A common question non-believers ask Catholics is something along the lines of ‘Why do you believe in God?’ But a more important question, it seems to me, is, ‘What kind of God do we believe in?’
Some may assume this is a ridiculous question. In our Catholic tradition, God is truth, life and love. This is indeed the case, even as we do not claim to know the inner recesses and mystery of God as Trinity.
Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, has long argued instead that the real problem of belief today is not so much about atheism as idolatry. We all believe in ‘gods’. The critical question is, ‘Which one?’
Do we believe in the one true God definitively revealed in Jesus of Nazareth or mere idols that we use to substitute for the living God?
Contemporary idols are everywhere in our culture. From the cinema screen to the federal budget, we bow to the power and sovereignty of the ‘god’ of money, just as the Babylonians bowed to the sword and its master, Marduk.
Witness our love affairs with large shopping centres in Australia these days. Here, the idol is the consumption of goods. We place our pride, worth, and identity in stuff and gadgets.
Even sport can be a ‘god’ for some people. We can talk more about last weekend’s football game than we do about our faith. We obsess about this team or that team’s performance.
When we are young, we devote ourselves to honing our own skills and physique. The body can be the idol of vanity and sexual consumerism. Airbrushed magazine figures become our obsession; gratification and fleeting pleasure come across in nearly every movie, book and television series.
The television can make an idol of entertainment. We can get our identity, our care and our hopes caught up in this or that media production.
The computer and the internet threaten to become the idol of communication and information. We long not so much to encounter Christ in our lives, but for another update, another email message, another blog post to satisfy our need for superficial connectedness and talking-head ideology.
Many more idols could be added to the list.
Perhaps we need to listen to Genesis 1 through the ears of ancient Israel; to hear again that to the extent that these things testify to the sovereignty and power of the one true Creator God, they may have some place in our lives. But when we give our heart to them, they need to be named as false competitors to the one true God.
When we put our faith in other ‘gods’, we find ourselves on many different tracks, moving apart and occasionally colliding. But if there is one true God, then everything is created and related, and we have hope and reason to seek peace with one another.
I believe in One God. I do not believe in idols. The risk of faith insists that we choose.
This article is part of a series of reflections entitled ‘I Believe…Help My Unbelief’: Meditations on the Creed by Br Mark O’Connor FMS.
Br Mark O’Connor FMS is the Vicar for Communications in the Diocese of Parramatta.