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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, Professor of the School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra

The idolatries of contemporary man

Thu, 11 Apr 2019 09:05:00 +0000 Published in El Confidencial Digital

Idolatry is considered the plague of postmodernity. Unlike atheists, no one confesses in public that they are idolaters (in some cases because they are not aware of it).

One form of unconscious idolatry that is very widespread today is that of parents towards their young children. Eva Millet describes it in her book "Hyperparenting". These are parents who see their children as an extension of themselves, to whom they must give everything they want. I think the most worrying thing is that, on many occasions, they even anticipate their children's wishes. That explains why some children do not appreciate parental gifts: because they did not have time to wait for them. For J. Marías, waiting generates illusion, which is a necessary ingredient of happiness.

Hyperparents take their concern for their children's upbringing to the point of exaggeration. Some are obsessed with early stimulation and put them with unnecessary tutors. Others enroll them in a minimum of six after-school activities. The result is hyper-dependent, fearful, insecure children who are unable to cope with even the smallest frustration.

Idolatry sometimes has its origin in a disappointment: the supposed happiness of material well-being does not exist, and leaves man sad and empty. In that status one usually resorts to "gods" devised by man, in the hope that the idolatrous cult will fill the existential emptiness.

 Idolatry has existed in all historical epochs. What changes is the subject of idols. Today we no longer worship objects that represent divinity, but rather certain concepts and ways of life with which we identify ourselves. For example, the knowledge, technology, communication by mobile, social networks, television. These realities are not bad in themselves, but they become idols when they arouse inordinate love and are seen not as means, but as ends.

Behind the addiction to television is often hidden an idolatry towards this means of information. To overcome it, it is not effective to raise the "battle" in the field of television ("television or nothing"), but in the broad field of free time, where there are many other options. Some words of Groucho Marx confirm this: "I meeting television is quite educational. When someone turns it on at home, I go to another room and read a good book".

There are other idols more worrying than those listed above, closely linked to a society that exalts individualism and egocentrism and has become increasingly tolerant of the whims of the self. It is a society that exalts the cult of personality and chooses popular characters as idols. This form of idolatry contains an injustice: sports or movie stars are admired, making them world famous, while great scientific researchers live almost in anonymity.

Admiration towards interesting people stimulates one's own growth in values, but when admiration is unfounded it is only maintained by a blindness: that of fanaticism. Michael Jackson's death in June 2009 was so devastating for his fans that shortly after his demise 15 of them committed suicide. 

All forms of modern idolatry have one trait in common: love of self. "Money and pleasure tend to occupy the supreme place in the scale of values in many people's lives. Today people live to earn money or to "enjoy life". Everything else is subordinated to these ends". (Cfr. Oscar Alzamora: Modern idols).

Consumerism is adored because it satisfies the need to increase our ego through the compulsive purchase of more things. From money we mistakenly expect security, in contrast to what Aristotle said: "security is in nomos: in the concord of free men who seek the good life; by no means in wealth".

Pleasure as an end in itself creates boredom, emptiness and isolation, so ever stronger sensations are sought that end up depersonalizing those who pursue them. Money and pleasure form a binomial: more money is earned in order to spend it on more and new pleasures. 

The procedure to free ourselves from that binomial
is to place its two components in their rightful place in the axiological scale (far below values such as truth, goodness and beauty). We need a spiritual awakening that allows us to discover our existential emptiness and the uselessness of continuing to try new idolatries to fill it.