Two sacred cows … examining the idolatry of UGA football, & idolizing your children

I’m going to poke a wasp’s nest here by looking at two sacred cows. “Sacred cow” is an American idiom.

The idiom is based on the popular understanding of the elevated place of cows in Hinduism and appears to have emerged in America in the late 19th century. A literal sacred cow or sacred bull is an actual cow or bull that is treated with sincere reverence. A figurative sacred cow is something else that is considered immune from question or criticism, especially unreasonably so.” [Wikipedia source]

The sacred cows are: making children your idol, and University of Georgia football. UGA football is a particularly virulent strain of idolatrous football in general.

We all agree that the run-of-the-mill kind of idolatry is bad. We all agree that work could be an idol and that’s bad. Shopping and consumerism could be an idol. Our car or our hobby could be an idol. When bringing them up in a Christian context, people agree that we should ratchet back down from those and put them in their proper place.

GotQuestions defines idolatry as:

The definition of idolatry, according to Webster, is “the worship of idols or excessive devotion to, or reverence for some person or thing.” An idol is anything that replaces the one, true God. The most prevalent form of idolatry in Bible times was the worship of images that were thought to embody the various pagan deities.”

One example of an ancient deity formed into an image is the fish deity Dagon. This is how the LORD views idols and what He did to Dagon- 

“When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.” (1 Samuel 5:1-5)

There aren’t many pagan idols whom worshipers dance in front of today, but they still exist here and there. The Burning Man festival is one. I wrote about that festival earlier in the week. This is a festival where scantily clad people cavort in the Black Rock desert of Nevada for a week, drinking, fornicating, looking at profane art installations, and culminate their week with a revival of a Celtic festival in which an effigy of a man in burned. When the man is burned, they dance and worship in similar style to the Hebrews dancing and having an orgy before the Golden Calf. Just as the Golden Calf was an idol through which they blasphemed God, (Exodus 32:4, Nehemiah 9:18), it can be said that the Burning Man is an idol through which they blaspheme God also.

Source SF Chronicle

Any Buddhist shrine is an idol, where a figure of Buddha is graven and people leave presents for and bow down to him in worship.

Buddhist shrine just outside Wat Phnom. Source Wikipedia

But an idol doesn’t have to be a figure in which the person bows down to or worships in front of. An intangible thing may become an idol. In this way, it lurks in the heart and displaces or replaces God as the primary focus of worship.

Remember, the short definition of idolatry was, ‘excessive devotion to, or reverence for some person or thing.’ In this way, as I mentioned above, work, hobbies, shopping, or cars could displace God either temporarily or permanently as the primary focus of worship or devotion.

There are two idols that we rarely speak of being an idol, and if we do, people have a hard time seeing what is wrong with loving them so much. These idols are sacred cows. We aren’t supposed to question whether they are becoming an idol in a person’s life. Remember a sacred cow is something else that is considered immune from question or criticism, especially unreasonably so.

The two idols are Children. And Football. Especially University of Georgia Bulldog football.

It seems strange that a person could make their child an idol. But the flesh can make anything an idol, even the ‘good’ of loving your child. Anything that takes the place of God as primary in our heart could be an idol- including children.

In the video below, Todd Friel explains about children as an idol. I’ll transcribe and then post the video below.

So how is it that a child can be an idol? It isn’t the baby itself, it is our attitude toward the child. And that really goes for just about anything. Even this thing, whatever it is. [Picks up decorative statue]. ‘Ohhh, I love that. I’ve got to get more of those! I need to spend time cleaning this, it’s the most beautiful…’ That’s an idol. How can something that’s an inanimate object become an idol. I guess any other god besides the true God is an inanimate object. Anyway, it’s a heart issue. Mom, Dad, love your kids. … Enjoy your kids. Did you see the recent Time Magazine cover? ‘Is it Better To Not Have Kids?’ with a picture of a couple laying on the beach, like that’s the quality life. That’s the good life. No. It’s not. Having children, is. They are a blessing from God and they should be enjoyed. But, like virtually everything else, they can be an idol. Watch that line.

Are you a parent who has made their children their idol? Even to the exclusion of the husband? And to the exclusion of God? Where every thought, every action is focused on the children? Where every conversation is about the children? If the idolatrous mom or dad switched their child’s name in conversation for God’s name, how much more would someone think the person was weird? Yet excessive devotion to children seems like it is a good thing. It is not good, if they have become your idol.

