The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Belief in God and Idolatry

The idea that contemporary idolatry is manifested in capitalist culture has been raised in different ways by the likes of Marx and Fromm. In my paper I will approach the subject from a new perspective, based on what I understand as `biblical` concept of the phenomenon of Idolatry. Biblical monotheism is based on the correlation between the God of the whole, and the wholistic soul of the worshiper. In Idolatry there is also correlation: it is a worship of a partial element of reality (like money, beauty, technology), by a partial aspect of the soul. The origins of the tendency to idolize include fears, weaknesses, and the heavy burden of life. Idolizing `enlarges` this partial element: it can now provide not only money and beauty, but also reassurance, self-confidence, happiness and so on. Thus, the tissue around this partial element becomes `thicker`, grows too large, too important, like a cancerous tissue, without proportion to its role.
This discussion about `idolizing` requires clarification because we do not have an explicit paganism with priests and shrines and temples, and if we use terms like `American idol` it is usually with humor,, as a metaphor (Lyotard). I would argue that the new gods dwell in the realm of metaphor, and that is why this phenomenon is elusive. Nevertheless, it is strong.
It thrives on the weak self we often see in the new capitalist culture. Numerous people, who believe money or beauty will provide them happiness, become enslaved, instead of freeing themselves in a holistic Avodat Hamidot. Yet the strategy of liberation cannot be that of the biblical prophets. Instead, we can approach the tendency to idolize without judgmental condemnation, but with compassion.