The Top 7 Idols in America

Americans are fundamentally polytheists with these idols in America, worshiping at the shrines of many gods. Here are the top 7.

idols in America

Americans are fundamentally polytheists with these idols in America, worshiping at the shrines of many gods. Many who call themselves Christians are as polytheistic as Hindus.

Many who call themselves Christians are as polytheistic as Hindus. We, of course, have different names for our gods of prosperity, fertility, good luck, celebrity or whatever.

Money and success have often been thought of as America’s gods. “God is gold,” “the Almighty Dollar,” and all that. But things have changed over the years. Money has been demoted to a somewhat lesser deity, though still devoutly worshiped.

America’s Top Gods

Here are North America’s seven most popular gods. By “god” I mean something (anything) in our life that commands more loyalty, dedication and devotion than the one true Living God. Not necessarily the highest loyalty, since many of us are functional polytheists, whatever we claim. But sincere and central devotion.

The question then becomes: What is your or my functional pantheon?

From the biblical perspective, of course, such “gods” are really idols. Idols that the Bible both denounces and mocks.

America’s gods today, in inverse order:

7. National Security

Yes, for some people this is the One High God (“My Country, Right or Wrong”). It is a much higher god since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the passage of the (idolatrous? blasphemous?) Patriot Act. Anything done in the name of national security, or now by the NSA, is by definition justified, since the end justifies the means.

National Security in the U.S. is the new name of the old god of Nationalism.

But for many in the U.S., this is not the High God. It is one among many, and it nudges out the other gods only in times of clear threat and crisis.

This is one of the gods, so-called, that the Bible denounces. Read Ezekiel.

6. Money, Riches, Wealth

Still a much-adored and sought-after god in the United States. The pursuit of wealth was one of the two founding pillars of the United States, and of course this is still in place. But it is now so taken for granted—so unquestioned—that the worship of this god is a little less prominent.

This god is also called Mammon, which Jesus referred to in Matthew 6:24 when he said, “You cannot serve God and Mammon.” (Was he wrong?)

The rise of technology has birthed other gods, however, so Money is a bit less adored than in times past.

5. Guns

The worship of guns in the U.S. is fully obvious and is well known globally—though quite puzzling to many folks in other countries, including Canada. A few months ago, The Economist magazine from the U.K. ran a cartoon depicting a church service, which was actually a worship-of-guns service, in America.

How America’s gun culture developed is well documented in Michael Bellesiles’ Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture (2000) and other sources.

All it took to turn fascination with guns (primarily by males) into a religion was linking it up with the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.

Today, all the marks of religion are evident when one either confronts a gun devotee or questions anything about this devotion. (For clarity: I am not speaking about legitimate limited uses of firearms but the deification of the gun.)

I know many folks would rank this idolatry higher, closer to the top. For many Americans, it is indeed Top God. But the number of devotees is a actually minority of the total population, so I rank it here.

4. The Automobile

This beautiful and more and more glitzy and gadgety god has been around now for over a century. Historians talk about “America’s love affair with the automobile.” The automobile quickly became a symbol of money, sex and power, with a clear hierarchy identifiable by model and price. A divider of the haves from the have-nots.

When the automobile moves from being a means of transportation to something else, something more, a hierarchical status symbol, deification is complete. The marks of worship, from temples to worship rallies to lavish offerings, become obvious. Our casual obliviousness to the sacrifice of thousands of lives on our highways is another sign (32,000 last year—adult and child sacrifice).

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But we’re not yet at the top.

3. Fame and Celebrity

Celebrity has been around for a long time—going back at least to Absalom, the Old Testament’s most famous celebrity, with his clever charm and his beautiful black flowing hair.

But modern technology—printing of course, but especially movies, radio, TV and now the Internet—have given the Castor-and-Pollux god of Fame-and-Celebrity new prominence.

So now fame and celebrity are largely unquestioned, even among Christians. Being famous is always better than not being, and becoming a celebrity is always something to be applauded. Therefore, aspired to.

In this value system, seeking obscurity is dumb. Becoming “less so that others may become more” is irrational, suspect and likely a sign of mental derangement.

Many parents will sacrifice virtually anything for the chance for their child to become famous—whether in entertainment, sports or even academia. (Ever seen a child beauty pageant?)

Note that the high god here is not money, but rather fame-and-celebrity.

2. Collegiate Sports

Collegiate sports is, of course, a way to achieve fame, celebrity and wealth—at least potentially.

