Get PJ Media on your Apple

PJM Lifestyle

How To Lose Your Soul While Fighting the Good Fight

Elizabeth "The Anchoress" Scalia's new book Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life shows how an ancient evil reinvents itself across time.

by
Andrew Klavan

Bio

May 22, 2013 - 8:53 am

 

It’s odd. Finding God in middle age brought more joy and peace into my life than I ever thought to expect, and yet listening to people talk about religion and reading modern writers on the subject often leaves me cold, alienated. I don’t care how brilliantly they refute the atheists. I don’t care whom they think God wants me to sleep with, or how they believe I should say my prayers. When they tell me I cannot call myself a Christian unless I condemn what they condemn and despise whom they despise, it makes me faintly nauseous. And though I’ve read many sentences that begin “If you only knew your Bible, you would see…” I’ve never reached the end of any of them.

What good religious discourse does — what good religious writing does — what they do for me, at least — is reorient my spirit toward its lodestar, which is Christ. For some reason, this is less likely to be achieved through flashy logic and pompous denunciations than through humble seeking and painfully honest self-examination. Go figure.

At any rate, here’s a lovely little book of really good religious writing: Strange Gods, by Elizabeth Scalia, who is also known by her blogging name The Anchoress. For reasons I’ll explain, it is an excellent corrective to our ferocious historical moment.

I was first led to the Anchoress by — who else? — Instapundit, (Him By Whom All Good Things are Linked!). I was taken with the gracefulness of her prose and the graciousness of her outlook and often found them an antidote to the fever of political confrontation. It’s not that she doesn’t have her opinions, she just usually manages to remain open-hearted toward her opposition while expressing them. No common thing these days and no mean trick either.

In Strange Gods, subtitled “Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life,” she examines a few of the infinite ways in which she and all the rest of us break the first commandment. She speaks personally and movingly about how an excess of attention to ego, ideas, ideology, coolness, sex — even the films made from Jane Austen novels! — can position these false idols between ourselves and the source of all goodness.

Why do people allow their relationship with God to become disoriented? Sadly, the problem usually starts with love. The human heart craves attention and love — love is the common longing of our lives. We may search for a career, or wealth, or status, but the desire to be loved and valued is usually at the root of our strivings…. Sometimes, discouraged or impatient in our search, we chase illusions…

The Anchoress: Elizabeth Scalia

I believe much of modern politics, philosophy, and science is constructed to make us forget this unbearable longing — to convince us it’s sex we’re after, or evolutionary advantage, or money, or some other kind of material self-interest. Scalia’s right. It’s love — it always has been, since creation. The fact that she builds her meditation on this simple but difficult truth gives her book substance and power.

For those of us both interested in and appalled by this moment in American politics — for those like me who sometimes look at decent people in political life and wonder how on earth they can do the things they do and say the things they say — Scalia’s chapter on what she calls Super Idols (ideologies) is a small revelation.

Determine that the opposition is not merely wrong but evil, and suddenly mere ideas become glittering certainties. These certainties give us permission to hate and tell us our hate is not just reasonable but pure. If simple idolatry blocks our view of God, the super idol — because it is so highly burnished — makes us think we are seeing God in our hatred.

It’s easy for me to see how such super-idolatry has led our left-leaning administration into tyrannical corruption and our left-leaning media into willful blindness and dishonesty. Not so easy is acknowledging the prevalence of this tendency in right wingers as well, even, on occasion, some who look uncannily like myself.

But this is what I mean by reorienting the spirit. When we are reminded of such all-too-human errors— in good prose, by a writer of assiduous humility and self-awareness — it dims the bright distractions of our righteous indignation for a little while at least and helps us get our hearts back on course.

This is what good religious writing can do. This is what Strange Gods does. Take time out from the latest all-consuming brouhaha and read it.

*****

Cross-posted from Klavan on the Culture

Andrew Klavan’s newest novel is Nightmare City.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
"Why is the holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus called Easter"

The birth of Jesus is called Easter?

Leave the room with your head hung in shame...
Go back to whatever lefty blog you came from, you lack the basic requirements to comment here.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Well, "hurled...," read what Jesus said in the Gospels. He frequently said that people would go to Hell--to a very, very punitive Hell. And He spoke with Satan himself.

