an example of this close to home.

Here is the problem: If we refuse to examine this, and therefore tacitly accept our adopted, underlying, and default myths, we can never be sure of what we are worshiping. For example to deny that our theology might be our relativistic view of truth rather than THE absolute truth, opens us to idolatry. Socrates famously said that the unexamined life was not worth living. But more than that, the unexamined life may in fact be our ticket to destruction.

What we will not countenance will master us. It’s only in facing our deeply held myths that we either “prove” them or dispel them. This is why fundamentalism is so toxic. It prevents the healer from accessing the true problem by denying that the problem exists. If we misdiagnose our ills, they will probably kill us.

I have been discussing issues of inclusivity in Towards radical inclusion, and I mentioned the paradox “not with me is against me – not against you is for you”; I quote once again here from Luke 11: 

“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters. When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.”

Adding to these thoughts, the “exclusion” hinted at in Luke 11:23 is an unwillingness to actively and continuously follow Jesus. Many people come to faith / join a church / theological tradition and then adopt an “arrival” mentality. They feel that they have “crossed the line”, are justified by faith, confession or membership, and become passive. The culture and assumptions of the organisation they find themselves in probably contribute handsomely to this false sense of security, due to its questionable assumptions about what constitutes being included and where the line of salvation is drawn.

So what happens to the apathetic believer? Jesus suggests that whatever idols / demons / wrong views of G-d and the cosmos were dispelled upon repentance will return sevenfold. The state of an apathetic, conservative, non-thinking orthodoxy is many times worse than the “pre-Christian” one.

I really detest the macabre Charismatic fear-mongering view that emphasizes the dangers of demonic possession in this text (although I’m not discounting this entirely), because the underlying “dangers” of apostasy (here’s another word that due to be taken to the cleaners) are not simply evil spirits, but anything idolatrous.

I am aware that the tone of this post is rather negative and critical. But what really excites me is the exploration of the iconic. I want no more to be an idol destroyer than an idol erector. Idols are boring. The desire for life draws me in the direction of icons – questions of mediation, imagemaking, inventive theology, the creation of icons, and new liturgies remain upmost in my mind.

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