February 4, 2010
Counterfeit Gods, Empty Promises

This “What-are-you-reading-Wednesday” post was written by Todd Leyden, president of the NCAA Eligibility Center, and treasurer of the Indiana Humanities Council board of directors.

The humanities inspire us to understand and appreciate our humanness.  But to what end?  This is a question that has existed for the ages.  And one that without the right view of the human race can result in tragic consequences.  Consider the state of America:  The Kiplinger Letter, an independent publication for the past 87 years, stated in its January 29, 2010, issue the following, “If the federal deficit is a runaway train racing, with no brakes, toward a steep precipice…most states have already gone over the cliff.”  We recently incurred the worst recession in 70 years, we have an educational system that is arguably broke, we have 60 million uninsured Americans and on and on and on.  What would our founding fathers think?  How did we end up in this position?  Is the end of the United States as a great superpower near?  Or the end of the United States altogether?

In the 1830s, when Alexis de Tocqueville recorded his famous observations on America, he noted a “strange melancholy that haunts the inhabitants…in the midst of abundance.”  Americans believed that prosperity could quench their yearning for happiness but such a hope was illusory because de Tocqueville added, “the incomplete joys of this world will never satisfy (the human) heart.”  The cause, according to de Tocqueville, comes from taking some “incomplete joy of this world” and building your entire life on it.  That is the definition of idolatry.

I recently completed Timothy Keller’s New York Times bestseller “Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power and the Only Hope That Matters.”  Keller argues that in any culture where God is largely absent that such idols will fill the vacuum.  These surface idols are driven by the deep idols of our heart such as approval, security, control, materialism, image and a number of others.  Is there any hope?  Keller responds, “Yes, if we begin to realize that idols cannot simply be removed.  They must be replaced.  If you only try to uproot them, they grow back, but they can be supplanted.  By what?  By God himself, of course…What we need is a living encounter with God.”  In the Bible, the book of Romans 1:21-25 shows that idolatry is not only one sin among many, but what is fundamentally wrong with the human heart:  “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him…They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator.”

The idols presented by Keller are not bad – money is not bad, sex is not bad, power is not bad.  BUT we will fail, individually and as a society, when we do not understand how these things bring glory to God as opposed to serve our own selfish desires.  A great scholar indicated that “Counterfeit Gods” was the best book he has read in the last five years.  I hope you take the time to read it and reflect upon what is truly important.  That is what makes us human.  Thank God.

Posted In: Miscellaneous

2 responses to “Counterfeit Gods, Empty Promises”

  1. John Thomas says:

    OK: You’ve added yet another entry to my list of “Gotta get it, gotta read it” books. While I don’t think it’s necessarily true in nature, with human beings, voids often seem to be filled by lesser things. Information voids get filled by gossip and speculation. Gaps in long-term vision get filled by short-sighted goals. The lack of community gets filled by self-obsesion. It would seem that Keller has revealed a prevalent void of beief that has been filled by faith in things that don’t last. Thanks for a great capsule summary — I can’t wait to the read Counterfeit Gods for myself.

  2. Well written blog/book review. May not have been a book I’d think to consider reading, but now I most definitely want to. Thank-you!

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