In June of 2002, American Idol debuted on television and has since become one of the most popular programs in America as well as overseas. (1) The purpose of the show is to find musical talent in America through auditions and audience voting. The show has grow exponentially in viewership boasting of nearly 29 million viewers in the 2009 season finale making it the #1 ranked show at the time. (2)
So who is your favorite American Idol?
Wait! Before you answer, maybe we ought to define the term idol. According to my dictionary, an idol can be defined as a representation or symbol of an object of worship, or an object of extreme devotion. (3) You see idols are not just people we look up to and admire from a distance. Idols are people, places, things or ideas that we honor and exalt in our hearts and minds even above God. Now that doesn’t seem to smart! Maybe that’s why the Bible uses the word “dumb” to describe idols. (1 Cor 12:2)
So let me rephrase my original question.
Who or what are the idols that our American culture finds itself worshipping and exalting in place of God?
Here is my “Top Five” list of dumb American idols.
American Idol #1 - Sports
Whether its Sunday afternoon football or your kid’s soccer league, Americans are in love with sports. We buy the jerseys, attend the games, go bananas when our team scores, throw chairs and pout when they lose. Have you ever witnessed an overly zealous parent berate an umpire over a bad call? (Have you ever been that parent?) Have you ever seen a group of die-hard fans show up to a stadium with the name of their favorite team painted across their chest even when it is 20 degrees below zero? (Have you ever been that fan?) If you’re really up for a competition, try to match your favorite sport, team or event against God. That’s what happened to Eric Liddell in the Academy Award winning Chariots of Fire. In the movie, Liddell, a devout missionary running for the glory of God refused to run the Olympic 100 meters race on Sunday because it went against his conviction to keep the Sabbath day holy. (4) Today, churches know to cut their services short so that parishioners can make it home for kickoff. I just wonder what would happen if Christians across our land threw up a similar protest to Linddell’s and just for one season sacrificed Sunday afternoon football for prayer and fasting.
American Idol #2 - Beauty
Now before the ladies start cheering and sending this article off to their husbands, let’s talk about idol number two: beauty. Beauty in and of itself is…well…beautiful! In fact, God has made everything beautiful in its time. (Ecclesiastes 3:11) It’s not beauty that’s a problem; it’s the idolatry of beauty that is a sin. Our culture seeks and exalts beauty to a fault. When beauty becomes an object of affection and passion of the heart, one will go any distance and price to obtain it. Did you know that Americans spend 8 billion dollars annually on cosmetics alone? (5) And when beauty is distorted, we find gaunt girls looking in the mirror and calling themselves fat. But the beauty God desires is more than skin deep. “Let your beauty be not just the outward adorning of braiding the hair, and of wearing jewels of gold, or of putting on fine clothing; but in the hidden person of the heart, in the incorruptible adornment of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God very precious.” (1 Peter 3:3-4) Like all idols, beauty will ultimately fade away, but character and reverence for God can continue to grow if nurtured. (Proverbs 31:30)
American Idol #3 - Sex
The idolatry of sex is rampant in America. When sex becomes an idol, biblical standards for sexuality are viewed as oppressive. God’s design for one man and one woman to be married before engaging in sexual relations seems prudish, old-fashion and outdated. But God’s standard has not changed, “Let marriage be held in honor by all, and the bed undefiled: but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” (Hebrews 13:4) Same sex marriage, sex before marriage, sex outside of marriage and self-gratification are not only becoming epidemic in society, but defended by some in the church! Let’s get something straight here (no pun intended), it was the ingenious idea of God to create sex. Sex is a gift of God. God wants us to use the gift of our sexuality in a way that honors Him. When we don’t, we suffer the consequences emotionally, relationally, physically and spiritually. Just consider the statistical findings that those who live together before marriage have a higher rate of divorce when married. (6) If we knew what was best for us, we would heed the warning of scripture, “Flee sexual immorality! ‘Every sin that a man does is outside the body,’ but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18)
American Idol #4 - Money
No other idol has the power to compete for the Lordship of one’s heart quite like money. Jesus warned, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and (money).” (Matthew 6:24) Money itself is not a problem, but the love and idolatry of it. (1 Timothy 6:10) The words “In God We Trust” may be on our dollars, but it’s not on our hearts. Instead of finding our security in the Lord, many have instead trusted in their financial portfolios. Unfortunately the greed and covetousness of some have caused economic ruin and the loss of financial security for millions of Americans. When money becomes the love of one’s heart, morality takes a back seat. When we choose to put God first in our lives, we never need to worry about money. (Matthew 6:33) However, when we choose to serve and chase after money, we can never seem to have enough. (Ecclesiastes 5:10)
American Idol #5 - Technology
I enjoy and am thankful for new technology. When technology is used appropriately, it can make our lives simpler, keep us better informed and even help us to stay connected to others. When technology becomes an idol, humans lose touch with reality and humanity. A pastor gave an honest confession in a sermon I heard on the radio this past week. He said that he often finds himself being distracted during dinnertime with his family because his wireless device is notifying him of new e-mail. The affection people show towards their gadget of choice is the closest thing I’ve seen in this country to idolatry of a physical object. I have watched some teenagers holding their cell phone as if it provides life support. And over 50% of teenagers have the problem of texting while driving. (7) While studies are proving that texting while driving can be as dangerous as drinking and driving, my point is not to alarm us of the new danger we’ve added to the roads. Instead, I want you to look deeper at the heart issue of the matter. We have come to believe that we are so important that we can’t wait a half hour until dinner is over or 10 minutes until we reach our destination to respond back to the person on the other end of the line. Put the phone down, take the ipod® out of your ear and give yourself 5 minutes of silence. You'll be surprised by the results; you may actually hear God speak!
When the subject of idols comes up, we can respond in one of two ways. We can either cling to our idol and defend it, or cast it down and dethrone it from its place of elevation. My hope and prayer is that you’ll do that latter. When we worship idols, we forsake God’s mercy (Jonah 2:8), but when we repent of our idolatry we find God’s peace and rest. I will close with the wise words of the aged apostle John written around A.D. 90 “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” (1 John 5:21)
Share your thoughts on this article with the author. I'm also interested to know, would you like to see the list of idols expanded to 10? Do you have an idol in mind that you feel should make the list?