I was reading this article by George Murphy when something clicked for me. Even since reading background on Paul's letters I've been thinking about idolatry and trying to make the leap of connecting the Roman idolatry that Paul argued against to the modern forms of idolatry. Really, it's about a definition of sin at its heart. Murphy's article is about applying the ideas of atonement to a world created by God as revealed through science. Murphy does a masterful job of quoting Scripture, early church writings, creeds, and integrating it all with a current understanding of origins.
The key sentence for me was this: "The basic human problem here is that, after humans had been created and given the chance for participation in the life of God, their choice of sin set them on the way back to nonbeing. Athanasius [early church father] argues that humanity was safe from dissolution and non-existence only through participation in the Logos [the Word of God/Jesus], and thus could be saved only by virtue of the re-creative work of the Logos."
That's what sin is, and it's why idolatry is such a problem. Idolatry, worshiping the wrong thing, drags you step by step toward being an animal, toward unconsciousness. Think about the "two masters"-type sayings from the Bible, and how idolatry eventually controls you, turns you into an addict of some sort. What sin does to you is it gradually erodes your own consciousness. You become like what you worship. You "devolve" into an animal, a robot, away from free will. Your own self-awareness is subsumed by the false god of desire that you pursue.
What Jesus did on the cross and what God did on Easter was to show us a new way and new creation, the way of being fully human and depending on God's new creation to set things right. Worship me, God says, know that my character is best shown in what Jesus did and said, and I will give you the freedom of full consciousness. Trust Me, take up your own cross and you will find that you are less of an animal, more of a human.
What's so insidious about idolatry is that anything, anything at all, can become an idol. Paul argued in Galatians and other letters that the Torah itself had become an idol to 1st-century Pharisees, so that even the good thing that is the Ten Commandments, when it became worshipped, blocked the way to understanding that imitating Jesus was the way to live.
Science can be an idol. Theology can be an idol. Tolerance can be an idol. Judgement can be an idol. A version of Jesus that omits the cross can become an idol. Information can be an idol. The internet can become an idol. Jesus came to show us the way past all this.
The hard part? The path goes through the cross. The good news? It's God's grace and power as creator, demonstrated physically on Easter Sunday, that makes any of this new creation possible.