Dr. Reynolds reflects on two common Christmastime idolatries: the love of money, and the love of experiences.
The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.
1 Timothy 6:10
I can love any object with the wrong amount or kind of love. If I look at a stone and call it my god, then I have made it an idol. And if I look at a tree and love it more than a child, then my love of the tree is likewise out of proportion.
Sometimes it is good to focus on one kind of idolatry, even though there are many kinds of idolatry. At this time of year, we often focus on money.
I can love any object with the wrong amount or kind of love.
The Love of Money
Money is particularly hard not to love too much, because money can be exchanged for most other objects. It is powerful. Case in point: Amazon is working hard to make sure that money can buy any object available, and 3-D printing will take that further. Before long, I wager that Amazon will sell you any object you can desire, and even any object you can picture. The possibilities for money’s power only grow.
Money can also be a way of keeping score in life. If I get paid well, then it can mean I am “winning” or that other people value what I do. I love winning. I love being valued. Money seems to tell me those things.
Money is hard not to worship, because it solves so many problems. If you have money, then there are few material needs you cannot meet. The amount of good you can do with money is only limited by the physical needs of those around you.
Because money is powerful, eloquent, and useful, it is a good. But money can be a great god, and, as with all idols, the worship of money makes money, a good, hideous.
Christmas is a good time to remember these Christian truths, partly because getting presents might make us greedy. Charles Dickens used Christmas, a generous time of gift-giving, as an excuse to attack miserly love of money.
Ebenezer Scrooge loved money for its own sake and as a protection against poverty. He was afraid of the cruel world, so he became even crueler than the world using the power of his money. Dickens rightly sees that Scrooge needs salvation.
But money can be a great god, and, as with all idols, the worship of money makes money, a good, hideous.
But Dickens also had a problem of bad love, of idolatry. He had a problem that many sophisticates have always had: the love, not of money, but of a certain lifestyle or of certain spiritual gifts.
Let me suggest that, like money, the love of lifestyle and spiritual gifts is the root of all kinds of evil.
There are people who cannot be tempted by a higher salary, but shudder if they cannot own the proper clothing, the right music, or afford aesthetic experiences. They strain over the gnat of Christmas gift-giving, but cannot help swallowing the camel of the hours it takes to achieve a bohemian “simplicity.”
You know the sort.
They would rather offend a gift-giver than enjoy a gift of gauche taste. They own but one jacket, but it is the right jacket. They would give all their money to the poor and then write beautifully on their blogs about the joy they felt. They would give up all their shoes to the poor, but would never listen to Christmas Shoes with Granny. They know the right food, and the right amount of it to eat, so the feasts of the culinary ignorant are repulsive to them.
This preciousness is particularly a struggle for the spiritually sensitive. God has given them a refined sense of beauty and of His presences, but if they are not careful they will love that awe instead of the Awful God, or love beauty instead of Beauty.
Just as money can solve material problems, spiritual, aesthetic, and intellectual wealth can solve many spiritual, aesthetic, and intellectual problems. And since these are better problems to solve than material needs, the effete intellectual feels gratified over his (real) superiority to Scrooge.
Yet the worship of experiences (especially holy or beautiful experiences!) merely makes another idol out of something better than money. As a result, it is a worse idolatry, because it dedicates to divine destruction (the annihilation that must come to all idols) something so much greater than money.
My intellectual capacity is not worthy of worship.
My aesthetic sensibility is not worthy of worship.
My artistic passions are not worthy of worship.
The worship of experiences... dedicates to divine destruction (the annihilation that must come to all idols) something so much greater than money.
Jesus had to tell His own young Scrooge to sell all he had and give it to the poor. And sometimes I wonder whether the Lord Jesus would tell us, the aesthetic misers, to give up our perfect, precious little lives and give ourselves to the aesthetically poor in a way they can comprehend.
We might need to be to become uglier, so that they might see Beauty.
Otherwise we may find that our services are beautiful, but the Glory has departed, our simplicity has become cloying, and our carefully constructed image is just a new form of hypocrisy.
Christ has written Ichabod on top of our cultural manifestos. Let us return our gaze to Him.
JOHN MARK REYNOLDS
John Mark is the Founder of Wheatstone Ministries and of Biola University's Torrey Honors Institute. He is also President and Founder of the St. Constantine School, opening in Houston in 2016. Dr. Reynolds is the author of many books, including When Athens Met Jerusalem: an Introduction to Classical and Christian Thought. He is also a frequent blogger and lecturer on a wide range of topics including ancient philosophy, classical and home education, politics, faith, and virtue.