Vinoth Ramachandra starts a recent blog post with reference to a Sri Lankan astrologer who was arrested for predicting the President would suffer a fall in popularity. The astrologer was connected to the opposition. For Ramachandra, this incident reveals the fear and insecurity at the heart of the otherwise powerful democratic rulers of Colombo. But their fear and insecurity rise up because of idolatry.

You may ask yourself why it would be useful to use such (old-fashioned?) theological language to have a conversation about civic liberty. (The very people who want to ask that question often complain that theology can never contribute meaningfully to conversations about truth at all!) But Ramachandra argues that idolatry should best be understood not as statues that we make food offerings too. Rather, “the most powerful idols are not physical objects but mental concepts, including [but not limited to] our concepts of God.”

Whenever we seek to place something sub-human in the centre of our lives, as the source of our health and wealth and well-being, we are running the risk of idolatry. Surely then, Ramachandra’s usage of this term, which might seem anachronistic to many readers, turns out to be spot on. What does our global economic crisis reveal if not that we worshipped Mammon and thought we would be secure in the acquisition of more and more money? What does the jailing of the astrologer reveal but that the powers-that-be in Sri Lanka, elected by the people, now consider their popularity more important than the people and the ideas that make them popular in the first place?

Ramachandra makes the point better than I could:

When human beings give to any aspect of God’s creation (e.g., sexuality, family) or to the works of their hands (e.g science, the nation-state, technology) the worship that is due to the Creator alone, they call up invisible forces that eventually dominate them. When what is meant to be a servant is treated as a master, it quickly becomes a tyrant. Having surrendered our hearts, individually and collectively, to idols, we become enslaved by demons. Such demons always demand human sacrifices. So idolatry leads to the sacrifice of the weak and apparently “useless” members of society, to the destruction of the earth’s eco-systems, and the abdication of all responsibility for each other and the non-human creation.

Your Correspondent, His mind is like a store of idolatry and superstition

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