The First Commandment is probably the one of the ten that we worry about the least. “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me.” After all, most of us haven’t spent time worshipping any of the Roman or Egyptian gods recently or paid homage to any pagan spirits. In Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life, Elizabeth Scalia, also known by her internet moniker “The Anchoress,” invites us to take a closer look at this long-neglected commandment and discover the ways we practicing Christians violate it on a daily basis.
Scalia asks, “Do we stop to think of what it means to have something ‘before God?’ It means to put something ‘first,’ yes, but more fundamentally, it means to put something ‘in front’ of God . . . What is before God, then, is also before us; it stands between God and us; it separates us from him.”
We humans are rather self-interested creatures. We want to be noticed, to be “loved and valued.” We often want the world to revolve around us. In establishing the Ten Commandments, God understood our weakness. He provides the commandments to keep us in right relationship with both Him and others. He “gives commandments meant to save us from ourselves.”
Scalia makes the case that the First Commandment, “if obeyed, renders all of the others quite nearly moot . . . Look at me [God}, and let me love you, and you will have no need of the rest.” Scalia then explores the various idols in our everyday life. These include ourselves, ideas, prosperity, technology, coolness and sex, plans, and the causes we feel passionate about. We can even give in to idolatry when we become too focused on the one “correct” way to do liturgy or pray. In short, “nothing human is exempt from becoming an idol we will place before God.” We must always be vigilant.
A mere human like the rest of us, Scalia is the first to acknowledge that she suffers from idolatry as much as anyone. With a profound sense of irony, she shares how even the writing of this particular book became an idol.
After reading Strange Gods, one will never be able to look at the First Commandment in the same way. Scalia has written a thought-provoking tome that should be read by every Christian seeking to follow God’s laws.