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Pope Francis is back after a well-deserved month of vacation with a warning to the faithful. When he resumed his weekly lessons on the Catholic catechism, Pope Francis told his weekly general audience that there was a “supermarket of idols” available in the modern world. These idols, the Pope reminded those listening, promised happiness to those who indulged in them but would never fulfill those promises. Among the idols that Pope Francis listed were money, drugs and vanity. “How many young people,” he asked, “have ruined their health by adoring the idol of drugs?” Given the overwhelming opioid crisis sweeping the United States, the question is perfectly and painfully valid.
According to Pope Francis’ latest teachings, lust for money, success or smartphones could be seen as venerating idols. It may sound ridiculous on the surface, but given the internet and smartphone addiction capturing younger generations, idolatry may not be too strong a word for the pedestal on which many people place their electronics. If nothing else, “unhealthy” certainly applies to many people’s attachments to their phones, tablets and computers.
Spending too much time in front of the mirror and visiting tarot card readers or other diviners was also listed as evidence of idolatry by Pope Francis. The inclusion of these habits touches on two issues that are moving through the church. Vanity has always been considered a sin by Christianity, but in an age of Instagram fame, endless Facebook photos, SnapChat and Pinterest “beauty hacks,” a person’s appearance is more emphasized than ever in the wider culture. Dealing with the differences between secular culture and Christian teachings has always been a concern and struggle for the faithful.
Visiting tarot card readers deals with the question of whether or not it is acceptable for Christians to participate in angel card readings and other mixed Christian-New Age practices. While most mainline Christian denominations condemn such practices as part of the occult, there is a growing portion of Christians who see such things as acceptable.
Regardless of what the idol is, Pope Francis told the faithful to use the same method to deal with all of them. “Throw it out the window.”