My friend, Aimee’s, favorite word is "hobgoblin". My daughter is rather entranced with the word "brouhaha."  For the past half hour, I’ve been sitting at my desk happily immersed in chasing down words that end in "olatry," a suffix from … Read More

By / February 18, 2009

My friend, Aimee’s, favorite word is "hobgoblin". My daughter is rather entranced with the word "brouhaha."  For the past half hour, I’ve been sitting at my desk happily immersed in chasing down words that end in "olatry," a suffix from the Greek that means "worship of." Certainly, I know all about idolatry but there’s a whole host of worshipful behaviors I’d never heard of: juvenolatry, neolatry, epeoloatry…  Simply by sticking together a prefix and a suffix, these worship words can define a person and maybe even a society.

I know several hygeilators (They worship health or hygiene. Hand soap turns them on.) The big business that is plastic surgery indicates that millions suffer from juvenolatry (worship of youthfulness) and landfills where we dump everything out-of-date are testaments to neolatry, worship of what is new.  There’s artolatry (worship of bread, maybe my challah-goddess girlfriends can relate to this?); autolatry, worship of self, (oh, you narcissists – you know who you are, and you expect everyone else to, as well); verbolatry (we writers come close to this – veneration of words); and archaeolater, one who worships anything archaic. Fascinating as these ‘olaters are, I do have other writing projects to work on, but I feel unproductive, claustrophobic, here in my study. Maybe it’s the African figurines that take up much of the space on the floor. In cleaning up for our musical soiree, my husband transferred them from the dining room to my study where they still remain. I have told him that’s enough African art, really, no more, and he said, that’s it, I’m finished, done (with the art, not with me). A change of scenery, a more open environment where my mind will feel less cluttered will be good, I think, and help me focus on the article I’m writing. I carry my laptop and papers to the dining room, looking forward to an empty expanse of table on which to work. I could swear the African sculptures on the floor of my study snuck off before me and magically clambered onto the dining room table! Unfortunately, that’s not the case. My husband, God bless his soul (my friend, Kevin, taught me that you can say anything about anyone as long as you follow it with "God bless his soul.") has been up to mischief. The table is Ghana, teeming with big-breasted, big-assed, big-dicked African statues. "Aren’t they lovely?" my husband strokes one of the faces. "Palpitations!" he presses his hand over his heart. He’s not kidding. These figurines will eventually make their way onto small stands and will be mounted on the wall. Eight of them on this wall, another few over here… They loom over us.  Taking up so much external, physical space, they also clutter up my internal, spiritual space. "You have to worship something!" my husband jokes. Again, he’s not kidding. Worship is all about worth – finding so much worth in something that it prompts reverence.  As a monotheist, however, I’m wary of how these alternate forms of worship might compete with one’s ability to worship God. This past week, I was proofreading my 14 year old son, Daniel’s, essay on the Ten Commandments for his Tanach (Bible) class.  I was fixing the contractions and sticking in a few commas, when I came to a sentence that stopped me. Given the choice of all commandments, Daniel wrote, "I would subtract the first commandment from the ten."  He then offered a measured and analytical reason as to why this commandment, which reminds Israel, "I am the Lord Your God" " is unnecessary. Maybe people simply don’t believe in this particular God, Daniel pointed out. Daniel is a big fan, though, of the First Amendment – freedom of speech and religion – and he said so in his essay, recognizing that everyone has the right to worship in his or her own way.  He is truly his father’s son. In Judaism, we believe that worship of one God is required of us. It is implied in the first commandment, "I am the Lord Your God," and stated in the second, "You shall have no other gods before me."  The God of the Bible demands that you worship Him and Him alone – not bread, not your children, not material possessions, not graven images… (If I thought it would work, I would demand it, too.) Even if my husband doesn’t view his idols as idols, I have a problem with physical representations of gods or anything that is even slightly godlike. Maybe it’s similar to how my daughter runs out of the room whenever a commercial for the latest Harry Potter film airs on television – she doesn’t like somebody else’s interpretation of the characters to interfere with the one she has mentally envisioned for herself. So, basically, just as I don’t like looking at Jesus hanging from the cross (My husband has bought any number of paintings that feature Jesus, the cross and a lot of blood. Being a rabbi’s son, he is making up for the sad deprivations of his childhood.), I also don’t want to look at other people’s ancestral images or spirit beings or whatever it is that they are supposed to be. I like my gods to be invisible and quiet so I can paint them, mentally, in whatever image I choose. My cell phone rings just as I’m contemplating whether I want to sit at the dining room table and look at these statues’ ass cracks, or return to my study and risk getting caught up in etymology’s tempting grip.  It’s my father. He asks me what I think about Israel pulling out of Gaza – he knows that it’s the devil’s handiwork, because according to the Bible, Israel is entitled to keep Gaza. He goes on to say that America idolizes Obama, and somehow he links this to his opinion that the devil has this world in the palm of his hand, and instead, we should be in the palm of God’s hand. Growing up, Daddy was always on the look-out for those who worshipped other "worldly" things instead of God. Those ungodly idols included: money, television (deemed the "idiot box" or "boob tube"), the Pope (who, our church taught, might just be the anti-Christ mentioned in the book of Revelations), athletes, alcohol, knowledge… Lately, he has been on a rant that Americans have taken to idolizing Obama, as if he’s a savior of some kind. Daddy has not yet seen these African idols. He will surely suspect the devil of having taken up residence in my home. I really hate to make a brouhaha about this, but I wish to God that my husband, God bless his soul, would limit the number of hobgoblins in our home. And I say that with love. (As my sister Rachael advises me, "You can say anything as long as you say that you’re saying it with love.") Our African collection aside, I like everything about "olatry". I like the passion and the commitment. I like how unreasonable and inexplicable it is to worship trees (arborolatry) or the Bard (Bardolatry). I like the urge in the human soul to find something outside of ourselves to be devoted to. It makes us feel safe, it’s like magical thinking – if I throw my energy into this, if I adore and worship this, it will keep me healthy and happy and young and in control. It will protect me, save me. I think it would be nice to be worshipped, frankly, and if someone sacrificed a goat for me (or even a small chicken), it’s hard telling what I might do.  (As of yet, there is no spousolatry.) But unlike Daniel, I’m committed to holding onto the First Commandment. This God doesn’t clutter up my study, but does fill up my home.

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