What Idols?

Book review of Strange Gods.


Unmasking the Idols in

Everyday Life

By Elizabeth Scalia

Ave Maria Press, 2013

192 pages, $14.95

To order: avemariapress.com


I’ll admit it: I picked up Strange Gods more because I’m a fan of Elizabeth Scalia’s writing than because I thought it would really apply to me.

I mean, come on — idols? Are you trying to tell me that the mourning process I’ve been going through about my ruined iPad might be indicative of something more than just frustration with my children? Let’s just call my response to that denial and get back to the book.

The first flag came on page 7, before Scalia even dug into her topic: "If God created humankind in his image, we humans tend to create gods in our image — or perhaps more correctly, we humans create gods so reflective and shiny they keep us looking at ourselves."

Two short pages later, I found myself highlighting again: "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, as one might put a screen in front of a fireplace and therefore place it ‘before’ the fire. What is before God, then, is also before us; it stands between God and us; it separates us from him. Just as a covenant of marriage cannot grow in closeness and oneness — cannot become one flesh — if something is put between a couple, the covenant between God and humanity cannot grow and survive if our strange, self-reflective idols are placed between ourselves and him."

It’s no surprise that Strange Gods is well-written or thought-provoking. Anyone who has come across one of Scalia’s columns or blog posts knows she’s articulate and masterful with the written word. She writes through life as a boy pokes through the mud, examining each and every thing she finds and bringing it to the light or stashing it in her pockets to bring out later.

What continues to surprise me as I contemplate this book is how relevant I continue to find it in my life. Scalia, using images, stories and experience, expounds on what idolatry is to us now — and me today.

This is the kind of book that gets so marked up and dog-eared as I’m reading it that it’s twice as thick when I’m finished.

Not only does Scalia write colorfully and clearly, in language that even an oaf like me can understand and relate to, but she pushes the edge of the issue of idolatry with each chapter. She begins with a large idea, one that seems so distant. It takes her less than a chapter to bring it home, and with each following chapter, she circles around it and brings it in closer and closer.

I wasn’t sure how an entire book about idolatry could speak to me or even make sense. I’m no theologian, and I don’t have time for real noodling. (I fall asleep too quickly.) And yet, in under 200 pages, Scalia has defined and demonstrated the concept so well that I can’t go through my life blindly any longer.

This book is equal parts conversation, reality check and theology lesson. It’s filled with personal insight, hard-earned wisdom and Spirit-inspired prose.


Sarah Reinhard is online at SnoringScholar.com.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.