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Honoring these sacred days? We're too busy worshiping ourselves, by John McGauley

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Sunday is a very sacred day, both Easter and the last day of Passover.

I don’t want to sound too secular, but this is sort of the religious equivalent of the Super Bowl and the final game of the World Series wrapped into one, at least for those of us of the Judeo-Christian tradition. It’s rare for Easter to fall exactly on the final day of Passover, but this year it does.

I don’t think Americans care much about religion anymore, God’s been canceled a bit. And this week that claim was buttressed by Gallup releasing findings that showed affiliations with churches, synagogues or mosques have fallen below 50 percent of the population for the first time ever, or at least in the eight decades that Gallup has plumbed such matters. In 1999, 70 percent of those polled by Gallup said they were affiliated with a house of worship, illustrating what a precipitous drop has occurred.

My prediction is that percentage number will continue to fall.

Although church affiliation and belief in God is not always a one-to-one relationship, it can be taken as a proxy for it.

Here’s what I think is happening. We think we’re gods.

This won’t end well, at least in my opinion. It never has before.

Prosperity and technology are wonderful. But people can get fooled that we ourselves provide all the answers. Think about the advances we’ve seen in our own lifetimes, and in those of our parents and grandparents. We’re free from many of the shackles that imprisoned those countless generations that came before.

For at least most in the U.S. and other industrialized nations, we don’t starve anymore. There are no locusts who consume our crops, no armies that sweep through killing us. We live much longer, in much better surroundings, with plenty of food, transportation, leisure and luxuries.

OK, there was COVID, but that’s merely a speed bump compared with the pestilences of old, when a third or half of the population would drop like flies.

We’ve indulged all of our vices and fantasies, and if you don’t think that’s so, you’re not reading the news, or aware of the river of sewage that is the web or the worshiping of our culture of celebrity, greed and power.

We’ve forgotten the most important of the Ten Commandments.

“Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”

Let me give you a little history lesson on that Commandment.

It’s found in the Hebrew Bible at Exodus 20:2 and Deuteronomy 5:6. It’s also the central tenet of the other two Abrahamic religions — Islam and Christianity — and it prohibits followers from worshiping gods other than the Lord. The sin of worshiping another god is called idolatry.

The commandment was originally given to the Jews by the Lord after they escaped from slavery in Egypt. (Read: Passover)

Despite being warned about this, the Jews kept on worshiping idols and were therefore punished several times by the Lord. The Jewish exile into Babylon, another punishment by God, is seen as the turning point after which Jews became committed to monotheism.

The Jewish prayer Shema and its accompanying blessing and curse reveals the intent of the commandment to include love for the Lord and not only recognition or outward observance. In the New Testament Gospels, Jesus quotes the Shema as the first and greatest of the commandments, and the apostles after him preached that those who would follow Christ must turn from idols.

Christian theologians taught that the commandment applies in modern times and prohibits the worship of physical idols and the seeking of spiritual activity or guidance from any other source other than God. It also prohibits the focus upon priorities such as physical pleasures, work, or money.

This all sounds so old-fashioned, right? We abhor absolutes. Moses should have come down from the mountain not with just two stone tablets, but a position paper that contextualized everything with footnotes and acknowledgements that for some it’s not always wrong to dance around a golden calf, that there are nuances and exceptions to the rule.

But it was just the tablets he was handed, and they’re eternally correct.

John McGauley, an author and local radio talk-show host, writes from Keene. He can be contacted at mcgauleyink@gmail.com

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