You might wish to consider whether you yourself are idolatrous in any way. Most of us of whatever religious persuasion, including atheism, must struggle with that. And your implications about German Christians and "Christian enterprises" are quite misguided. Christians constituted some of the strongest resistance to the Nazis. Goerdeler, Adenauer, Stauffenberg and Bonhoeffer were Christians. And I suggest that you do a lot more careful reading about the Inquisitions and the Crusades.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (29)
All Comments   (29)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
> When they tell me I cannot call myself a Christian unless I condemn what they condemn and despise whom they despise, it makes me faintly nauseous. And though I’ve read many sentences that begin “If you only knew your Bible, you would see…” I’ve never reached the end of any of them.

If you approach the Lord with a contrite heart and penitent spirit, bow the knee and acknowledge Him as your Lord and savior, He will show you what you need to know about what to love and what to condemn. He shows us these things as we're ready to receive them.

But you can't read the Bible or follow the words of Jesus with an honest heart and intellect, and conclude He condemned nothing. That's the bad news.

The good news is that much of what He condemned were the legalisms of religious authority and the pride and smugness of those who thought their mastery of the rules made them special -- some of the things, I sense, that trouble you.

The first thing, the main thing, the Lord asks us to give up is our pride. After all, He did. Crucifixion is a painful death, but it is also very humiliating. Stripped naked, beaten, on display, mocking things posted over your head, e.g., "Behold the King of the Jews." Jesus didn't even defend Himself when He was given the chance.

Jesus summed up the scriptures thusly: Love the Lord with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. Morality is about building good relationships. Christianity tells us that we have one God in three Persons, who have enjoyed each other's company for an eternity and have passed their wisdom down to us. The Ten Commandments tell us some of the things we must do to maintain our relationships with God and with our fellow man.

Unlike other religions, even the monotheistic ones, Christianity is unique: it features a God who is humble. To pick on Islam for a minute, a Muslim is never more unlike Allah than during worship -- what need has Allah for humility? Not so with Christianity. Humility describes perfectly the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Bible portrarys each of them as always honoring the others. "I do only that which I see the Father do." "This is my son, in whom I am well pleased." "Whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age, or in the age to come." We are never more like our Lord than when we are on our knees praising Him and giving Him thanks.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"reorient my spirit toward its lodestar, which is Christ"

You have indeed gotten to the heart of the matter.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You can most certainly be Christian without condemning nor despising, actually, you would far better emulate Jesus if you didn't condemn and didn't despise. For example;

Jesus taught "do not judge", which is to say, observe and object when applicable, but leave the personal evaluations aside.

Jesus also taught, love your enemies, forgive those that sin against you, and to turn the other cheek.

You can certainly love your enemies, and forgive them, and turn the other cheek when insulted, but this though does not for moment prevent conscientious objection, rational debate, nor intelligent prevention.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I heard an anecdote, second-hand, from a friend of a friend who works in Hollywood. It goes like this: Mel Brooks was poking around the set of "History of the World Part I" during a break in the shooting, just looking at things and obviously deep in thought. At some point, a low-level assistant piped up, "Mr. Brooks, you know what would be funny?"

Brooks wheeled around and said, "Yes! I know what would be funny! You don't."

My take is that, when we meet a person who behaves badly, we tend to think, wow, is he ever on the fasttrack to Hell. But it's not on us to pronounce that sort of judgment. We have no idea whether that person is one of God's people and will one day, in sorrow and tears, repent -- or whether he will perish.

And likewise, when we encounter someone who appears to have it all and to be walking with the Lord, for all we know he may be a "whited sepulchre" -- pure on the outside, rotten on the inside.

The Lord knows how to judge such things. We don't.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
DavidAb "judge not, that ye be not judged" has been misused by you (and others for years).
For example, when Christ said "Get behind me Satan" he was judging.
You most certainly have to judge. You are expected to judge good from evil and follow in the way of good. Teach your children discernment so they can judge good from evil.
"judge not, that ye be not judged" was the beginning of the command and warning. Christ was saying you will be judged by the same standard that you judge other people. He wasn't saying not to judge anyone.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If we are to emulate Jesus as you say and I agree though the intent good, that an impossibility, why is wrong to call a brood of vipers a brood of vipers? Do you know something that the two founders of the Christian faith, Peter and Paul, didn't know?

