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Idolatry and Ideology

Ideology tends to have a bad press, blamed for many of the evils we face in the world today. But surely an ideology like Marxism or Monetarism have some valid points? Bob Goudzwaard, in his book Idols of our Time , says:

"An ideology arises when idolatry takes root in the pursuit of a legitimate end."

(his emphasis). So, what is idolatry? What are idols?

Aren't idols those ancient statues that people used in religious rituals? How is it relevant to us? Those idols were visible expressions of something rather deeper; idolatry refers to the deeper thing, not just to the expression. That is why it's relevant to us.

A useful definition of idolatry is:

"Idolatry is finding our our security, our safety, our meaning in something or someone other than God." (Andrew Rudd.

As nations and peoples we try to find security in military or economic strength. We grow suspicious of all others and start to keep them at arm's length; "France has no friends," said de Gaulle, "only interests." As individuals we try to find security in our income, in our insurance policies, in our families, in our clubs and groups. As businesses we try to find our security and safety in risk analysis and avoidance, in information gathering and research, and in 'keeping ahead of the competition'.

We try to find meaning .. well, think about it: where do nations, peoples, individuals and businesses try to find their ultimate meaning?

But it all goes wrong. The security we crave seems further away than ever. Life seems meaningless. Paradoxes characterize our lives.

Created for Loving Dependence

Ultimate security, safety and meaning are only to be found in God. God created us for active life in loving dependence on himself. (Note: not 'dependency' but 'loving dependence'.) When we start to depend on something else, including ourselves, in this deep way, then this is idolatry. But it's not just a matter of substituting one 'god' for another; when we turn away from the Living God, the source of our being and meaning and doing, things start to go wrong.

So idolatry is not just a theological matter. It has devastating effects in us, in our families and friends, in our communities, in society and for the planet God put us on. That is why God hates it. He loves his creation and want all our relationships right and healthy.

Four Idols of our Time

Goudzwaard discusses four "idols of our time", linking them to ideology: He shows how each has some validity but how we have made each into an idol and so it became an ideology. He then shows how these four have come together in a 'monstrous alliance' in our time, leading to a life dominated by scientism, technicism and economism. Those are our idols.

It is characteristic of idols that:

Dependence and Dependency

'Loving dependence' is different from 'Dependency'. Dependency is when we grow lazy and inactive in some area of our lives that should be creative and active. It is when we assume that someone else (e.g. the State) will supply all our needs in that area, and have a right to it. We become weak and flabby in spirit. We find that what we depend on lets us down, and we become bitter and angry.

Loving dependence is when we joyously recognise our incompleteness and that only in God can we be complete. We find God is more than sufficient to our trust, and love him for it. Dependence on God does not make us lazy or constrained, but rather nerves us for action that is creative, fulfilling and rightly directed to the sustaining and stewarding of his wonderful creation.

Some Examples

UK BSE and Farming

In the BSE (mad cow disease) in the 1990s, four billion UK pounds is what it has cost the UK to date to deal with it [this text was written shortly after the outbreak, which was still current]. And many farmers face ruin because of it.

Why? What were the roots of this crisis? In the 1980s the agricultural feed industry started including animal protein in what they sold as feed for cattle. (Cattle are herbivores; it is an offence against their Creator - if nothing else - to force them to eat animal remains.)

Why has this happened? Not because the farmers and the feed industry executives were wicked people who brought this on themselves in the way criminals do. But because of idolatry, and idolatry throughout society and so deeply rooted that few recognised it and even fewer even attempted to resist it. It was an idolatry that had become one of society's assumed norms.

And so adverse effects did occur - to the tune of 4 billion pounds so far and the destruction of many farming enterprises.

And then in 2001, because we closed down many smaller abattoirs and maintained an idolatry of road use, foot and mouth disease spread rapidly throughout Britain, leading to millions of sheep and cattle being killed, many farmers losing their whole reason for living, and the UK tourist sector losing billions of pounds.


Goudzwaard B, (1984), Idols of our Time, Inter Varsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, U.S.A.

This page is offered to God as on-going work. Comments, queries welcome.

Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2009. But you may use this material subject to certain conditions.

Part of his pages, that open up discussion and exploration from a Christian ('xn') perspective. Written on the Amiga with Protext. Number of visitors to these pages: Counter.

Last updated: 28 October 1998 BSE. 13 May 2001 link to Andrew Rudd, to food; added about foot and mouth. 5 August 2007 Link to paradoxes; .nav, .end. 5 January 2009 otg, .nav.