In this essay on Motherhood in Focus on the Family, Tosha Wlliams wrote, “Taking care of our children, even going beyond the call of duty for them, is not the issue, though. The heart of the matter is that nobody, not even our kids, should have a higher place in our hearts than God, lest they become our idols.

Consider these questions:

  • Do you ever break away from your children — no matter their ages — and spend time alone with God?
  • Do you intentionally communicate with Him as much as you do with your kids?
  • Do you regularly focus on getting more of God instead of getting more for your kids?
  • Do your kids see you read your Bible as much as they see you watch TV?
  • Is your relationship with God a higher priority than anything else in your life — even more important than teaching your child the alphabet, cooking healthy meals or getting your kids into Little League?

The total focus and attention of our lives should be God first, then spouse then children. However the parent who idolizes their child is thought to be a good parent and the person who speaks of God as often is thought to be a weird person to be avoided. Like Mr Friel says, watch that balance.

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College football started this weekend. Around here in the University of Georgia-land, UGA Bulldog football takes on a life of its own. The team is regularly place in the top ten of college ball, and football is revered anyway from tot squads on up to Pro ball. Football is a way of life around here.

Daniel Ausbun of First Baptist Church, Moreland published a very well-written essay on modern idolatry. In it, he asked, “How would someone know if they’re practicing idolatry? We must look at the state of our hearts. On Saturdays does Georgia football completely dominate and take-over our thinking? If you have a desire or joy for something more than God, you’re an idolater.”

Enjoying your children isn’t idolatrous. Attending and enjoying a football game is not idolatrous. However, it becomes so when excessive devotion looms in the heart. Does Saturday football consume you? Do you plan for your Saturday football all week? Does the game, win or lose, impact your worship the next day? Do you stay home from church because you’re tired the next morning? Did you fail to adequately prepare your Sunday School lesson for Sunday’s class? Do you feel hateful toward other people as you go to church? Or feel downcast, depressed, or angry at that last-minute call the referee made? If you do, you’re a football idolater.

Even after 7 football seasons here in GA I can’t believe the idolatry of the UGA devotion to Bulldogs. In the very short clip above, Todd Friel of Wretched TV asked Kevin Hynes, Fellowship of Christian Athletes Campus Director (FCA) about the excessive devotion to football, and the UGA bulldog in particular.

“We have to be careful we don’t cross a line in praising the gift rather than the giver.” ~Todd Friel

Here is the transcript of the Football clip above Hynes and Friel talking:

“This is something you don’t normally see. Where the guys come running out of the tunnel over there, but over here, this is the mascot. ‘Go Dawgs’, right?

Hynes: Uga.

Friel: Uga, U-G-A, I just got that, lol! Maybe I need to go back to school. So this is the mascot [pointing to a statue of the bulldog]

Hynes: It’s a replica of the mascot of the dog running around on the field.

Friel: So it’s a real dog running around on the field. What happens to the real dog when the real dog dies?

Hynes: Well, they have a service, to celebrate the dog’s life, and then they entomb him behind us.

Friel: Right in these little things right here.

Hynes: Yes.

Friel: They each get a plaque. See, “This dog was gone too soon”… this one, “A big dog for a big job and he handled it well” … So they get a little plaque commemorating their lives.

Hynes: Yes.

Friel: Now this could be an example of going a little bit too far with how much we love the sport, or connect a symbol with an affection. In other words, maybe…it has become idolatry?

Hynes: Absolutely.

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Do you idolize your kids? Do you idolize UGA football, or any sport? Watch out!!

“Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” (1 Corinthians 10:7).

“Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” (1 Corinthians 10:14)

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Further reading:

The Truth about Idolatry: sermon on 1 Corinthians 10:14-15

Bible study on Idolatry

Moving evangelicals beyond idolatry, by RC Sproul

Dave Miller at the Southern Baptist Convention asks, When does Sports become Idolatry?

Grace Gems: Sermon, Idolatry Excludes Men out of Heaven by David Clarkson (1621-1686), in which Rev Clarkson discusses the difference between outward idolatry and internal idolatry.

Your Kids Make Bad Idols, offers some tips on how to tell if you are sacrificing to rather than sacrificing for your children.