Compare the salaries and perks of university head coaches and athletic directors with those of presidents and deans as a first indicator of this idolatry. Look at sports and media budgets.

But there are many other signs. Collegiate sports have become a whole elaborate high-tech profit-making system—a business, really—with big winners and many losers.

From the outside looking in, the idolatry is obvious. From the inside, even to raise the question appears extreme, unjustified, irrational.

1. Professional Sports

This is America’s Top God at the moment. Not 50 years ago, but now. The growing popularity of and devotion to this god has happened so gradually that millions have not noticed the seduction. Instead, what they see is high-tech glitz powered by advertising mega-dollars.

Professional sports have it all: Money, fame, sex, technology, and immense and growing economic clout.

It is professional sports, of course, that powers collegiate sports—to the point where the line between “professional” and “amateur” is often a joke.

College sports power high-school sports—which power grade-school sports. A huge, interlocking system, a hierarchy.

Result: Today, one of the most obscene, disturbing scenes on TV or the Internet or on a sports field is not sex or violence. It is a small boy, barely into grade school, nearly lost in a football helmet and uniform, being socialized into a culture and worldview that is artificial, unhealthy and ultimately demeaning. Trapped in a uniform and trapped in a deadly culture. It is a tragedy and a training in idolatry. Actually a form of spiritual formation (or malformation).

Among many other things, this form of unrecognized child abuse insulates (literally) your child from normal, unprogrammed interaction with the natural world of trees, flowers, birds, rivers and dirt. God’s good creation.

Tests for Idolatry

Oops! What’s that sound I hear? Ah, howls of protest! “No, no, no! These things are not really our gods! You are wrong! We don’t actually worship these things. We just like them. They’re diversions, entertainment, leisure-time hobbies. Pastimes. Innocent.”

Really?

Do I hear the squeal of sacred cows?

Well, here are five tests for idolatry. So we can decide for ourselves.

1. The test of time and attention. How much time, devotion and unquestioned loyalty do I give to this “diversion”? What about passion and intensity of devotion and depth of loyalty? How much time and money go into this adulation, and at the expense of what other things?

2. The test of the willingness to question and evaluate. Do I ever—and am I willing to—step back and question my loyalty? To ask where the line is between interest and worship, and how we know when we cross that line? Especially: To question our loyalties and dedications by the light of the biblical prophets?

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3. The test of public signs of devotion. Devotees of gods commonly make their devotion public through their behavior, clothing and emblems. They give public displays, advertising where their loyalties lie, so everyone will know, and there will be no confusion. These often take the form of logos, flags, caps, T-shirts and other clothing items.

Over the past week or month, what loyalties have I publicly advertised?

4. The test of comparative devotion with other gods or loyalties. For example, loyalty and devotion to Jesus Christ. If I evaluate my interests, time and money use, amount and intensity of attention, what comes out on top? What is second, third, fourth?

Whatever is on top is your or my functional god, and the others are proof of polytheism.

5. The test of ethical effects. What behaviors follow from my worship (that is, interest, hobby, avocation, relationship, whatever)? Are we ethically sensitive to the effects of our devotions? Or does my loyalty produce ethical insensitivity—most especially, insensitivity to the virtues and values of the Gospel of the kingdom of God.

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test!” (2 Cor. 13.5).

Final Word

Admittedly, the above pantheon ranking is impressionistic and unscientific. Probably it could be tested by carefully measuring money, time and media attention. My intuition is that if the pantheon of gods were so investigated and properly weighted for variable factors, it would come out confirming, more or less, what I suggest here.

Any ranking is, of course, fuzzy. It is not uncommon for polytheists to have many, many gods—one for each need or whim or lust or day of the week. Plus, there are many other potential deities not mentioned here: pets, pills (for every need), health, beauty/figure/physique, clothing, jewelry, tools, books, food, individualism or individual rights, church buildings—whatever we allow to become or adopt as a god. And, of course, there’s the original U.S. Trinity of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”—good if properly placed, but idolatrous if they become objects of unquestioned worship.

Like all humans, we’re also good at demonizing whomever or whatever we don’t like.

So we should examine ourselves. In the best-case scenario, if we pass the examination—that is, if King Jesus emerges as the One True God in our lives by whose power we renounce all idols—we do well.

If we do not pass with clear conscience, then some pantheonic reassessment and probably renunciation is in order.

Yes, and I recall that Jesus said: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you” (Mt. 5:3-6).

God says, “You shall worship no other god, because the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Ex. 34:14). “I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols” (Isa. 42:8).

