A House of Idols: An Introduction

(system) #1

This is the first installment in a four-part series written by a theology major at Pacific Union College.

It was white. Well, off-white. I stared at it for a while… and, in a way, it stared right back at me, expressionless.

It was jarring.

A question in the shape of a mental knot had tied not only my mind but also the rest of the class’. How was this art? This just couldn’t be art! Marcel Duchamp’s, Fountain, bore the resemblance of a urinal; in fact it was just that: a urinal.

Stop. Now, before we go any further there are two main options we can use to approach this situation: we can criticize it. For example, “That’s not art (with disdain), anyone could do that.”

Interestingly enough, this isn’t criticism in an academic sense; this is different. This generally comes from a very personal place, a place where honesty and pride cross roads, a place of insecurity. And more often than not, this seems to be the zeitgeist for the majority of people. Modern art usually attracts this kind of hostility.

Or, you can practice the craft of empathy, a genuine expression of openness, willingness, and attentiveness. Of course, this typically is the harder choice, the yielding of your perspective.

I could feel the class’ sensibility shifting towards the first framework, a framework of incomprehension and uncertainty. Let’s be honest, none of us understood it. I found myself mentally fumbling to comprehend the subject.

I paused and my eyes wandered, carrying my thoughts with it. They started to calmly drift around a couple of subjects, until something abruptly seized them.

We like to build things. That’s right: we’re builders. We like to build compartments, systems, definitions, ideas; if you can think it, we can build it.

There’s a problem, though.

We construct our house of notions only to expect to inhabit them for extensive periods of time. We step inside our newly established view of religion, sexuality, or a personal relationship.

Who would have thought things would work out differently? The house is warm. Looking around we notice a fireplace. A few moments later we light wood and curl our bodies up to the heat. This is nice; why go outside? So, we stay inside. Time passes but our bodies don’t exert any gesture that would lead us out the front door; instead they’ve stretched themselves out, ready to take a nice lazy nap. Our perspective is in a state of comfortable lethargy.

The outside world and its perspectives become more and more distant. Our living space has become our only relevant reality. It’s hard for us to take seriously the outside reports of earthquake alarms (especially if you live in California), weather disasters, and city notifications.

The mental knot relaxed. Duchamp’sFountain was untangling. I realized the rest of the class and I had been trying to look at Fountain from our “houses.” But, our preconceived ideas dictated that what we had been staring at was not art.

When you think of art, you typically think of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel or Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Not a urinal. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe Duchamp understands our natural gravitation to our structuring of things. Perhaps this is a warning?

I was abruptly seized, again.

This piece is really about idolatry, a warning against our eager tendencies to live in a House of Idols.

Idols are seen as items of worship. Full or primary attention is devoted to the inanimate object. Much like a “house,” idols are comfortable, easy, and complacent. You don’t have to worry about going on a search for idols because idols themselves don’t move. They are immobile, unresponsive, and lifeless.

Movement is the only way to relieve this idolatrous “house” situation. All it takes is a simple walk out the front door. Only then can we be free and open to new perspectives.

However, moving out of a house is a painstaking chore, tedious and uncomfortable.

But, if we stay in our “houses,” how can we ever get to know our neighbors? What realities, ideas, or perspectives might we be ignoring?

Therefore, these next few posts will be a stepping out of our comfortable homes. We’re going outside to visit a unique theological city which was impacted by a “God-possessed man,” leading to an interweaving of idolatry, the sacred and secular, and ethics. The buildings in this city will look different, the people’s faces are dissimilar, and the traffic is unsettling.

The welcome sign warmly reads:

“Our God Is Dead.”

Gabriel M. Riojas is a second-year theology major at Pacific Union College. He plays the guitar and bass, and leads praise music. He also enjoys reading, writing, art, and philosophy.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5546