When Our Gods Fight
The Old Testament is rife with the concept of gods at war. Specifically, there is an interest in showing the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob demolishing and humiliating the various deities of Israel’s neighbors and oppressors. The ten plagues, as most biblically-literate Christians would be very excited to tell you, directly slighted the higher-ups in the Egyptian pantheon. There is incident after incident of pagan gods such as Dagon, Ba’al, Asherah and more being made ineffective, their statues destroyed, and their priests slaughtered. Imperial cults don’t escape the conflict either, as oppressive kings and emperors are humiliated over and over again, before being forced to declare that there is a mighty god in Israel, not to be slighted or fought.
It is a relatively modern phenomenon, however, to pit minor deities against each other in existential combat. Blasphemy and idolatry, are, of course, as American as apple pie and arguing about the Designated Hitter, but we aren’t especially unique in that regard. Empires have always committed atrocities in the name of power and wealth, and they always rise and fall in the midst of some form of idolatry, but America is strange and unique among her heritage, especially now, in that she makes her idols fight.
The fighters in question are the god of eternal youth (or at least health), and the god of liberalism. The former promises its adherents freedom from that which causes them to fear, namely, death. The latter promises an unrestricted and unopposed debauch, a sort of dionysian figure.
Now, I’ve mentioned American polytheism is strange, but I should probably explain why. Historically speaking, Classical polytheism was not a particularly competitive system. If an ancient Greek met an Egyptian, and one sacrificed to Phoebus Apollo and the other to Amun-Ra, they could get along famously, each using the other’s devotion to inform their own, because they shared the mutual understanding that they were worshipping the sun. division only really arose along religious lines if there was a group claiming theirs were the only god(s), and that almost only when such a belief caused them to fail to participate in the imperial cult.
What makes American idolatry strange is that we don’t share the recognition of our Greek and Egyptian friends. That is, we don’t understand that we’re worshiping the same god (ourselves) in different forms. The promises of eternal health and the unobstructed right to pursue our pleasures are the same, it’s just that the former iteration takes on a bit more focus.
The incident causing this sudden conflict, of course, is the Coronavirus. Normally, there would be no issue, but the newfound dichotomy between those who say “I must live at all costs” and those who would do what they will has, as you are fully aware, brought on riots, attempted kidnappings, and armed militias storming government buildings. On the other end there have been continued calls to close schools and businesses (threatening T̶h̶e̶ H̶i̶g̶h̶ ̶G̶o̶d̶ ̶M̶a̶m̶m̶o̶n̶ The Economy, an unwise move) and discourage family holiday gatherings, which, in an already-depressing year, is obviously not something that anyone wants to hear.
What, you might ask, is a Christian to do when we are told we must pick between absolute self preservation and absolute non-interference in our pursuit of pleasure, money, power, etc? The answer, of course, is to align with neither. We are to imitate St. Damien of Molokai in visiting the sick, even the fatally sick, submitting even unto death for the good of others. We are to imitate St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, obeying legitimate authorities which tell us to go where we do not wish and not go where we wish, and again, turning our attention to the sick and needy available to us. Only by doing so, by consistently and exclusively seeking out Christ in the least of these, can we be free from idolatry running rampant in our country.