Augustine continues in book 10 by looking at the Platonists’ suggestion that – even though they believe in the One God – humans should worship the good demons/gods. Why? asks Augustine. God has done greater things than any angel or demon or god or demon-empowered human (regarding demons enabling humans to do miracles, he makes the statement that “man is a greater miracle than any miracle performed by man” – just a great line). And then he goes on to argue that anything or anyone who asks humanity to worship anything but the One True God must be evil or false, and is therefore undeserving of worship:
“If, then, there are angels who demand sacrifices for themselves, we must prefer to them those who require sacrifices not for themselves, but for God, the Creator of all things, Whom they serve. In this, they show us how truly they love us; for they wish us, by sacrificing, to submit not to themselves, but to Him through the contemplation of Whom they too are blessed, and to approach Him from Whom they themselves have never departed.”
Those angels (or demons or gods, or people) who demand that we worship the One True God show us their love for us; those who demand worship for themselves show their disregard for us. Like all idols, anything that takes our worship from God seeks its own good and not our good and will never be satisfied until it destroys everything – including itself and us. Those who love us will compel us to worship God, and love itself will compel us to worship God and to contemplate Him.
We have looked briefly at the demonic forces of The Market, The Military (Violence), and Freedom – forces that demand our worship and yet deliver so little. They are all means and not ends, instruments and not objects of worship. And yet this culture, in which we are sojourners, worships them. This city of man focuses our contemplative gaze on them, redirecting our contemplation from the One Who is worthy of all our gazes. The last idol I could come up with the other day (and which fits this theme of the demonic) is Celebrity. Virtually nothing in our culture attracts our contemplation like Celebrity. We watch celebrities (movie stars, athletes, politicians, entertainers, writers, rich people, TV stars, etc) in their roles as celebrities and then follow them around in their daily lives, fixing our worshipful gazes on all their moves and choices. They demand our worship until the day when they show themselves to be unworthy of it – when they reveal a major flaw that renders them, in our eyes, no longer worthy of our gaze. Usually, that flaw reveals an unattractive quality or ugliness, and so our eyes move from that one celebrity to another whom we find more attractive. Our contemplation and our worship were always intended to be satisfied in God alone, and so no celebrity can ever hold our attention infinitely. But there are nearly infinite numbers of celebrities and so our culture can continue to find those who hold our collective attention long enough so that the next celebrity can snatch it away.
Those angels who truly love us will redirect our contemplation from themselves to the God Who is worthy of all our attention and worship and contemplation. Those celebrities who truly love us will do the same. And if they do not love us, then they are not good and do not deserve our contemplation.
One last thing about celebrity: God has placed His image within humanity. Each of us bears His image and is therefore worthy of attention. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, containing within ourselves images to His glory. And so we can rightly gaze in the direction of others, but we ought to be looking “through” them to the God who made them and shows Himself in them. We worship the God who made humanity, not the people whom He made. And, we look at others with His eyes of love, seeing them as He sees them – wonderful creatures worthy of love and respect and made to bear His image now and to extend His rule as kings and queens of the New Creation. (We might find that, in Scripture, we are called to look for that image most clearly in the poor and marginalized – in “the least of these”, but that’s another blog post.) The impulse toward worshipping celebrities makes sense to me, because the human creatures that the cult of celebrity worships were made to become the kinds of beings that we would worship if we saw them in all their glory. Donald Trump and Kim Kardashian and Lindsay Lohan and Justin Bieber and Joel Osteen and Mark Driscoll (and the homeless couple under the bridge and the obnoxious neighbor and the guy with severe developmental disabilities) – if God justifies and sanctifies and glorifies them and establishes them as co-rulers in Eternity – may actually become beings that would inspire our worship.
All that to say this: when we reject celebrity-worship, we are not rejecting the humans that are being worshipped. Celebrities do not belong on pedestals so that we can gaze at them; they also do not deserve ridicule or or disdain. When we reject gazing in contemplation at other humans, we are not rejecting the process of gazing in the direction of humans (though we might ask which humans the Gospel compels us to look at). Instead, we are saying that humans should inspire our worship of God, and that by gazing in the direction of others, we ought to be contemplating the God Whose image they bear.