“And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
Then the sign said: the words of the prophets
Are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence.”
Sound of Silence – Simon and Garfunkel, 1964
* * *
These gods are relatively new gods. Created of the people, by the people, for the people. They may be the most influential gods the world has ever seen: influential beyond belief, if there is something out there beyond belief. They are super-gods and attract major and minor prophets, priests and priestesses, altars and thrones.
There is no new thing under the sun. But oh, there are things that should startle us, shake us, make us tremble. These super-gods should strike fear into the deepest core of the fragile human heart and eternal human soul.
* * *
I passed by a magnificent cathedral to the gods the other day. I marveled. This place is the recipient of millions of dollars, donated by wealthy alumni, and has recently been remodeled. It houses restaurants, apartments, box seats and, on worship day, holds almost 80,000 faithful. There are price points for everyone, no one will be excluded, left out, or overlooked. The gods are accommodating, expansive, welcoming. This god performs as a televangelist, slick and smooth, streaming its offerings and messages to the masses through the media. Television and smart phones are its major prophets, both gods in their own right.
The priests and priestesses of this god perform the noisy, rowdy service. The sensual and scantily clad priestesses dance and wave pompoms; the muscled priests in their bulky priestly garments run up and down the field, pushing, shoving, concussing, and throwing the sacred pigskin. And the sign flashes out its warnings, fourth quarter, two minutes left; and the people cheer and roar and shake the stands.
* * *
I passed by a dealership and saw the gods and minor prophets lined up, the metal-wheeled conveyances that take us where we need to go. A necessary evil, they masquerade as the gods we worship. The big pickup trucks speak to and for us like minor prophets, knowing instinctively what we need. We beg them to prophesy and preach of our greatness, our manliness, our worthiness. We want them to draw attention, mark us, show the world who we are and what we stand for. Built like a Rock, Find New Roads, and If You Ain’t First, You’re Last. They make us say look at me, I’m made of big things, tough stuff, making my mark on the world, a mover and shaker. Loud noise, big rims, thick skins, and tail pipes that shake the earth. I may live in a subway or tenement hall, but the rig I drive will be shiny and cool. The monthly payment is a secret between the banker, me, and my god, and no one will ever know.
* * *
The prophet Baal was an ancient god of Canaan, a god of life and fertility. Recently I was in Israel and a guide showed us a small flat figurine, almost rectangular in shape, carved from clay. This one had been recently discovered in one of the digs around Jerusalem and the adjacent City of David. He said these little figurines or amulets were made small enough to carry around in the ancient’s pockets, a god they could take with them and rub their fingers over, stroking and caressing it in time of need. To have this god close at hand gave comfort.
There is nothing new under the sun. The gods they are wise and they are open to substitution, replacement, and mutation. They exchange one amulet for another.
* * *
And so as I passed along I reached again for my very own amulet, my small flat figurine, carved from plastic and made in China. It’s neon face shining up at me, smiling, awaiting my worship. We gaze into the face of this god and form deep emotional connections. We speak to this god and listen to this god. This god gives us messages, maps, and mirth. Our devotion is warm and close and as fervent as that of anyone who has worshiped a god. Lead us not into temptation we pray to another God and then bow and wait for the amulet to speak, to tempt, to lead us straight into the place our flesh is keen to go.
* * *
So we worship the gods we’ve made, drinking from dry wells, and wonder why we’re coughing up dust. Wonder why we’re parched. Wonder why, in the dead of the night, the sound of silence sounds eerily like the hounds of hell.
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