There’s this great story in the Torah that goes a little something like this. The leaders of Israel went up on a mountain for a private conference with God, per His request. With the bosses away, the Israelites decided to throw a party. Grateful to their God for freeing them from slavery, they shaped a golden calf to symbolize Him, worshipped the calf as God, and partied on. When the leaders came back down from the mountain, they were less than pleased. Tablets were smashed, God rained justice, there were a lot of irreversible layoffs. The common understanding of the tale says that God destroyed the Israelites because they worshipped the calf as a god. In reality, their sin was creating an image of God that suited their own liking, then worshipping Him as they wished.
Hollywood, and American culture in general, suffers from Golden Calf Syndrome. Whether you blame it on the instant gratification of social media or simple human impatience, God doesn’t communicate every 5 seconds in 140 characters or less. That’s not enough for us as a culture, so we’ve made a nasty habit out of satiating our need for the Almighty by forcing Him into a box of our own liking. Habit has become trend to the point that we don’t even realize when we’re trying to force God into our mold.
Take, for instance, the conservative Christian idol-worship of Matthew McConaughey for “daring” to use the name “God” in a sentence at the Oscars. Upon remarking on the huge stretch of the imagination performed by Christians (and some Jews, I’m sure) in thinking that McConaughey’s use of the G-word somehow referenced the God of scripture, the common, rather lackluster response I received was best phrased as, “Take it where you can get it.”
One comment, however, caught my eye.
Your last paragraph makes a very good point. It is an excellent point in fact. God is being watered down in our society even by the people who profess to believe in God. Rather than lament the McConaughey performance and reaction, why not use it as an opportunity and lead the way, by starting the discussion, using the PJM platform?
And it occurred to me that most Americans, most conservative, patriotic, flag-waving, God-fearing, Ten Commandments-in-front-of-my-courthouse advocating, self-titled “religious” Americans know so little of who God is that they are willing to take His Name wherever they can get it as a sign that somehow we’re doing just fine. We haven’t gone to the Dark Side yet, folks; we still call on the name of God on occasion!
At the root of it, this admiration for the mentioning of God smacks more of the need for self-reassurance than Holy reverence. That is why we are comfortable making God fit into our box: we do not see ourselves in a relationship with Him, but rather in relation to Him. The more we can make Him fit our mold, the better we feel about ourselves.
When you start dating someone, you develop an admiration for who you think they are. You don’t really start loving them for who they are until you’re married to them, living with them 24/7 with no easy way out. (Although that last point is debatable, the reality is that even the most secular of couples don’t generally divorce on a whim, unless their last name begins with a ‘K’ and ends with -ardashian.) Seeing someone for who they truly are and pursuing a lifetime with them creates a deeper and more authentic love that transcends the superficiality of making someone into what you’d like them to be.
There’s a reason God uses the metaphor of marriage when speaking of His relationship with Israel. Israel, the hot chick on the scene, tried to take her All-Consuming, All-Powerful Boyfriend and make Him fit into a golden calf-shaped box. She learned a hard lesson: Relationships don’t work that way. Thankfully, Moses intervened and redeemed the match; now, when we celebrate Shavuot (The Giving of the Law on Sinai, a.k.a. Moshe & the Tablets, Round 2) we celebrate it as a marriage between God and Israel.
This is a start, not a stop to the conversation. Here at PJLifestyle, we have been tasked with identifying and diagnosing the Golden Calf Syndrome plaguing our culture. I encourage our readers to do the same so that we, too, may enjoy the pursuit of the God Who Is, and the culture we can be, instead of laying claim to bad evidence in our own selfish pursuit of salvation from the Dark Side.