“There shall be no strange god among you;  you shall not bow down to a foreign god” (Psalm 81:9).

“Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts” (Mal. 3:7).

Howard Snyder
Formerly professor of the history and theology of mission, Asbury Theological Seminary (1996-2006); now engaged in research and writing in Wilmore, Kentucky. Professor of Wesley Studies, Tyndale Seminary, Toronto, 2007-2012. Formerly taught and pastored in São Paulo, Brazil; Detroit, Michigan; and Chicago, Illinois. Howard Snyder’s main interest is in the power and relevance of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom for the world today and tomorrow. He has written on a range of topics including church history, cultural trends, globalization, worldviews, evangelism, and various cultural issues.
  • A.A.

    No discussion? This is good stuff.
    I have to admit guilt for worshipping money, but in a different way than most – as a means of salvation from earthly problems. A very common thought amongst the poor. I need improvement in prayer and through the Spirit to root out this idolatry, and rely on God for *all* things.
    Interesting that sports is #1, but I can see that. Even in my church there is much discussion about football. But why even care about it? Between sleep, work, time with family, and time with God and His Word, I don’t have any time left for T.V. or idle internet browsing, unless I am to sacrifice sleep. (I came across this in researching Calvinist vs. Arminian stuff – I try not to be too idle online). Brethren, you have better things to spend your time on than Netflix and T.V.!

    • Kathy Bailey Rose

      Yea tv Is a huge idol. It pollutes our minds and our homes and gets worse every year but if you suggest people eliminate it theres a huge howl. Idolatry indeed.

  • PMP

    Left off one. Sex.

  • Yankeegator

    The State… The American Civil Religion and the Worship of the Constitution and The Goddess Liberty…

    • Kathy Bailey Rose

      Note that The golden calf is replicated on Wall Street same as liberty is personified by the Statue of Liberty.

  • Sandra Hawley

    you left off Dogs

    • Carmen Screenwriter Smith

      Yes, they did.

    • Johnny Bravo

      Don’t forget about Donald Trump. I’ve seen many Americans not all praising Trump like he’s the Messiah to same USA from their sins. God said “thou shalt not have any Gods before me”. I remember reading a comment from one African American. She said with pride like “Trump make me a believer”. As a Christian from the Middle East, I am shocked for man worship a man of sin that married 3 times divorced 2 times.

  • Rosegarten

    May I add, the American flag, the military, and anything we parade around in our churches to salute, pledge our allegiance to by placing our hands over the heart that belongs exclusively to God.

  • Tony Arte

    Money is still America’s #1 God. Most of us spend 5 days a week making money- not playing or watching pro sports. Politicians make laws to protect the wealthy- not sports stars.

  • Donald Moeser

    Guns?? You mean those things that people use to protect their families from those who would harm them?

    • Three Dollar Bill
      • Donald Moeser

        How many lives saved would make it worthwhile?

      • Karl

        Did Jesus ever teach or exhibit a life of self-defense.

    • Bill Megginson

      I was a little curious about this one also, but I think the premise was that many Christians worship their guns more than God and I have witnessed this. I am all for self protection, but if we are spending all of our time and money on guns, then we are worshiping them. This is how I take it. There is nothing on this list particularly sinful in itself unless we begin to worship it. I would have to say vacations are another. Nothing wrong with having down time because God wants that, but to worship it by spending lavish amounts of money on it and devoting all your time to it, it becomes an idol.

  • James Scott Jr.

    These are interesting, and I think some value in them. However? The pick of the “gods” are opinion, certainly not based on data or research, so it would have been a more honest article to start by – and clearly state – all of this is one man’s opinion.

  • Jason Brasington

    I believe Money is America’s number one God. Even this article presents a desire to obtain money by asking us what we do with it. As though what we spend most of our money on has an indication of what we worship. Many people don’t have much money beyond what is needed to survive. Does spending money on survival mean that we worship survival. Sometimes I think Matthew 6:24 was written specifically for future church leaders. This is especially true for churches that borrow huge sums of money to build elaborate churches. They are forced to either say what is true and risk alienating the congregation and receive less donations or simply say what many want to hear in order to receive more donations to pay the bills. In many cases for a church to borrow money it has to be organized as a type of non profit corporation. By electing to organize the church in this way it prevents church leaders from legally speaking about political events.

    source: https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/charitable-organizations/the-restriction-of-political-campaign-intervention-by-section-501-c-3-tax-exempt-organizations

    Money is the means that makes all other things possible on this list. Whether its sports, fame, or material possessions, without money there is little motive to pursue these things and limited means to produce these things. Some even go so far as to say that money is the mark of the beast. Consider Revelation 13: 16-17:

    16. And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond,
    to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:
    17. And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

    Many people hold money in their right hands. Many people memorize their credit or debit card numbers (in their foreheads). Both small and great, rich or poor buy and sell with currency. The concept that we have of money only came into existence in the late 1600’s with the advent of Fractional-reserve banking.

