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


Kathryn Jean Lopez

LOPEZ: How do we better honor sacrifice, in a way that makes it real to the everyday?

SCALIA: Well, first by recognizing that the word “sacrifice,” like the word “love,” means something, and that it cannot be compelled because it is based on the action of free will. Shared sacrifice in the interest of “fairness” is a nice idea, but people have to want to participate, or it is not sacrifice at all; it becomes instead another word: “penalty.” One of the reasons socialism does not work, except in monastic houses, is because the idea of sharing all things or sacrificing something for the sake of a community involves a willful self-abnegation — one of the qualities of love — and monastic men and women want to give things up, for the love of God. “Love of country” or “love of neighborhood” might be enough to elicit a spirit of sacrifice from people — during World War II women “sacrificed” silk stockings because the silk was needed for making parachutes among other things — but then again, practically every able-bodied man was in the war, so there was a deeper, more personal connection to the sacrifice. People had “skin in the game,” so to speak. Love must be connected, somehow. And even love of country, love of the Constitution can suddenly seem abstract, if it’s going to cost something. And love always costs something.


LOPEZ: What was the best thing about writing Strange Gods for you?

SCALIA: You know, when you’ve been blogging for a long time, you begin to think you’re incapable of writing anything on a sustained level, so it was good to know I could hold a thought. Mostly, I really have come to appreciate how perfectly God times things. Although I whined and railed about it at the time, it turns out that the monumental case of writer’s block that delayed the release of the book was, in fact, a perfect assist by God — not for my purposes but for his own. His timing is perfect; Pope Francis talks about idolatry quite a lot, and so the book — being published almost simultaneous with his discourse, lends some support as we grapple with what idols mean to our life of faith. As our Holy Father might say, “This was Providential, no?” For me it was a lesson, and a nice smack upside the head to keep my ego in line, because I can’t be tempted to think anything is about me, when clearly there is a design and a plan that has nothing to do with me, except as I make myself available to it. This isn’t pride speaking; we none of us are worthy of doing anything for or with God. But if we’re willing, then God will use us to work his will. My book is very slender; I’m not a scholar or an intellectual, and God perfectly understood my limitations. He gives the heavy lifting to stronger minds. But where I was willing, he used me and put something forth. Again, our “yes” is always answered with a greater “yes.”

 Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a director of Catholic Voices USA.