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Cell phone gods?

According to a 2011 BBC documentary, popular electronic devices such as cell phones can potentially be a religious experience for some owners.

In their documentary – Secrets of the Superbrands — Alex Riley and Adam Boome were struck by the intense brand loyalty of some users towards their Apple products. In London, England, the two witnessed massive line-ups outside Apple stores when its latest and greatest gadget was released. Some even lined up hours before opening to guarantee a spot at the front of the line.

Riley and Boome were curious what caused such intense brand loyalty. They were surprised by what they found. In their documentary, they had neuroscientists use a MRI scan to study the brain of a devoted Apple user while using his Apple device.

“The results suggested that Apple was actually stimulating the same part of the brain as religious imagery does in people of faith,” wrote Riley and Boome.

In a nutshell, for some using an Apple product was akin to a religious experience.

Idols in the heart?

Throughout the Bible, we see repeated warnings against going after other gods and particularly idol worship. These were clear religious activities. But can objects with no specific religious connotation take on a religious aura?

A passage in Ezekiel 14:1-7 provides an interesting twist on what actually constitutes an idol.
Speaking through his prophet, God says, “Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts and have put right before their faces the stumbling block of their iniquity…” (v 3)

The twist is the reference to “idols in the heart.”

In Jewish thought, the heart was an all-encompassing word that included emotions, the will and intellect. When referring to “idols in the heart,” the prophet was not talking about literal objects of stone or wood, but thoughts or emotional attachments that generated a religious devotion similar to real idols.

These “idols in their heart” were just as real as stone objects. They were stumbling blocks (v.4) affecting their walk with Jehovah and in verse 5, they led to estrangement, causing people to distant themselves from their true God.

This leads to the next question: Can a cell phone constitute an “idol in the heart?”

If the MRI scan is right, for some people it may do exactly that. Though these scientists specifically targeted Apple users, I suspect other electronic devices — no matter what brand – could potentially have the same impact.

And since the prophets was talking of “idols in the heart” thousands of years before the invention of cell phones, obviously it wasn’t limited to just electronic devices. Any item could conceivably fill this role – camels, flocks of sheep, shoes, sex, cars, TVs, music — the list is endless.

Is it an idol?

Now there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these objects or activities as long as we treat them as the tool there were intended to be. But when we develop an over attachment or devotion to a particular item, it may cross the line from tool to idol.

So what symptoms would suggest an object has crossed over?

  1. Do you always need the newest and latest version, even though your current phone or TV is perfectly fine?
  2. Do you have excessive brand loyalty? Meaning you would never consider buying a different brand of phone.
  3. How often do you dwell on the object when you are not actually using it?
  4. How strongly do you promote the item or brand with those around you?
  5. Does your obsession with the object interfere with relationships with real people? This could mean spending money on a car, when there are more important family needs. This could even apply to social media activities such as Facebook.
  6. How much is your identity wrapped up in the item? In Exodus 32:4 (shortly after the Exodus and while Moses was up the mountain receiving the ten commandments), Aaron and Jeroboan built a golden calf telling Israel “These be thy gods, O Israel which brought thee out of Egypt.”
    We use idols to satisfy some purpose in our lives, they provide identity and security. For example, I notice people taking their pit bulls out for a walk. It strikes me in some instances this aggressive and strong dog has become their identity. It defines who they are.

These symptoms in themselves may not reveal a problem. But if you see yourself in some of these areas ask the Holy Spirit if the object has become an “idol in your heart?”

My black, leather idol

I remember years back, I bought a black, leather coat that crossed the line from clothing to an idol in my heart. I remember when the Holy Spirit first prompted me to give it to the pastor of the church I was attending.

I remember the struggle I had to give it away. Giving wasn’t the issue as I regularly gave money to the church. And I was earning a decent salary so I could have bought another.

But there was something about this jacket, that had a hold on me. God wanted to pull down the “idol in my heart.” I finally caved and gave away the coat to someone who really needed it. This act broke the control the coat had over me. Today I own a leather jacket, and I can’t remember the last time I wore it because “I wear it, it doesn’t wear me.”

I am not suggesting you have to give away objects. This is what the Holy Spirit prompted me to do. God deals with each of us in unique ways. If you have a problem in an area, ask the Holy Spirit for help and guidance.


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