The Old Testament prophets fought a losing battle against idolatry -- and this was long before the mass production of graven images that distinguishes our own era. It was hard enough combatting the promiscuous worship of dumb idols in biblical times. How do you put a stop to it when the dumb idols sing and dance and share their most intimate secrets on Facebook and Twitter?
We don't generally call them gods any more; we call them celebrities. And increasingly they are celebrated not for their accomplishments but for what they look like. They are young and glamorous, and their images are everywhere. Their antics are breathlessly chronicled in the gossip columns, along with their pronouncements on life and love. Rarely do they have much to say of any consequence, not that this deters them. But sooner or later people grow tired of their pronouncements, tired of their antics and tired of looking at them. And so they are packed off to rehab, and it's on to the next overnight sensation.
Celebrity worship seems like a harmless enough pastime. If people want to fritter away their lives daydreaming about some empty-headed pop star, why should we care? Our culture is so inured to image-making that we no longer recognize idolatry for what it is. We have trouble understanding why the Old Testament prophets got so worked up about it, much less that Old Curmudgeon who thundered from atop Mt. Sinai. The only explanation he had to offer was that he was a jealous God and didn't want his people worshipping other gods. Meanwhile, his people had gathered down below to worship a golden calf -- hardly an auspicious start to their relationship.
Why is idolatry so bad? Because it reverses our basic understanding of who we are and who God is. According to the biblical creation story, we are created in God's image. Since we can't fully grasp what he is like, we can't entirely understand what it means to be created in his image. We know only that he is larger than we are, and in seeking to know him we are enlarged ourselves. An idol, by contrast, is a god created in our own image, and by switching the two, both are fatally diminished.