“Ask a Priest: Am I Committing Idolatry?”

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Q: I’ve been reading about a lot of things in the world that have become idols of a sort, this making us commit idolatry. At what point does something or someone become an idol? I have favorite singers that I listen to a lot, I go to concerts, I have favorite movies and TV shows that I watch a lot and get excited about when the next installment is coming. Am I committing idolatry? – M

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: You raise a good question, one that more people should consider when they look at their own priorities. There are a few points worth considering.

First, “idolatry” can be understood in various ways. People who fanatically followed someone like Hitler or Stalin or Mao could be said to have made idols of them.

There is a similar sort of idolatry that is more prevalent. That is kind where people make rock stars or Hollywood actors the focus of their lives. Fans might imitate the stars in every detail: clothes, hair, or less-than-stellar lifestyles. That, too, could be a form of idolatry, if we are putting fallible humans in a place that should be reserved for Jesus.

There is yet another kind of idolatry — perhaps much more common — involving not people but material things: money or power or fame or pleasure.

People might not think of worshipping a dollar bill, for instance, yet at a practical level they build their whole lives around accumulating money or power, etc. If they put these things ahead of God, then that is a form of idolatry.

This leads to your question. When does idolatry set in? It depends.

You personally need to step back and see where your priorities are. What is it that grabs your attention? What is it that you strive for?

Who is the standard for your behavior? A rock star? Or Jesus? Whom do you consciously try to imitate – a movie star, or Jesus?

Do you spend most of your waking hours listening to pop music, watching movies, reading all the latest gossip about this or that celebrity? Do you find those diversions more appealing than your prayer life? How much time do you spend on celebrity websites compared with Scripture?

Do your pastimes or hobbies (soccer or hunting or whatever) cause you to skip Sunday Mass?

Your answer to those questions will give you a good clue as to the answer to your question about idolatry.

Perhaps a thought experiment will help. Imagine you came down with a deadly disease and were told you had a week to live. Could you honestly say that you had lived your life well? Could you say that you dedicated your time to something or Someone worthwhile?

Ultimately you need to be the one to answer your own question. What is it, or who is it, that is at the center of your life? Idolatry simply means putting something or someone instead of Jesus at that center. Only Jesus deserves to be there, because only he is the true source of lasting happiness, wisdom, courage and joy. We worship and follow him because only he is the Lord, and only he can fill the deepest yearnings of our hearts. If we try to fill those yearnings with anything else, we are on the path to worshipping an idol, a false god that cannot possibly fill our heart.

So who or what is at the center of your life? This might be a good question to weigh. I hope the answer gives you insight.

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  1. Thank you for this quick and easy exam for idolatry. The second commandment came up in my morning prayer and this is an excellent start for looking at my own life.

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