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Part Three: Religious Gullibility and Dehumanizing Idolatry

          Poythress works out the trouble of the materialism in a section on religious gullibility.  The skeptic will appreciate that Poythress does not rule skepticism out-of-court, “Skepticism about religious belief should not be dismissed too quickly. It is a counterfeit, which means that it is close to the truth. It has seen some things to which we do well to pay attention” (221).

          Some questioning of religious claims is necessary, because human beings have a built-in vulnerability: Due the Fall (Genesis 3), human beings have a deep seated need for God: this is expressed in longing for significance, safety, assurance. The extraordinary desire for such things leads human beings to accept counterfeits: sort of like the young lover who overlooks extraordinary faults solely because the lover’s desire is so great. “I don’t care if he steals and lies, he is wonderful!”

          Gullibility is the cost of trying to remedy the damage of the Fall without seeking the remedy of God in Jesus Christ.  

          The things desired by the human being supersede any other commitment to truth or life: such things become one’s ultimate commitments and thus control all understanding in one’s life. Ultimate commitments which do not terminate in God are by nature extremely dangerous, because they will destroy the human being seeking them.

Such desires are in fact gods:

When we forsake the true God, we make commitments to ultimates that become substitutes for the true God. In other words, we commit ourselves to counterfeits. We worship them. Worship is an expression of ultimate commitment. The Greeks had their gods whom they worshipped. Modern people may worship money, or sex, or power (223).

This is the real trouble with our desire for satisfaction when de-coupled from God:

This is how idolatry functioned in Old Testament. The fundamental problem with the Israelites in the Old Testament was that they reserved for themselves the prerogative to determine what they needed and when they needed it, instead of trusting the Lord. The self-oriented hearts of the Israelites then looked to the world (the neighbors in their midst) and followed their lead in blowing to gods that were not God in order to satisfy the lusts of their self-exalting hearts. When this is comprehended, it portrays the terrible irony of Israelite false worship. When the Israelites followed the lead of their neighbors and bowed before blocks of wood, that act of false worship underlined their desire for autonomy and, in an ironic way, was an exultation of themselves even more than of the idol. The idol itself was incidental; (in our world it could be a pornographic picture, a spouse as the particular object of codependency, or an overprotective mother’s controlling fear attached specifically to her children) the self-exalting heart was the problems, which remains the problem today.

The main problem sinful people have is not idols of the heart per se. The main problem certainly involves idols and is rooted in the heart, but the idols are manifestations of the deeper problem. The heart problems is self-exultation, and idols are two or three steps removed. A self-exalting heart that grasps after autonomy is the Grand Unifying Theory (GUT) that unites all idols. Even though idols change from culture to culture and from individual to individual within a culture, the fundamental problem of humanity has not changed since Genesis 3: sinful people want – more than anything in the whole world – to be God.[1]

          Such an idolatrous heart necessarily seeks for some manner to escape from God (Romans 1:18). While those who reject God are rarely as expressive as Huxley, Huxley does make the confession of impersonalism plain:

For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries,  the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an  instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was  simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom; we objected to the political and economic system because it was unjust. The supporters of these systems claimed that in some way they embodied the meaning (a Christian meaning, they insisted) of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and at the same time justifying ourselves in our political and erotic revolt: we could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever.

Aldus Huxley, Ends and Means (1946), 272. A copy of the work may be found here: http://www.archive.org/stream/endsandmeans035237mbp/endsandmeans035237mbp_djvu.txt As Poythress writes of such a one, “His ultimate commitment is to himself as ultimate. That commitment has been labeled autonomy….In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, … this desire for autonomy, the rule of the self by the self, and alleged infinite freedom that might go with it have been overlaid by materialism or impersonalism” (229).

          And here is the real terror and sorrow of such idolatry: The desire for some satisfaction without God requires one to abandon a personal God – and thus requires one to rejection themselves as a person. Idolatry comes at the cost of dehumanizing oneself.

          Yet, the lure of idols is so great that we human beings will ruin our lives rather than leave off the chase, “It is hopeless, for I have loved foreigners [idols] and after them I will go” (Jeremiah 2:25).

          The only solution for such deception is the redemptive work of God in Jesus Christ.

Poythress exposes the impersonalism presupposed by the various disciplines which interact with the Bible. – That will be discussed in part four.


[1] Heath Lambert, The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 148.