Idolatry is at once obvious and subtle. It refers to the wills choice of what to venerate and whether these represent ontological values or lesser allegiances. Insofar as we are free, it is in the choice of values and their activation that this is expressed.
The root value of all values is to have no others that you serve than Abba – the universal name for the One who is in everyone. Here are some notes on idolatry and how to combat it.
Theology has an authority problem. At the root authority is a choice.
If you are knocked on the side of the head by a bully, you can ascribe authority to what you reason to be the issue involved. Such as: He does not like me. Or you can see the blow as a summons to respond in kind. Or you can shake the dust from your feet in response to an inner voice that says, I want no more of this. Enough.
Authority is essentially your voice or mind, suggesting at every instant what your response should be. Even the ascription of authority to a document or text is a matter of having processed what you have seen and heard, and arriving at a blanket conclusion. The Bible is true. The Constitution is sacrosanct. These VCR directions suck. Whatever.
When I read blogs which ascribe authority to the Bible or Jesus or God, I respond that the authors are reflecting what they have been told, what they have heard. There is no authority for anything except the authority you give to it. I would of course add that there is no God save the One you experience within you.
What most theology does is concede this, but add that you must have faith in a mass of propositions that have no correlative with anything you experience within. Much theology is simply an argument about what faith means. If you accept that “all that follows” is “faith”, you step into the realm of religion or metaphysics, that is to say of supposition. Entire institutions get predicated on suppositions and then articulate cultures that judge others by their willingness to share them.
Methodists, Christians, seminarians of this or that seminary, members of this or that church, cult or whatever.
There is a way past this.
One could make the first premise of any suppositional venture the proviso that this is supposition and that its only authority is what you ascribe to it. That would essentially make theology a matter of honest self revelation, built more on humility than grandiosity.
I could, for example, say that when I take the Gospel of Mark and sing it, I emerge with some values I respect and even honor. They are not the values society honors, such as courage on the field of battle or loyalty to the state. They are tolerance, democracy, helpfulness and, mainly, nonidolatry.
This last value, nonidolatry, is the linchpin (theologically) of the radical empiricism or radical individualism I believe is the end of a consideration of authority. I do not believe that reason can move beyond the immanent frame. It can suppose beyond, but it cannot claim truth beyond.
What are the authorities within us that make a real difference in our lives? For me they are those occasional moments when one’s inner compass is sufficiently at odds with the social authority out there that there is a conflict. In my case this has shown itself in resigning from my fraternity in college, in entering seminary rather than a more “appealing” career track, in other decisions of a similar sort.
Authority is related inextricably to values. We do live by values, by the ascription of authority to this and that.
Now is theology a fertile means of seeding our inner value structure? Yes, to the extent it makes a distinction regarding its own truthfulness and practices some meekness in the face of the unknowable. This Beatitudinal virtue is not in large supply on sites I have been reading of late.