“The addictions that afflict many of us as we meander through life are false gods that we worship in order to fill an inner void, an emptiness that, if we embraced it, could make way for the Presence for which we long. A subtle example of a void-filling false god is the busyness with which many of us occupy ourselves so as not to be alone with our thoughts and feelings. People in our culture will do almost anything to avoid the void of being still, silent, and alone. We seek meaning and a sense of purpose through relationships and productivity, both of which are good, but we often fail to experience the value of ourselves independent of people and supercharged activity.”
From my book Finding God Beyond Religion, the above is found in a chapter that tells the biblical story of the Israelite’s worship of a golden calf as they awaited Moses’ return from his rendezvous with Yahweh. (Exodus 32:1-6) In the desert without a leader, the people grew restless and impatient; in lieu of entrusting themselves to the difficulties of their journey, they settled for what made them feel good momentarily, an idol that filled the void created by their fears and insecurities.
It may not be obvious why worshiping an idol could be considered an addiction, for we usually equate addictive behavior with some form of substance or conduct abuse – drugs, alcohol, and gambling are obvious examples. But from the Latin addicere, to be addicted means to sell out, to abandon, or betray; it is, in other words, a turning away from what is of value, a choice to satisfy a deep need or longing with something less significant.
Almost any activity can be addictive; everything from watching television, to shopping, eating, and working can become a form of selling out, a way to avoid the emptiness we may experience when life feels like a desert of doubt and uncertainty. And although these can be good, and even necessary activities, when we enter into them as an escape from life’s difficulties, they become “false gods” that serve to temporarily and superficially satisfy a greater need, that of connecting with our deeper, sacred self.
It is tempting to get busy when there is nothing to do, and to find something or someone to occupy the time when time hangs heavy. But a better way might be to first take a deep breath and walk into the void, for we might just discover that “the Presence for which we long” awaits us in the stillness, silence, and emptiness within.