The gods of America are locked in mortal combat today, and the carnage resulting from their struggle has wounded many in our midst. We had hoped, since increasingly jettisoning all the moral baggage associated with a biblical worldview, that the new gods we enshrined and embraced would play nicely together. And it seemed to work, for thirty years or so. Fame and Fortune, Sex and Power proved to be such a wonderfully worldly team when they all pulled together. Who didn’t want to be on national magazine covers, to become filthy rich (legally, of course), to enjoy hundreds of glamorous sex partners promising pleasures bringing a blush to the cheeks of Eros, to wield power capable of securing one’s wildest dreams?
We were so hopeful that these gods would partner together to create a new age utopia. Tired of the traditional morality that boxed in our ancestors, we were confident of a better way. Sexual pleasure is such a wonderful thing – why should it be confined to the marriage bed, or even to male-female unions or even to human-human encounters? Sex has nothing to do with a created order, but is solely for pleasure however we wish. Human beings are nothing more than enlightened animals with natural urges – let’s get rid of these old moral shackles, vestiges of Victorianism and Stoic asceticism. Free love, baby!
And what’s wrong with fame, after all? Doesn’t everyone deserve to be noticed and fawned over in public, for at least fifteen minutes of nationwide attention? In the 1980s, finally, we kicked to the curb the idea that vanity is a vice rather than a virtue, and we preened ourselves to launch the “Me Generation.” The teen movie Fame hit the silver screen in 1980 and spawned a TV series of the same name lasting six years. We turned the entertainment industry into a massive idol-making enterprise, fawning over superstars and trying to make ourselves look like them in hopes their celebrity would rub off on us. Thank God, or rather Al Gore and Steve Jobs, for inventing the Internet and iPhone respectively, so that we could finally take selfies and post them online for all the world to see and drool over. The god of Fame showed us that he could even take a family with no notable achievements or noteworthy abilities and cause the masses to keep up with the Kardashians. Now that’s saying something! Enough with humility and contentment in the midst of our circumstances, as the Bible counsels. Let’s flaunt ourselves before the world and see what transpires – after all, we deserve the attention.
A close handmaiden to Fame is the goddess of Money. While wealth in and of itself is neutral, in the hands of an unrestrained ego it is the purchaser of all the wares offered by the other philistine deities clamoring for our business. And America, as the Land of Promise, pledged to make us all rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Unfettered capitalism, get rich quick schemes, multi-million-dollar lottery jackpots, massively inflated real estate markets, all sang to us the song that we could join Buffett, Gates and Bezos in the penthouse pantheon of Mammon. And we sang along with all our hearts, trying to drown out the ancient warning, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Heaven? Heaven is for the dead. Life is for the living – and the living need money! We need to eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die! I’ll worry about virtue when I’m old; right now I need to jack up my bottom line.
And finally, Power. The ability to influence people and massage circumstances so as to remake reality according to my vision. It’s a dog eat dog world; there can be only one King of the Hill; you’re either the predator or the prey – which one do you want to be? To rise to the top and command others is a recipe for success. Leadership is for winners; eating dust for losers. To build an empire with many employees doing our bidding, to create a movement with many personal followers creates a sense of importance and dominance. Whoever said, “The one who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave” obviously didn’t know what he was talking about. Power is meant to be wielded for the benefit of those who have it.
So we have danced to the strains of this quartet, seemingly happy until a fifth deity made her way quietly onto the stage and began to play. Eris, the goddess of strife, destroyed any pretense of harmony among the other four. Instead of playing as a team, each has sought to win first place in our hearts, and so we find competing priorities in our bewildered society.
Sex and power combine forces, telling their acolytes that if you want pleasure and can force others to give it to you, it’s your right. Fame and sex combine to urge women to sexualize their appearance as a way to gain notice. Power and money combine to create a governmental structure churning out rich, self-serving, career politicians and competing lobbying groups. Money and sex partner to produce sex-trafficking rings and oceans of pornography.
But wait, we say. This is not what we were promised. Our gods must toe the line. But gods make the rules, not their worshipers. When Sex says, “The body has no purpose other than pleasure; do as you wish,” and we revel in this, how can we later recoil in horror when we discover that those in positions of power have sexually abused those under their control? When we enshrine Money and Power as ultimate pursuits, how can we complain when we learn of politicians selling their votes and lining their pockets? When we believe that women can get ahead by objectifying their bodies in advertisements, movies and “barely there” outfits, how can we complain that they are then treated as objects by those they sought to use to get ahead?
What we need then, you might say, are some limits, some guard rails to keep these gods in check. We want to encourage sexual pleasure, but only within the bounds of appropriate relationships. We want to enjoy wealth, but responsibly and with generous hearts. We want people to wield power, but only those with servant hearts. And Fame – well, I don’t know what to say about Fame. The devil wanted to become top dog, and that didn’t work out too well for him.
The irony is that we had all these guard rails in place back when a biblical worldview was still haunting the recesses of our collective, cultural mind. We knew that the sexual relationship was intended for the security and confines of husband and wife. We were taught that the love of money was the root of all evil, and that there is great gain in godliness with contentment. We believed that the call to love our neighbors included putting the needs of others ahead of ourselves. The proverb, “Pride goeth before a fall” was tattooed on our inner eyelids. And we jettisoned all that as being old-fashioned, stultifying, puritanical, legalistic. Let us stretch our wings, we cried. Reach for the stars. Grab for all the gusto. Give us our freedom!
Well, here we are, basking in the glow of freedom without limits. A world of increasing revelations about sexual predators, anarchists, human and drug traffickers, corrupt politicians, vapid celebrities, political parties and other interest groups painting their opponents as spawn from hell, all in the interest of saving our country.
If only we could get the genie back into the lamp. If only we could get our chosen gods under control. The problem is, gods can’t be controlled once they’re on the throne. They have to be unseated. And they can only be dethroned by a god greater than them. Unfortunately, we already turned once away from this God to give free rein to our baser passions. But the good news is that the true God operates by the rules He has given to us. He is a servant Master, and in His divine humility He is willing to receive us once again, even after we have trashed His name and given our loyalty to gods who are no gods. In divine condescension He is willing to accept our desperate cries for help and our mumbled confessions of infidelity.
If we have finally grown weary of false promises that have led us to despair in the pig sties of a foreign land and we are willing to come to our senses and turn back to the only safe and secure relationship we have ever known, the like the Prodigal Son who sought the mercy of his father, we too will see the Father on the horizon racing toward us with a welcoming embrace, and the promise that all will be well. We have made a mess of things, and the stench of our choices clings to us, but our Father waves that all aside, orders a steaming bath made ready, lays out our new clothes and busies Himself with a celebratory banquet, while we prepare to reenter His family home with joy.
The way home may be long, but it starts with a turn, a change of heart. The choice is simple really, for those with eyes to see.