As to not to judge, that means be careful how you judge because you will be held to the same measure of judgment. Do not be a hypocrite. Read the next verse and this all becomes quite clear. How are we to discern good from evil if we can't judge?

What I read and hear too frequently as witness, is a lot of us people picking and choosing what they like about Christ and ignoring the rest. They like the cooing baby, but they don't acknowledge the King of Kings. They like the Sermon on the Mount but they don't like 'No one comes to the Father but by me.' They like the healing and soothing words, but the don't like narrow is the gate and few who will find it.

What I read all to frequently are people that are fans of Christ but not followers.

Let us not forget Christ didn't start in Matthew 1 and end at Acts 2. He was there from the beginning - and the word, the entire Bible, is His.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
But you're missing the point. You can be a Christian while not condemning and not despising.

Judging is perfectly fine, we need to judge. But we can judge without being personal. We need only separate the 'observable facts' from the 'personal evaluations'. We can do both of course, but not in combination.

When Christ spoke of judging, he was likely referring to these personal evaluations, the critical personal attacks. I find it highly unlikely for example, that a man as wise as Christ, would have meant not to judge at all in any given situation, but rather was likely referring to the projected personal criticisms that serve only to undermine our own divinity.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
No, david, you are missing the point. Judging is certainly personal.
When I judge a rapist I am judging that persons behavior. That is personal.
Jesus was referring to hypocrisy - how you judge, you will be judged.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I must call caution on the notion that its WRONG to expect ALL Christians to agree on what is right and wrong in some basic fundemental issues.

Its IS uncomfortably true, that you cannot BE a Christian "unless I condemn what they condemn and despise whom they despise" when youre talking about the likes and agendas of a Dr. Goznell, Mohammads Islam, and the general Deceit Filled Leftie-ness of a dangerous State Propaganda Arm referred to as the Mainstream Media.

Caffeteria style pick-n-nibble of the easy stuff without those pesky veggies is a pretty weak diet. Some among us us need to be "inflexible" enough to ACTUALLY combat these bastards, in REAL earthly terms, so the rest of us "just lookin' for what works to be happy" dont end up in the Cattle Cars, heading off the "The Showers"
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
So much self-congratulation in these comments. Is Jesus less an idol than Mohamed? Why is the holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus called Easter after the hideous virgin goddess (Ishtar; Aphrodite) consort of Baal (Baalzevel; Beelzebub) to whom infants were regularly sacrificed in the ancient world? Was not Germany under Hitler 60% Lutheran and 40% Catholic? Was not the Inquisition a Christian enterprise?

Belief in existential evil is in itself idolatrous. Monotheism precludes belief in a Devil. Belief in a loving Creator precludes belief in a punitive Hell. There exist only human beings blessed with the intelligence to distinguish between right and wrong. That's why individual liberty--every citizen's right to choose--lies at the heart of democracy.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
> Why is the holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus called Easter...

Somebody skipped his Sunday School classes.

> ...after the hideous virgin goddess (Ishtar; Aphrodite) consort of Baal (Baalzevel; Beelzebub) to whom infants were regularly sacrificed in the ancient world?

Because not enough Christians understand the connection.

> to whom infants were regularly sacrificed in the ancient world?

Any society that practices abortion has not cause to look down their noses at child sacrifice. Pot, meet kettle.

> Was not Germany under Hitler 60% Lutheran and 40% Catholic? Was not the Inquisition a Christian enterprise?

Any Christian involvement in the Holocaust was indeed shameful. But I don't think 20th century theology in Europe was their father's Christianity. By 1930, the Germans had already suffered some eighty years of bad philosophy -- Nietsche, Marx, Heidegger -- and a general (and ongoing) watering-down of theology itself. There should have been a residual revulsion to treating people like insects, granted, but ideas have consequences, too.