    • Johnny Bravo

      I believe you 100%. Americans go crazy if no money. Tell them money is root of all evil, they will say that’s blasphemy

      • Bill Megginson

        For clarity it is the love of money, not money itself. Which still backs up the premise.

  • David Sheddan

    You mentioned automobiles. A few years ago, I spoke about this subject and mentioned F-150s, bass boats, and for the ladies-jewelry.

    • Kathy Bailey Rose

      If you think about it, it’s really the god of materialism. This anything that shows off your wealth that people call “baby” (such as dogs) falls under this category. I’m studying this right now. All our idols are actually carry-overs from all the ancient man-centered civilizations such as Egypt Babylon Greece and Rome. And we as Americans are of course new Rome, complete with feet of clay.

  • Heather Smith

    Just curious: were children or family anywhere on the list of idols? I know many young couples who put the children before anything and everything under the heading of our family being important – even to the point of ditching church/bible study/youth group for “family time”. I see it as a growing epidemic and an unseen idol amongst many of my Christian parental peers. They are certainly also distracted by their children’s schedule of dance competitions and ball tournaments, but it comes down to them allowing their love for their children to overshadow the priority of God. Just wondering…

    • Kathy Bailey Rose

      I definitely agree. Anything can become an idol and since we have been worshipping wealth for so long now God’s isn’t giving us over to worshipping things that normally aren’t considered evil, such as family. Good observation.

  • lovemore nganunu

    Amen!

  • Donald Moeser

    Strange that drugs were not mentioned.

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  • Kathy Bailey Rose

    I definitely agree with the premise – Americans are polytheist who give God lip service but don’t really serve him with their lives. But I think these items listed are rather subjective. For instance automobiles. Some people worship their boats instead. Or their high fashion clothes. Or their home. Or their pets. Perhaps a better category there would be materialism.
    I think a good look at the seven deadly sins will give a better idea of “categories” for America’s sins. personally I think the diefication of Liberty needs to be on this list. Liberty without tesponisibility equals license and that’s where we are.

    Sex and money and fame are top sins.

    Trusting in self (pride) -self-reliance instead of trusting in God – is an oft-overlooked aspect of pride but an essential one to comprehend as salvation hinges on this one.

    And “the god of fortresses” it speaks of in Revelations is where national defense and guns belong. It’s not really new however. The Egyptians trusted their horses and chariots and so did the Babylonians Greeks and Romans. So do we. However “some trust in chariots and some in horses but we will trust in the name of the lord our God.”

    Just My opinion. Been studying this. All of these god have roots in pagan Babylon by the way. I was recently very shocked to find out about the golden calf, represented on wall steeet as the “bull market,” being not only from Israel’s golden calf worship but also a representation of Baal.

    Thanks and god bless.

  • Camelio

    I have a question, but it comes with an admission. I actually only became an avid sports fan AFTER I became frustrated with our local churches.

    About 80% of our local churches have ministries headed by WOMEN. Even though the same percentage (80%) have male pastors.

    Both my wife and I wanted to work together in ministry, and I am the most enthusiastic. She is very subdued, and doesn’t really want to get involved (and shows it). However, whenever we put our names in jointly to volunteer for anything, a woman calls the house and asks HER to lead up some ministry activity.

    I directly confronted one leader about this (who has ZERO men working for her various activities), and she said it was BECAUSE there are no good men. Period. When I asked her what she meant by that, she refused to speak further.

    So, I sit at home with the other rejected men, and we talk football. The guys take their tithes over to the church, but are told to sit down and shut up, and repent of their sins (though we are not drinking, smoking, doing porn, or anything else particularly interesting).

    I wish this was only our church. But every BLACK church in this area seems to have this model. A male pastor, and a couple of male assistants, under which are an army of women overseeing the women volunteers, and the few men who can psychologically handle this model.

    And so, we worship our teams. Because we are blocked from doing anything else. Unless of course, we leave town to find another church out there somewhere…

  • Philip

    Where is the data to back up these claims? This article seems to based mostly on the authors opinion.