In the comments thread on the McCabe quote I posted yesterday, Charlie directed us to a fantastic article deserving of a close reading by James Alison which deals with the difference between idolatry and worship, particularly as this relates to questions regarding homosexuality and Christian doctrine. It is definitely worth the time to read. Here’s just a couple quotes:
I take it for granted that when we talk about God we are not talking about a god, a large and powerful member of the genus ‘gods’ who just happens to be the only one. We are talking, in the wake of the great Hebrew breakthrough into monotheism in the post-exilic period, of God who is not one of the gods. Of God about whom it is truer to say that God is more like nothing at all than like anything that is, because God is not a member of the same universe as anything that is, not in rivalry with anything that is. God is not an object within our ken; we find ourselves as objects within God’s ken. God is massively prior to us, and God’s protagonism is hugely more powerful than any possible action or reaction which we might imagine. Or, in the phrase my late and beloved novice master, Herbert McCabe, used to enjoy saying: God and the Universe doesn’t make two.
The question then arises of the relationship between everything that is and God who is utterly prior to it. Is that relationship something like a symptom, such that from things that are, including ourselves, we can glean something about the One who brings them into being and sustains them? And if that is the case, do we have any criteria at all for what is a reflection of God’s creative will and power, and what is a defection from it? And this for me is the central point in any discussion about monotheism and idolatry: what is the criterion by which we can learn the difference between idolatry and worship? The answer which the Catholic faith gives me is this: the reason why it is possible to be non-idolatrous is because God has given us God’s own criterion for what it looks like to be non-idolatrous. And that criterion, given that God has no parts or divisions, and in every movement towards us is One, is also God. The criterion took the form of a lived-out fully human life story, that of Jesus, whose meaning was the reverse of all the human criteria that are usually brought into play in such stories. God gave, as God’s own criterion for God’s own power, not the power of Emperors, legislators or Priests, but the ability to occupy the space of losing, curse, shame and death without being run by them, in such a way that that space and the whole anthropological structure of human existence that depends on it, is able to be relativised. Idolatry is seen to be an involvement in the human cultural reality of death from which God longs for us to be free.