Upon opening the pages of this book it becomes evident pretty quickly that The Anchoress, Elizabeth Scalia, just launched a cannon ball across the bow of your ship. In Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life, she presents the reader with an eye opening 168 pages of “oh my that’s me”. In our fast paced world where we can pretty much get any info we desire at the touch of an app icon on our mobile device, we can easily fall into the trap of breaking the ultimate commandment, “You shall not have other Gods besides me”. Elizabeth shows the reader just how easily they may be breaking that commandment.
The book covers a wide variety of potential idols a person may be “worshipping”. In ten Chapters Elizabeth covers “The Idol of I”, ”The Idol of Prosperity”, “The Idol of Technology” and “The Idols of Coolness and Sex” just to name a few. Some may pass over the Bible story of the golden calf and say….”who melts gold into a giant animal nowadays” but they are truly missing the point. As Elizabeth so clearly states “To place anything – be it another deity or something more commonplace like romantic love, anger, ambition or fear – before the Almighty is to give it pre-eminence in our regard. To become too attached to a thought or feeling or thing is to place it between God and ourselves”. This quote comes directly from Chapter One and the rest of the book builds upon that theme.
I can best describe this book as a gut check. I cannot see how anyone can read through this book without a resounding palm to the forehead, what have I been doing, moment. For myself it came while reading the chapter “The Idol of Technology” and for most of us technology power users, this is going to take some effort on our part to correct this. You probably don’t even realize how many times you grab your mobile device throughout the day to “just check on something”. This begs a reflection upon what is important and what is not. You may not even realize that you have placed that mobile device between you and God. Sometimes it’s hard for us to see that until we are told by a complete stranger outside our inner circle.
For those you not consumed by modern day trappings of technology, you’re not off the hook either. Elizabeth addresses the idol of “I” meaning you are so wrapped up in your own desires, you become the idol yourself. There’s the idol of prosperity where things become your idol. Elizabeth illustrates this one masterfully with a story about her husbands hammock. She also discusses the idol of plans and the fact that we plan events so tightly, God has little room to operate in them.
Elizabeth essentially has created an easy to read book on modern day idolatry. Read it, consume it, reflect upon your own habits and come to realize…hey….I got a problem! Everything she discusses in this book is a thought or thing that in moderation is fine, but when allowed to go unchecked becomes an idol placed between us and our Creator. This is a book that I can highly recommend that will be of great use to anyone that takes an interest in their spiritual formation. I have a feeling after reading this book many people fortunate enough to have a spiritual director will have some discussion material for their next session. I know I will!