Friday, 19 December 2014

The Fall and Rise of Idolatry

Philosophers' Noisy Talk

In the fourth century AD, Athanasius (one of the great early church fathers) described the impact upon idolatry from the time of Christ's coming down to his day (circa 325AD).  He argues that the coming of Christ amongst men drove out superstition and idolatry in the Roman Empire and the Mediterranean nations.

Idolatry amongst the Gentiles was real, pervasive, and local.  Every town had its shrines and deities.  Athanasius witnessed the decline and decrepitude of the established religion of idolatry.  But what caused it?
When did people begin to abandon the worship of idols, unless it were since the very Word of God came among men?  When have oracles ceased and become void of meaning, among the Greeks and everywhere, except since the Saviour had revealed Himself on earth?

When did those whom the poets call gods and heroes begin to be adjudged as mere mortals, except when the Lord took the spoils of death and preserved incorruptible the body He had taken, raising it from among the dead?  Or when did the deceitfulness and madness of daemons fall under contempt, save when the Word, the Power of God, the Master of all these as well, condescended on account of the weakness of mankind and appeared on earth?

When did the practice and theory of magic begin to be spurned under foot, if not at the manifestation of the Divine Word to men?  In a word, when did the wisdom of the Greeks become foolish, save when the true Wisdom of God revealed Himself on earth?  In old times the whole world and every place in it was led astray by the worship of idols, and men thought the idols were the only gods that were.  But now, all over the world men are forsaking the fear of idols and taking refuge with Christ; and by worshipping Him as God they come through Him to know the Father also, Whom formerly they did not know.

The objects of worship formerly were varied and countless; each place had its own idol and the so-called god of one place could not pass over to another in order to persuade the people there to worship him, but was barely reverenced even by his own.  Indeed no! Nobody worshipped his neighbour's god, but every man had his own idol and thought that it was lord of all.  But now Christ alone is worshipped, as One and the Same among all peoples everywhere; and what the feebleness of idols could not do, namely convince even those dwelling close at hand, He has effected.  He has persuaded not only those close at hand, but literally the entire world to worship one and the same Lord and through Him the Father.

Again, in former times every place was full of the fraud of the oracles, and the utterances of those at Delphi and Dordona and in Boeotia and Lycia and Libya and Egypt and those of the Kabiri and the Pythoness were considered marvellous by the minds of men.  But now, since Christ has been proclaimed everywhere, their madness too has ceased, and there is no one left among them to give oracles at all. . . .

And what is one to say about the magic that they think so marvellous?  Before the sojourn of the Word, it was strong and active among Egyptians and Chaldeans and Indians and filled all who saw it with terror and astonishment.  But by the coming of the Truth and the manifestation of the Word it too has been confuted and entirely destroyed.

As to Greek wisdom, however, and the philosophers' noisy talk, I really think no one requires argument from us, for the amazing fact is patent to all that, for all that they have written so much, the Greeks failed to convince even a few from their own neighbourhood in regard to immortality and the virtuous ordering of life.  Christ alone, using common speech and through he agency of men not clever with their tongues, has convinced whole assemblies of people all the world over to despise death, and to take heed to the thing that do not die, to look past the things of time and gaze on things eternal, to think nothing of earthly glory and to aspire only to immortality.  [Athanasius, On the Incarnation.  Translated and edited by Sister Penelope Lawson.  (New York: Macmillan Publishing House, 1946.), p.75ff.] 
Idolatry still exists in places around the world.  But when the Christian Gospel of Christ takes hold, idolatry is the first and abiding casualty.  The reverse is also true: if a civilisation rebels against the gentle yoke of Christ, it is not long before superstition and various idols make a comeback.  Consider how many "scientists" have become reverently superstitious about Evolution, seeing its hand, influence, control, and explanatory power everywhere.  Consider how our Most High Priests of scientism gravely propound an infinite number of parallel universes to warrant the complexity of the one in which we live.  For Stochasticity to have a chance of producing such an exquisitely balanced and fine tuned universe, there must needs be an infinite number of other universes where the emergence of life is impossible or has failed.  These nonsenses and contradictions are uttered most gravely and reverently by the most superstitious of all.

The Delphic oracle--the alleged voice of Apollo himself--was a charlatan's purse (and at root everyone knew it).  It survived for so long because of the wilful credulity of those who needed such things to make some kind of superstitious sense of the world. The coming of the Gospel eradicated that need.  But deny or ignore the Gospel and gross ignorance soon makes a return.

The distance between our modern superstitious scientists and the devotees of Delphi is less than a cigarette paper. 

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