> Was not the Inquisition a Christian enterprise?

Another dastardly thing, but one that is perhaps a bit easier to put into perspective. The Inquisition killed some 500 people over the course of a few centuries. Contrast that with the Enlightenment-inspired French Revolution, which killed more than 30,000 in the course of three years or so.

My conclusion from all this is that people like to kill other people and need just the most slender of pretexts to do so. People are depraved. Christians are people. They are not better than other people. But by their beliefs and the strength of the church and the connection to the Holy Spirit, they are less inclined to perform such mischief. It's interesting that you invoke Baal and Ishtar without acknowledging that it is only the Judeo-Christian standard by which the thing Baal- and Ishtar-worshipers came to be seen as bad.

> Belief in existential evil is in itself idolatrous.

Belief that evil exists is a simple recognition of fact. It can only exist, however, if there is a standard for good.

> Monotheism precludes belief in a Devil.

Not if the Devil is a creature. You must be thinking of polytheism or dualism.

> Belief in a loving Creator precludes belief in a punitive Hell.

So the problem with belief in God is that things would have been different if you were God?

> There exist only human beings blessed with the intelligence to distinguish between right and wrong.

How can intelligence show us how to distinguish right from wrong? Did it not require a penetrating intelligence for the Nazis to figure out how to kill 12 million civilians while at war with foreign powers, without causing a general uprising? Intelligence can serve evil as easily as good. It has nothing to do with establishing the standard.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Is Jesus less an idol than Mohamed?" You hurled a nonsensical turd there.
Jesus is the son of God the father. The God of the Old Testament. He sacrificed himself for all of mankind.
And you compare him to a desert dwelling savage, who tried to use religion for his own perversions?
There is a turd here alright - it's in your mirror.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'll say a prayer for you either way - sounds like you could use one.

But I was wondering why the "Hurled Turd" moniker...and this is what I found:

(PhysOrg.com) -- A lot of people who have gone to the zoo have become the targets of feces thrown by apes or monkeys, and left no doubt wondering about the so-called intellectual capacity of a beast that would resort to such foul play. Now however, researchers studying such behavior have come to the conclusion that throwing feces, or any object really, is actually a sign of high ordered behavior. Bill Hopkins of Emory University and his colleagues have been studying the whole process behind throwing and the impact it has on brain development, and have published their results in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

I guess you have evolved to a higher order by throwing your poop around...that said, most of us have given up on that back around age 2, so I would humbly suggest you do the same.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2011-11-poop-throwing-chimps-intelligence.html#jCp
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Why is the holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus called Easter"

The birth of Jesus is called Easter?

Leave the room with your head hung in shame...
Go back to whatever lefty blog you came from, you lack the basic requirements to comment here.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Well, "hurled...," read what Jesus said in the Gospels. He frequently said that people would go to Hell--to a very, very punitive Hell. And He spoke with Satan himself.

You might wish to consider whether you yourself are idolatrous in any way. Most of us of whatever religious persuasion, including atheism, must struggle with that. And your implications about German Christians and "Christian enterprises" are quite misguided. Christians constituted some of the strongest resistance to the Nazis. Goerdeler, Adenauer, Stauffenberg and Bonhoeffer were Christians. And I suggest that you do a lot more careful reading about the Inquisitions and the Crusades.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
---When they tell me I cannot call myself a Christian unless I condemn what they condemn and despise whom they despise, it makes me faintly nauseous. --


Very true!!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Thanks Andrew, I will go out and get this book today. This article was a perfect antidote to some of the commentary I have been reading on this blog lately. It's easy to see how super idolatry infects even the well meaning folks at PJM.

Egil - agree with most of your comments and the culture of death on the left should be exposed and opposed whenever possible, but shouting about how evil it is doesn't seem to be working that well. (your weren't shouting though).
Example: my spouse would fall into the liberal category, as she seems to adopt most of the conventionally held opinions expressed by the MSM. She didn't want to hear Obama and his followers were like a cult, and not the loving tolerant folks she believed them to be.
I could not convince her with words, but showing her the literally hundreds of photos of Obama with tha faux halo behind his head, convinced her that he does think he's some sort of God like being, and no true Christian would act that way. Trying to convince liberals with words doesn't work well in my experience. We might have better luck appealing to their heart and emotions.

