Gideon Israel
Director of the Jerusalem Washington Center

Modern-Day Idolatry

During the recent Operation Pillar of Defense followers of Israeli model Bar Refaeli were angered that she did not tweet or post something on her facebook account concerning the Operation or in support of our soldiers.  She continued on with her life as if nothing significant was happening in Israel.  This incensed her followers.  They had difficulty understanding how Bar Refaeli – supermodel, undergarments designer, and whatever other magnificent things she is doing – could ignore the situation in Israel; it was something that didn’t mesh with the way they view Refaeli.  However, the disproportionate reaction behooves the question:  why were her supporters/followers so upset?  Since when did she become a political figure or Israeli symbol of patriotism?

The reaction of Refaeli’s followers is similar to the prophet Isaiah’s description of idolaters.   In the 8th chapter, the prophet speaks of how the idolater relates to his god when he- the idolater – begins to suffer:  “[he] shall suffer hardships and hunger, and it shall come to pass, when he is hungry and wroth, that he shall curse his king and his god…”   When the idol or god that the worshipper has created doesn’t come through in difficult times, the worshipper rebukes and belittles it.  Underlying this verse is the idol’s role in fulfilling some type of void in a person’s life.  At its root, idolatry is about man constructing a god with his own hands and imbuing it with human or superhuman characteristics and/or attributes, a superiority or some other role which addresses the needs of the worshipper.    This void could be: the need to relinquish morals; a fear; a feeling of control; a need for organization among chaos; a need for a superior being or almighty being.

Refaeli’s followers, subconsciously, used her to fill some void in their lives.  Otherwise, the rage and criticism over her response – first ignoring the war, and then announcing that she was praying for both sides – is incomprehensible.  Why would people get so upset over the actions of a regular person?  Instead, it was their sincere hope that this person who they had elevated to the status of semi-god should embody attributes of their vision of an ideal person.  However, her disappointing response should come as no surprise to her followers.  What evidence did they have that this person had such elevated qualities, remarkable attributes, or was the chosen among humans?   There was no basis for this expectation.

The disappointment of her followers is complex.  Her fans built her into something that she is not, and then demanded that she live up to those standards.  But she is human, very human, and she disappointed them.  Just like the idols that can’t save their followers from danger, sickness or famine, so, too, she can’t live the ideal life that her followers wished she would.  While the aforementioned example – caring for one’s countrymen in times of trouble – is something simple that could possibly be dismissed as a simple lack of common decency,  in reality it sheds light on a bigger picture, and reflects a much deeper issue – of modern day idolatry – than meets the eye.

Even though we are centuries removed from vulgar, pagan worship of idols and inanimate Gods, the Bible’s goal of rooting out idolatry carries on.

About the Author
Gideon Israel is the Director of the Jerusalem Washington Center which focuses on strengthening US-Israel relations through mutually beneficial policy projects.