Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Disintegration On a Pedestal
The emotional disorder involved in [idolatry] has been beautifully conveyed by Poussin, in his painting of the Golden Calf. The foreground is dominated by the calf, raised on its pedestal. The idol is a glowing surrogate, life-like but dead, with the emphatic deadness of metal. Aaron gestures with priestly pride to his creation, while the people, drunk, helpless and in the grip of collective delusion, dance like brainless animals around this thing less sacred than themselves. In focusing on the calf their emotions are also out of focus - bewildered, diseased, gyrating in a void. In the distance, barely visible, is the figure of Moses, descending from Mount Sinai with the tables of the law, the abstract decrees of an abstract God, who can be understood through no earthly image but only through law. Moses casts the stone tablets to the ground, destroying thereby not the law but its earthly record. The contrast here is between the active work of imagination, which points to a God beyond the sensory world, and the passive force of fantasy,which creates its own god out of sensory desires. Every idol is also a sacrilege, since it causes us to focus the worship that is due to higher things on something lower than ourselves. Only by responding to what is higher than the human, do we become truly human.
Roger Scruton, An Intelligent Person's Guide to Modern Culture, 60
P.S. Scruton's last sentence reflects a vital biblical truth, which has often been stated this way - "You become like what you worship." We will only image God rightly when we worship God rightly. The first Adam failed miserably, turning us all into idolaters. But the second Adam triumphed and brings us to God.