"the only object of idolatry"

There's been some changes and new people in the community here over the past year, and it's made things more stable. There's obvious benefits to that. But, as is often the case, more organizational strength has led to more community structure and authority. It's feeling to me like there's less space to move. But God continues to provide openings and cracks when we need them, through which we can walk in his freedom.

In resisting these developments, though, I sometimes wonder if it's worth it. The people involved aren't so bad and the changes aren't so oppressive (at least not yet). And the number of people affected are few. Is it a big deal?

Thinking about that, I was reminded of some beliefs that have been important to me, thoughts I wrote about in the essay, "Are we the people?" Reading that again, I'm stirred once more...

The owner men explained the workings and the thinkings of the monster that was stronger than they were…. “You see, a bank or company… those creatures don't breathe air, don't eat side-meat. They breathe profits; they eat interest on money. If they don't get it, they die the way you die without air, without side-meat. It is a sad thing, but it is so. It is just so…. The bank—the monster has to have profits all the time. It can't wait. It'll die. When the monster stops growing it dies. It can't stay one size….”

And at last the owner men came to the point. “The tenant system won't work, any more. One man on a tractor can take the place of twelve or fourteen families. Pay him a wage and take all the crop. We have to do it. We don't like to do it. But the monster's sick. Something's happened to the monster….”

“Sure,” cried the tenant men, “but it's our land. We measured it and broke it up. We were born on it, and we got killed on it, died on it. Even if it's no good, it's still ours….”

“We're sorry. It's not us. It's the monster. The bank isn't like a man.”

“Yes, but the bank is made up of men.”

“No. You're wrong there—quite wrong there. The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It's the monster. Men made it but they can't control it.

“…The monster isn't men, but it can make men do what it wants.”

That passage, from John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, is perhaps the best description of human idolatry that I have ever seen. We commonly think of idols as ancient, exotic things. Little carved statues that superstitious and simple-minded people bowed to in their homes and in their pagan temples. But I have become convinced that idols are, and always have been, us.

Not little carved images, not things at all. The idol is us. People, gathered into a collective, man-made “us.” We, the People.

In Gravity and Grace, Simone Weil wrote:
The Great Beast is the only object of idolatry, the only ersatz of God, the only imitation of something which is infinitely far from me and which is I myself.

It is impossible for me to take myself as an end or, in consequence, my fellow man as an end, since he is my fellow. Nor can I take a material thing, because matter is still less capable of having finality conferred upon it than [individual] human beings are.

Only one thing can be taken as an end, for in relation to the human person it possesses a kind of transcendence: this is the collective.