One of the apparent differences between what Christianity during the first centuries of its existence had to deal with and the problems it faces in the twenty-first century is that during its beginnings, Christians were surrounded by a large majority of people who sincerely thought that practicing a religion was perfectly legitimately done by offering incense and sacrifices to carved images of what we now call Pagan deities, be it their Greek versions of Zeus, Apollos, Aphrodite, etc., or their Roman or Babylonian counterparts.
One of the debates that kept St. Paul and his brethren busy, for example, was whether it was alright to eat food that had been offered to idols, maybe similar to the way we would wonder whether we should allow our teenage son or daughter to attend a rock concert of a questionable act that has been known to promote sodomy or witchcraft...
While the carved images of bygone days have long been history, only to be found in museums, I can't help but wonder sometimes whether we really made that hurdle to overcome idolatry the way we may think we did...
Christianity wasn't always as enlightened as it is today. When Mohamed came along, he was so disgusted by Christians bowing down to their statues of Mary and the saints, he swore to wipe that bunch of idolaters from the face of the earth.
Centuries later Martin Luther felt much like he had to do the same thing, and that Christendom was anything but a compliment to its Founder, but was content to reform the church, instead of starting a revolution.
Half a millennium later the majority of practicing Christians seems to have gotten the point that we don't need any visible, carved images of God or any of His earlier followers in order to worship Him, and idolatry finally seems to be a problem of the past.
Or at least we got the point that it's pretty dull to worship stuff hewn out of rock.
No, we've become a lot more versatile than that.
Much more innovative.
We figure, we've really got the scoop on the ancient Babylonians, Greeks and Romans, who worshiped sun, moon and stars, or statues of made-up gods and goddesses, and look down on them for being so dumb and Pagan...
In a world of talking images remotely controlled by buttons on a magic little tablet in our right, some holy grail filled with Budweiser or our favorite drink in the other, idols have become a lot more sophisticated and entertaining than statues hewn out of rock from a time when that's just what a lot of folks earned their living with (no wonder they called it the "Stone Age"?).
We've got dancing pop stars, athletes, movie demigods and politicians dishing out promises that sound as glorious as the Promises of God Himself; and if we're not into standing on the sidelines of some other sucker's parade, we've got a moving, roaring idol in the garage that we spend our weekends polishing, or some other great achievement and fruit of the sweat of our brow.
Of course, then there are the more pious ones among us, who would never attend a Rolling Stones concert, not even care for Taylor Swift, but devote our time to listening to the Christian versions of Pop or Rock music, or attend mass happenings with star preachers pacing from one end of the stage to the other with the same type of headsets we already adored on Madonna or the Jackson offspring, only in this case to chime in the Hallelujahs and Amens from the tens of thousands around us at the event... something we usually don't say when we're at the mall or in school or at work.
After all, there is a time and a place for everything, and the time and place to worship the Lord is Sunday mornings, or at that other big organized event, but we don't want to trouble our neighbors with our belief and love for the Lord. It probably wouldn't be the Christian thing to do. In the 21st century.
But sometimes - just sometimes, I'm tempted to wonder how Jesus would fit in to one of those mega churches with tens of thousands making all that racket about Him, the Good Shepherd Who left the 99 in the fold in order to find the one lost sheep...
Him, Who didn't have a church to attend, only an occasional synagogue or temple He got kicked out of, threatened to be stoned to death by His brethren.
Him, Who didn't have a place to lay His head, considering the foxes and birds more blessed in this aspect than Himself.
Him, Who urged His followers to forsake all their possessions if they wanted to be His disciples and to become fishers of men.
But you don't become a fisher of men by assembling in huge gatherings to sing songs and listen to sermons in order to make yourself feel good.
The lost sheep are found on the highways and hedges of this world, and just like Mohamed of old, they're not very impressed by people worshiping their own "Christian" versions of the very same things the world around them worships...
They may not be able to tell what the Real Thing is, but they sure know when it ain't.
No, we don't worship stony, graven images anymore, Hallelujah! But are we free from idolatry in this, our enlightened 21st century? You tell me!