Our Idols and Ourselves
Elizabeth Scalia unmasks the false gods of everyday life.


Kathryn Jean Lopez

LOPEZ: You write, “Why do people allow their relationship with God to become disoriented? Sadly, the problem usually starts with love.” How could love ever disorient us?

SCALIA: It seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? One of the best examples I can think of — and I’ve lived with it, so I know it’s real — is the love of a parent for a child that becomes so possessive and over-controlling (all in the name of keeping the child safe) that it becomes a love that is disordered. If we want a model of love, we look to the Creator who not only loved us into being, but gave us the gift of free will — we are free even to walk away from him; to ignore him; to deny him. That is love rightly oriented. Love does not compel you, or cripple you with guilt, or keep you caged; it sets you free.


Another example of disorienting love happens in the church pews, of all places; love of liturgy is part of how we love God, but when we go to Mass, for instance, and spend so much time interiorly snarling because the priest didn’t do something “just right” or the lector stumbled or the altar servers seemed insufficiently reverent by our judgment, then our love is disoriented. Rather than attending to the Mass and our own participation in it, we’ve allowed our love to diminish us, and in a way imprison us. It keeps us away from our community of believers, away from the imperfect priest, and ultimately, away from God.

LOPEZ: You say we live in a culture that is “over-connected, media saturated and weirdly obsessed with the fake glamour of ‘reality’ exhibitionism.” Shouldn’t you get offline already then? And yet, you’re probably selling this as an e-book, too. Why are we doing this interview?

SCALIA: All valid questions. Yes, I am over-connected, and I fully get the irony of the interview. It’s kind of a trade-off, though, isn’t it? We have to make our livings, and many of us do that online. I wrote a book a publisher expects me to promote, and so I talk about the book so much it’s almost unbearable. But that’s where we have to try to find balance — where prayer helps, and the examination of conscience helps. To begin a day with “Lord, don’t trust me; help me to do what serves you and others,” and to end it with a “Lord, forgive my screw-ups and show me where I can do better tomorrow” helps. If we can keep a sane hold on our intentions, then we can at least hope to keep a rein on the monster of ego that helps build our idols.

LOPEZ: How has sex gone from being “something mysteriously sacred to something efficiently nonchalant”? Does the decline of the family have something to do with this?

SCALIA: There is a kind of efficiency in hooking up, isn’t there? When we read scriptural accounts of marriage, or we think back to a time when sex was at least culturally understood to be the gift and consolation of marriage, there was a sacred, mysterious sense of two becoming “one flesh.” Virginity once mattered, but now it is considered to be meaningless — a thing to be gotten rid of as soon as possible (and what a strange idea that is!) — and we are told by pop-culture observers like Hanna Rosin that women are as appreciative of the hook-up culture as men are, because they are looking for careers and don’t wish to be burdened with serious relationships and families. Mary Eberstadt, in her book How the West Really Lost God, makes a strong argument that faith and faith practices grow within families and suffer when marriage and children are denied.

LOPEZ: How has silence become terrifying?

SCALIA: When was the last time you got into the car and didn’t turn on the radio? When was the last time you went to Mass and had a few minutes of silence, either before the Mass, or after, or at some point within it? Do you go for a walk with earbuds in your ears?

Silence is what permits us to hear “the small, still voice” with which God communicates with us, and we go out of our way to ensure that we give no opening to it. Why is that? I think it’s because if we hear that voice, and the tremendousness of its love, we will feel compelled to respond to it — and to respond to it will require something of us. We don’t want much required of us — it’s one of the reasons we walk away from God, to begin with. What might he require of us? That we let him love us; that we draw near; that we turn, and turn again, and turn again. Conversion. “Don’t look over there,” says God. “Look at me and let me love you.” How terrifying is that, when we know the sinful state of our souls, the hate or lust, or pride or malice we harbor in our hearts? It’s very terrifying! Better to not hear that call at all, and thus not have to respond to it. Silence is terrifying for what you might hear within it.


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

NRO Polls on LockerDome

Subscribe to National Review