Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Idolatry Is Boring

From Peter Leithart's commentary on 1 Kings 15–16:
Once Jeroboam I sets the pattern of rebellion and resistance to the prophets, Israel descends into turmoil, and the turmoil is depicted literarily in the acceleration of the narrative. . . . As a result, 1 Kings 15-16 is a school child's nightmare, the kind of chronicle that evokes lifelong loathing of history.  A king rises, a king reigns, a king sins, a king dies. . . . Meaningless and confusing dates for indistinguishable kings, all told in a colorless and repetitive prose.  The setting and events are themselves repetitive and boring. . . . Rise, reign, sin, die.  War and sin, sin and war. . . . 
[T]his is precisely the author's point: idolatry is boring.  Idolatry produces nothing new, nothing exciting, nothing fresh, nothing adventurous.  Jeraboam pretends to take a walk on the wild side, pretends to be doing something slick and edgy.  His wildness is not just tame.  It is somnolescent and acts as a soporific for the northern kingdom.  Rehoboam permits high places in Judah, but that just leads to drudgery of the same.  Solomon's reign, by contrast, is full of excitement: political intrigue to secure the throne, clever sleuthing to determine which prostitute is telling the truth, a continuous party in Israel, adventurous endeavors on the high seas, a court visit from the exotic queen of Sheba.  When prophets show up, the world suddenly opens up even wider: hands wither and heal, altars are split, lions leap into the text and onto a prophet but do not eat the donkey, jars of oil never empty, dead children are raised, bears come crashing out of the woods to slaughter mocking young men, and dead bodies thrown into the wrong grave come catapulting out again.  The moon turns to blood, the sun is black as sackcloth, stars fall from the sky; dreams, signs, visions; blood, fire, and vapor of smoke.
Idols are lifeless and therefore cannot impart life.  Lifeless idols only make for lifeless people.  When the initial titillation has passed, idolatry quickly yields to dryness and death.  The signs of this spiritual exhaustion are everywhere in twenty-first-century culture, which has become a culture of "whatever" -- not only the whatever of "anything goes," but the whatever of "and who cares anyway?"  This is the end result of a culture that has been built on idols of success, money, pleasure, self-indulgence, sex.  Such a culture becomes slothful, thoroughly infused with what the Christian tradition calls acedia.
Traditionally, sloth is seen as an enemy of faith and hope.  The Latin word acedia ("lack of concern, lack of care") is used to describe these dimensions of sloth. . . . [A]cedia or sloth can coexist with frantic activity. . . . Our culture is a frenetic 24/7 culture precisely as a way of masking the emptiness of it all. . . .
This is the story of Israel and the story of humanity.  Adam thinks that seizing the fruit of the tree of knowledge will enrich his life with wisdom; it does not, but instead condemns him to an endless round of sweat and sadness. . . . Yahweh's word is the main participant in the battles of history, and it is Yahweh's (s)word that cuts into the boring round of idolatry and sin to make things new.
HT: Fr. Scott Adle

5 comments:

  1. As a schoolchild, I was fascinated by the narratives of Kings and Chronicles, and they engendered in me a lifelong love of history.

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  2. I think he is right to think we are currently in the same rut. A president rises, reigns, and retires, and we don't notice much of a difference -- nor do we care. We have been involved in a war, or "kinetic military action," or what have you for over a decade now, but no one's really interested. Even the small bits of information that make it into the media these days lead one to believe that massive amounts of corruption and incompetence are taking place at high levels, yet even those who are paid to be interested by this don't seem to be concerned or attentive. Whatever.

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  3. God using Elijah to burn up a water-soaked sacrifice was pretty exciting, true, in the face of idolatrous nitwits calling upon their distant god with self-harm and lots of screaming. Which is pretty much what occurs in contemporary worship, inside religious America. No one can say today's idiocy is boring (and its idolatry, because who are its advocates really worshiping, when examined in depth?) . Hollywood-jah, buddy! It's exactly opposed to "Be still, and know that I AM God." Stillness is very much the enemy, when a bigger circus might be happening down the road.

    I do appreciate Leithart's creativity and his gist, but a case can be made that the shaggy prophet perceived all the nonsense as less boring, than something deserving a huge horse-laugh.

    He finally brought the sword to apostate Ahab and scheming Jezebel's minions, because their actions stirred him; not because they were a form of Sominex.

    Your (unworthy) servant,
    Herr Doktor

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  4. Such a culture becomes slothful, thoroughly infused with what the Christian tradition calls acedia. -- P. Liethart

    Our national blunders politically, economically and militarily border on the repetitively psychotic; but really, our spiritual culture can be more accurately diagnosed as closer to manic than "acedic," which latter term (traditionally) speaks to a wilting despondency in the face of a blazing high noon (i.e., at Sext). That's my take, anyway. As Evelyn Waugh pointed out in "Sloth," his contribution to that outstanding anthology of the witty and wise, "The Seven Deadly Sins" (1962) ... the forward of which is penned by a certain Mr. Ian Fleming, anything but a bore although maybe a Bond ... "Most of the world's troubles seem to come from people who are too busy. If only politicians and scientists were lazier, how much happier should we all be. The lazy man is spared from the commission of almost all the nastier crimes, and many of the motives which make us sacrifice to toil the innocent enjoyment of leisure, are among the most ignoble -- pride, avarice, emulation, vainglory and the appetite for power over others. "

    A splendid, intercessory supplication, is it not! How much happier we would be, if "politicians and scientists" took a breather. Yes, yes; but truer, perhaps, for those clerics who insist on fabricating their own liturgical monstrosities, week after week, so as to churn and roil the poor laity to further self-absorption and ecstasy. The answer rests less in a Lithium capsule for the turbulent clergy, three times a day, than their reflection upon and honest embrace of the Lutheran Confessions.

    Your (unworthy) servant,
    Herr Doktor

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  5. Idols are lifeless and therefore cannot impart life. Lifeless idols only make for lifeless people. When the initial titillation has passed, idolatry quickly yields to dryness and death. -- P. Leithart

    Maybe I'm being overly nostalgic, but this so totally reminds me of what Professor Wayward von Nuedel commented when I turned in my Astronomy 101 exam, the morning after that bender, with this woozily scrawled observation in protest:

    "The heavenly bodies are lifeless and therefore cannot impart life. They only make for lifeless people. When the initial titillation has passed (as happened with inorganic chemistry last semester), sun-bathing and astronomy quickly yield to dryness, wrinkling, melanomas, baldness and waspishly boring lectors, more or less respectively, if not respectfully."

    Not sure, but I think it began with an "F" and ended with a "minus."

    Which sounds faintly Latin to me.

    It must have been on the order of Cicero, though; because after I sobered up, I distinctly remember being stunned.

    Your (unworthy) servant,
    Herr Doktor

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