Oct. 5, 2009 -- In America these days, idols are everywhere. Music idols like Britney and Madonna. Sports idols like Jeter or Manning. Fashion idols like Gucci, Armani or Prada. We even have television shows to make our own "American Idol."
It's as if there is a need, a hunger in America to idolize.
But wait a minute. Isn't that just pop culture? Modern life? Isn't the second commandment about worshipping the golden calf and graven images?
Just what is an idol?
Pastor Mark Driscoll of the Mars Hill Church in Seattle has a clear answer.
"An idol is someone or something that occupies the place of God in your life," he said. "[It] gives you identity, meaning, value, purpose, love, significance, security. When the Bible uses the word 'idol', that's what it's getting at."
In Driscoll's theology, every person has a deep inner need to worship something. That's how people are made.
"If you worship alcohol you become an alcoholic. If you worship food, you become a glutton. If you worship pleasure you become a sex addict," Driscoll warned. "All the modern vernacular is really not dealing with the root issue of idolatry: Something or someone is preeminent other than God."
Driscoll points to the reaction millions of people had in the wake of the death of Michael Jackson.
"When his face is on your T-shirt and when you listen to his music for hours, when you give large sums of money to him personally, when his death causes you to go into a steep depression and you have a collection of memorabilia -- I think if you walked in from another culture, you would say that's a very curious god they've chosen," Driscoll said.
Driscoll also warns of the dangers misplaced worship can have on the people others idolized.
"It destroys them. Because they invariably disappoint. People can't do what God does," Driscoll said. "They aren't perfect. They aren't continually faithful. They don't' endure forever. That's why we live in a culture that when heroes fall we're devastated."
Sports as Places of Worship
A drive around downtown Seattle provided plenty of proof for what Driscoll preaches.
"In the Old Testament they'd offer human sacrifices. You'd say that's unbelievable," Driscoll said as he drives by the tall office towers of downtown. "How many people right now are sacrificing their health, they're shortening their lives. I mean heart attacks, stress, obesity. Why? Because they go to their job every day and they are literally offering themselves as a human sacrifice for this company or this position or this income or lifestyle. I see it as a religious activity."
He drove by a sports stadium rising like a modern-day coliseum. "I think if a sporting event was going on and somebody was dropped in from Israel 2000 years ago they would definitely think they were at a religious event."
Driscoll argues that this quasi-religious worship of pop stars and swimsuit models is unhealthy. Many of the young members of his fast-growing church seem to agree. Like their peers across America they face ferocious pressures of the culture to succeed, to worship what everybody else does.
Church member Devin Deuell said he encounters it when he goes to the gym. "It's basically a temple that [people] go to and they get to give their time and devote their time to their idol of their body image," he said.
Monica Grimland, another church member, said it's the pressure to look just so. "If you're not this skinny and you don't have blond hair and if you don't look however, whatever the way it is that the culture is saying at that time, then you don't have as much worth. And it's just a lie."
For these young people, following the false idols of body image, academic success or athletic achievement leads to dissatisfaction. The heavily marketed American lifestyle is false. For them God is a truth, and the Christian faith a way to a happier life.
And so the lesson the may be that the second commandment, the one that might look like it doesn't have a lot of relevance to modern life, does. As Driscoll says, "[It] might be the most relevant commandment of all."