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The Worst Kind of Idolatry: Praying to God while Worshiping the Self
The Self is a creative genius – in the service of itself. This is the source of what I am proposing. Do the people who have chosen God (regardless of their religion) truly worship Him as He wishes? There are shocking signs of the reverse. I believe that some have arrived at an odd equation: praying to God while worshipping themselves. The holy books speak of this, in the dialogues of the prophets with the idolaters. Often, the latter would respond, “Why not worship both our gods and yours?” People often did not reject the call of prophets out of a rejection of God; they were merely reacting to the prophets’ insistence that they not be allowed to worship both, their gods and the God of the prophets.
I believe that now is a similar age, with a difference. The idolaters of old had the courage, truthfulness and honesty to say clearly what they wanted. Now, these traits are gone. We are not honest enough with ourselves, or some of us, to see what we do: worshipping the Self while praying to God. An entire framework facilitates this: we live under self-centeredness, where we have tabulated our lives into columns for work, family, recreation, health, friends, fitness, etc., and boxed God into one of these columns. This came about unconsciously, little by little:
1- Some members of the dominant civilization do this as a reaction to the Church’s stranglehold in the Middle Ages.
2- For others, belonging to the vanquished civilization, it is part of belonging to the broken civilization (civilization, not religion). History tells us that the vanquished imitates the victor and seeks to be like him; also, the victor is no longer an enemy, but a role model whose lifestyle the vanquished seeks to emulate (honesty, sincerity, efficiency, cleanliness, etc.).
3- Every manifestation of the vanquished civilization is misery, and since every manifestation of the victorious civilization is luxury.
4- Every impressive civilizational framework comes from the victorious civilization.
5- The victorious civilization is the mecca of science, where the world sends its best and brightest to learn; the mecca of medicine, where the world comes to be treated; the mecca of invention and development, and so on.
6- The velvet glove of the victorious civilization – its culture, its arts, its films, its music – is a sincere product of its dominant paradigm (self-centeredness) – is eagerly absorbed by the world as-is, or translated wholesale with its attendant values and principles.
The members of the vanquished civilization feel the pressure on their values and principles. Most of them present the confused diagnosis that it is their religion (mostly Islam) and not their civilization which are under pressure. But there is a great difference. They then accuse the victorious civilization of attacking Islam, ignoring the fact that there are many non-Muslims in the vanquished civilization who are under just as much pressure as Muslims. They also ignore that it is we, with our vanquished civilization, who are chasing after the victorious civilization and seek to copy it unchanged. This is all much easier to face than the fact that we have created a graven image to worship alongside God: ourselves.
These selves have found what they sought in a different paradigm. It is easier to adopt conspiracy theories than to admit that we have deteriorated over the centuries, and lost faith in ourselves and our ability to create paradigms that reflect our God-centrism, and present them to the very Other that we are racing to emulate. Unfortunately, with such low self-esteem, we can hardly compete; we have adopted the Other’s paradigm wholesale. To ease our consciences, we have found a brilliant solution, which is just to call things by different names. Instead of calling ourselves “apathetic,” instead of saying we are a “vanquished civilization”, instead of saying that our paradigm is broken and defeated, we say there is a “war on Islam,” or “a war on our principles” and so on, accusing the Other of attacking us, and relieving our consciences of the burden of guilt at constantly playing the victim.
This is not the whole truth. Everyone on the planet seeks their own interests. If someone else’s interests are at odds with mine, and I am unable to fight for my rights, they will not fight for my rights on my behalf. What we are facing is competition, not conspiracy. It makes no sense to demand that the Other seek my own benefit, and call him a “conspirator” if he fails to do so. That would be like a football match where one team tries to score goals and the other merely wails, “Help, save us! Can’t you see the conspiracy? Can’t you see they are trying to score goals?” We love to do this, I think, to play the victim. It requires no effort, after all: all we need to do is sit at the café and complain about the global conspiracy against us, and drink our coffee, and go home feeling that we have done our duty. At the same time, we stare longingly and resentfully at our so-called conspirators, secretly and not-so-secretly wanting them to take us along for the ride on their victorious journey, conspiracies against us and all.
What we are doing is not new; every vanquished party does the same. Some have recovered; some have disappeared without a trace. History tells us that those who disappeared are those who spent their lives complaining and drinking coffee waiting for death. Those who recover are those who analyze and diagnose the reasons, then take the initiative to search for means of recovery, proactively. They know that the world has no room for whiners and complainers, but makes way for those who find solutions and carry them out. Those who recover do not insist that the world is full of conspiracies; they rightly call it competition, even unfair competition; “my opponent,” they say, “is doing what’s best for them; they won’t do what’s best for me, especially if I don’t work for what’s best for me, or stand up for myself.” They know that there is no place for the weak in this world, and that we need to find a place for ourselves. We need to shoulder others aside to find our own space; then, we may do what’s best for the weakest, out of our own moral values. Lying helplessly, complaining, and living as a victim is the ultimate victory of the Ego, and of self-centeredness. It’s a classic case of the Ego dragging you into reactive behavior, keeping you helpless to do anything but protest and scream, thinking that the louder you yell, the more things will improve. When nothing changes, we move to what I call “ceasing to fight, the Ego’s delight; the sweetest of systems, playing the victim.”
Dear reader, I suggest you reread the last paragraph and make a note of your observations.