Idolatry in our Day

[This was written and first posted in 2011]

People think that when the Torah speaks of idolatry, it is talking of an almost-prehistoric desire that we cannot really comprehend today. After all, whom among us worships the sun or the moon – or even has the slightest desire to do so?

And yet the Torah harps on this point repeatedly, that somehow idolatry is something that can seep into a culture, slowly gaining adherents who see it not as idolatry, but as something much more benign. Such idolatry can seem quite harmless, and is often billed as an improvement or refinement of the Torah itself.

I submit to you that, under the guise of reason and science, we are in the age of Earth Worship today, and that it fulfills every criteria we have of idol worship given in the Torah and by our sages.

Rambam’s definition of idolatry includes: To do an act of worship toward any created thing, or to believe that a particular created thing is an independent power. (Hilkhot Avodat Kokhavim (Avodah Zarah) – The Laws of Strange Worship (Idolatry).

Let’s start by identifying the deity. It is called a variety of names: Mother Earth, Gaia, The Environment, and, most pervasively, Nature. But it all comes to the very same thing: worship of the unsoiled (by man) biosphere in which we live.

How can I say that Earth Worship is not merely science, or even just good sense? The answer is that the Green movement, in all its forms, ignores all facts to the contrary. Consider:

  • Man-Made Global Warming has become an article of faith despite all the facts to the contrary.
  • Recycling is considered a moral imperative, despite not having any real net benefit to either mankind or the earth.
  • People eat “natural” or “organic” foods despite no scientific evidence whatsoever that eating them (instead of similar amounts of refined foods) actually makes one healthier.

All of the above are actually expressions of religious devotion, entirely disconnected from reality – or indeed, any desire to be educated about reality.

And like all religions, followers of Nature are largely peopled by those who are in it for the sake of appearances – not for any demonstrated benefit.

  • People buy Priuses instead of Hummers despite the evidence that, if the owners actually cared, they would buy and drive the SUV instead.
  • Being seen as adhering to the religion is more important than actually practicing it. Indeed, this link shows that people preferentially put solar panels on the street side of their home, even when that is the shady side of the house, and therefore not likely to provide meaningful benefit.

So if Nature Worship is actually idolatry, then how is this religion practiced?

We can start with indoctrination schools. From the youngest age, children who are too young to know any multisyllabic words are taught that “The Environment” is the most important thing of all. And, the children are sanctimoniously informed, there are many things that we must do for the sake of the Environment. For example, it is essential that we go through a daily service to the idol, one in which we debase ourselves for the sake of the deity. I refer, of course, to sorting through our trash for the ritual known as “Recycling”. Mandatory recycling has been debunked , but nobody wants to know: recycling has become an article of faith.

In accordance with the prioritization of the Earth above G-d – and even mankind – people sacrifice their very fertility. Many thousands of earth-worshippers have surgically sterilized in order to avoid even the risk of putting more people on the earth. Again, nobody seems to want to know the facts – that the Earth could support many, many people than it currently does. Once something is an article of faith, questioning it is heresy.

This is the nature of our modern idolatry. Like the ancient worship of false deities, worshipping the earth is seen as entirely unobjectionable, even sensible. Like the old adage about the downside risks of becoming religious on one’s deathbed, the Precautionary Principle suggests that even if there is no evidence that something might hurt the earth, we should ban it “just in case”.

And just like serving ancient deities, people subject themselves to hardship to show their devotion to the cause. I am sure there are some people who truly prefer whole wheat bread, just as there must be children who actually don’t like to drink sugary drinks. And I know people who swear, up one side and down the other, that almost entirely inedible foodstuffs that most birds would not touch are in fact delicious. But on the whole, I think it is clear that refusing to eat refined foods and insisting that somehow “natural” foods are superior (again, despite the scientific evidence) is in fact just another way to show one’s devotion to the deity. And we take it to extremes that put even our own children at risk: we malnourish children by withholding essential proteins (meat) and brain-building cholesterols (found in butter and mayonnaise), as well as pressuring women to breastfeed because it is “natural” – even in those cases where, on the evidence, breastfeeding is more dangerous than giving formula.

If nature is good, and people are bad, then the worst thing of all is when people mess with nature! How else can we explain the irrational hysteria over giving animals antibiotics or growth hormones that help them grow and stay healthy and productive? Or the kneejerk opposition to genetically modified foods that have saved millions of people from blindness, and promise to produce healthy foodstuffs with less required resources – like improved fish . To True Believers, all GM foodstuffs are nothing less than dangerous and heretical attacks on the Deity Herself. Because, as common wisdom tells us, Nature is wonderful and perfect just as it is, and anything we do to alter it is, by definition, wrong. The reflexive belief that what mankind does must be worse than what Nature produces by itself is itself evidence of this idolatrous doctrine. Logically, we could turn this on its head, to suggest that what mankind does is better than Nature – after all, civilization and technology build complexity, pushing back against the natural entropic decay processes.

None of the above is to suggest that it is good to engage in gratuitous destruction of the natural world. Clean water and breathable air are wonderful things, but they are wonderful primarily because they benefit mankind – either through our consumption or other forms of enjoyment. The litmust test ought to be simple: if we do something that is Green because it truly benefits people, then we are following common sense. But when we are Green for other reasons, then it is not just irrational: it is wrong.

Comments are welcome!