Graven Ideologies

In Bruce Benson’s book Graven Ideologies the topic of idols, all that takes the place of God and separates us from true faith, is extended beyond material objects to include images and concepts. We create idols. We project our aspirations and ideas onto a divine plane believing we have represented God but in fact have only represented ourselves. The outcome is we create a god we can possess and master.  Benson’s point here is that theologies can become idols just as much, if not more so, than their material counterparts. On this path theology and philosophy alike are vain attempts of gaining a God’s eye perspective of the world. But since idols reflect us, we end up worshiping ourselves. The obvious alternative sought after by Christianity is to worship the God who breaks into our world and disturbs our ideologies. This is precisely the observation made by apophatic theology: we cannot speak about God adequately. But such caution perhaps is too cautious.

There is a strange logic at work in both positive and negative theology. One affirms something but denies it, because to affirm it too strongly would be heretical and to deny it completely would also be heretical (153)

Hence at the very least there is, or should be, proper tension between dogma and interrogation. And this properly belongs to everyone, recognized or not, because we all stand in a multitude of traditions. In other words, everyone has a dogma. Perhaps the most helpful Benson gives us is the distinction between the icon and the idol. With the icon we look through the image or concept to something beyond but with the idol we look directly at it and mistake it for the object of intention.

The problem with all icons is that they have a tendency to morph into idols. Properly speaking, of course, it is not their tendency so much as our tendency to take icons and turn them into idols (193)

The danger is that icons can easily turn into idols, but the reverse holds true as well. The point of clarity for avoiding this transgression lies in our letting go of a ‘masterable’ God. In other words, receiving the overwhelming experience of God in praise and knowing that his disclosure is always partial; never a full presence.



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