People often say that idolatry in modern times means “putting anything in the place of God”--and people talk about how their career or their spouse or their own comfort becomes their “idol.” This makes the term “idol” very useful for thinking about sin in our lives.
But I think the original, intended meaning of the term is lost that way. When the Hebrew Scriptures talk about “bowing down to Baals” they mean paying obeisance (praying to, offering sacrifices to, and literally bowing down before) a carved image.
I think the carved images people were worshipping typically were meant to represent some awe-inspiring force in nature--like the cycle of the seasons, birth and death, sex, life-giving rainfall, sun and earth. The idea of worshipping any of those forces is foreign to Americans.
It may be because we are so far removed from the physical processes whereby such natural forces sustain life. The sun, rain (or rivers) and dirt are still responsible for giving us food, but we don’t feel that reality with our hands (sowing seed, turning soil) nor with our stomachs (full in times of plenty, empty during a drought)--instead, we go to the grocery store. We never worry about the grocery store running out of food. We’re not part of the process of food being grown and harvested or slaughtered.
We’ve even separated the act of sex from the cycle of birth and death. Nowadays, with birth control and modern medicine, sex is no longer necessarily an activity which is likely to result in birth and/or death for the woman and/or her child.
So, in 21st century America it would seem that the awe-inspiring forces of nature have been reduced to abstractions, trivialities (“I hope it’s sunny so I can go to the beach Saturday”) and inconveniences (“Oh darn; it rained, and the parade was canceled”). So, we don’t really have a problem with worshipping idols.
Of course, our way of life leads to problems of its own. It seems that part of what the Hebrew Scriptures teach is that instead of worshipping blocks of wood or stone that we ourselves carved into images, we should recognize that the true creator and author of the earth and its fullness--the person who’s actually responsible for sending the life giving rain and the terrifying snow storm is YHWH, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac and Jacob.
So, it would seem if we’re not even inspired to worship of nature, we may have a hard time giving God the worship that is his due. I don’t know. Maybe not. Maybe we just are more inspired by intellectual, interpersonal or cultural stuff that gives God glory, since that’s what our lives revolve around.
I only slept for 3 hrs. or so last night. My insomnia was probably due to anxiety/excitement about our impending move. Ack! So much to do, still!