Idolatry in 2006

If memory serves, it's the second commandment–thou shalt have no graven images.  I've been intrigued by how this applies to modern living.  All the other commandments have made sense to me.  Don't kill, don't steal, don't covet, don't commit adultery–these seem extremely applicable to society at large today.  Idolatry, however, had me stumped….but I've got some thoughts.

I asked myself, wherein lies the sin of idolatry?  I think I can explain it better in legal terms.  In criminal law, in order to be culpable of a crime a perpetrator must fulfill two requirements: (1) the actus reus; and (2) the mens rea.

The actus reus means the actual act.  That is, they physically did the thing, and it was volitional.  In idolatry terms, it would mean actually fashioning an idol, and worshipping it.  But the criminal law requires something more–the mens rea, or the guilty mind.

The mens rea is the accompanying mental state.  In most cases, without an adequate mens rea, someone would get off.  We are aware of this when we get pulled over for speeding and we plead, "I didn't know the speed limit was 45."  We're trying to plead our case that we do not satisfy the mens rea requirement of the offense.  (But for the record, speeding is one of the cases where it's not required).

So, getting back to idolatry, where is the offense?  What is the actus reus and mens rea?  As I stated, in Old Testament times, the actus reus would consist of fashioning an idol and worshipping and the mens rea would be that this is done with the intent that the idol is God. 

If God really is God, (which I believe) and we really are His children (which I believe) it would make sense that He command us to communicate with Him, and not some idea we conjured up.  Herein lies the relevance of idolatry today.  I think the actus reus has become more deceptive in that it has become mental.  I would suggest that we create idols in our minds.  We conjure up gods according to our expectations, desires, and fears. 

Where is the difference between an Egyptian praying to Osiris and someone in 2006 praying to a concept of god they conjured up somewhere between fact and assumption.  I believe in prayer with all my heart, but I am recognizing that it is most effective when I simply rely on the very basic description I have of Him–that He so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son.  It seems like attributing other characteristics to God are rather presumptuous.  I think this is at the heart of the offense of idolatry.  It is placing what one believes to be God, above God, with the intent that it will be your god.  This is the actus reus and mens rea of idolatry in my opinion.  This can happen in the form of a golden calf.  But in 2006 I think it all too often takes an amorphous essence of philosophies of men, mingled with scripture.

Published in: on April 22, 2006 at 11:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

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