Andy Crouch: Promises, Promises
Our technology works. But all idols do at first
February 19, 2001
Like 90 million other Americans, I have a household idol. Like household gods from pagan cultures throughout history, it is small enough to fit in my hand and roughly human in shape—three times as tall as it is wide. And as with all household gods, it promises to serve me if I will serve it. So I feed it regularly—with a kind of invisible food that, I believe, gives it energy and perhaps pleasure. In return, it promises protection, power, knowledge, and even intimacy. My god has been very good to me. And on days when it fails me—when I let it go without food, or make inappropriate demands of it, or the one time when I thought I had actually lost it—I feel pangs of anxiety. At those times I vow to be a better servant of this precious little piece of useful magic.
My household idol is better known as a cell phone. I feed it with daily infusions of electricity, and it promises me the divine freedom to talk with whomever I wish, wherever I wish. I don't really mistake my cell phone for a god. Then again, archaeologists tell us that even after the worship of YHWH was firmly established in Jerusalem, Israelites were still cherishing their Canaanite idols.
Much of what we call idolatry in "primitive" societies is simply an alternative form of technology. Idols promise some control over the world. Serve the sky god's idol properly, and he will reward you with favorable weather. Propitiate the voodoo figurine with the appropriate sacrifices, and you will have control over your enemy. Every idol is an attempt to gain an edge on the world, to have some leverage over chaos. That is, essentially, what technology—whether in the form of cell phones, central air conditioning, or missile-defense systems—promises as well.
Of course, we resist ...