My wife has a big heart and loves freely, which thankfully, is a great counterbalance to my (too often) head centered faith.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Thank you for your thoughtful comment, LakeMary. I agree with you that we should not shout, except under very extraordinary conditions. I think that one of the best things we can do is serve as good examples in our behavior and our words, and speak the truth in humble but strong and clear ways. And we very much need to call evil and sin what they are: evil and sin.

One of my concerns is that a lot of "conservative" politicians, pundits and religious leaders continually mince words. They seem to either be cowed by Political Correctness, which is exactly what PC thrives on, or they don't really believe in conservative principles. They use bogus terms like "islamism" or "religion of peace" for Islam, "alternative lifestyles" for extremely immoral and damaging behavior, "opposing ideals" for vicious and sometimes illegal opposing political behavior, etc. They are not being charitable. They are being weak. I believe a Christian writer demonstrated a few years ago how a lot of men have been turned off by most churches because of the wimpiness that is preached. That has been my experience in many churches I've been to during the past few decades. This writer stated that men thrive on actively doing good in manly ways, but that churches are discouraging them, and are overly encouraging femininity. Of course Jesus was certainly not a wimp. He's the best example of manliness that we can find.

We have been badly failed by our political and religious leaders again and again since the 60's, especially, and we have badly failed ourselves in the ways we've voted and otherwise acted. Now our country seems to face a divide that can't be bridged. I don't like the vitriolic comments that we often see in comments here and elsewhere by people supposedly on our side. Such vitriol is also very sinful. Many people are fed up and feeling on the edge because of the tyranny and other bad behavior of our horrible "Ruling Class," but that is no excuse for being vicious towards our opponents.

We need to do what Christ taught us--love our enemies and pray for them, and also firmly do right and love God above all else. And you're right, LakeMary, that there are problems with idolatry amongst many on our side. We need to accept that all of us are sinful, yet strive to do God's work. Easier said than done, isn't it? :-)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What you say is good and fine, but I also believe that you can't forget that there is a hand behind the evil we see in the world. Christians know that the devil was beat on the day Christ died for our sins, but that doesn't make him powerless. If anything, knowing his time is short has made him more ruthless - and he has human followers that know exactly what they are doing.

Some sheeple may think they are doing good and foolowing evil out of ignorance, but there are also those who knowingly lead those people astray with malevolent intent.

Don't confuse the two - Christ didn't and he called a spade a spade back in the day and they were Israel's greatest "religious" leaders.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Good point about "Israel's greatest 'religious' leaders, Miss Lolly. And the state of many of today's churches is pretty bad too.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Well, Miss Lolly, I certainly believe in Satan, but I also know that we can't be sure about what is in a person's heart. We often don't know whether they are well-meaning and still doing evil, or whether they are intentionally malevolent.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"I cannot call myself a Christian unless I condemn what they condemn and despise whom they despise..."

You have just aptly described the Democrat Party. Except the above sentence should be followed by, "...or else."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You might also be interested in "How Evil Works" and "The Marketing of Evil" by David Kupelian. These companion books do a very good job of looking at how evil has been marketed by the left in the US and how evil is now good and what truly is good is now evil. It includes documentation and sources and the words of the leftists themselves to show how they did it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Because of today's culture, I find myself constantly saying to others that "What's up is called down and what's down is called up." The Bible spelled it out, long ago.

Thanks, Thane36425, for the book recommendations.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All of us "right-wingers" need humility and self-awareness, of course, but we also need to acknowledge that evil exists, and that we must fight it. Many saintly people in history were humble and openly confessed their human failings, but they still were strong fighters against evil.

Abortion, the radical homosexual agenda, government dependency, corruption in government and media, Political Correctness, a vicious, decadent and influential popular culture.... The are all evils which should be fought. The word "evil" is not supposed to be used by conservatives--supposedly it makes us look to "mean." But we need to be honest and not mince words.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Thank you! This was very well said.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
View All