Archived Opinion

Advice from a 13th-century philosopher about idols

Saint Thomas Aquinas. United Kingdom National Gallery photo Saint Thomas Aquinas. United Kingdom National Gallery photo

I never pretend to be an expert on current events. In fact, I mostly avoid the news because so much of it is doom and gloom or the same old political rhetoric.

But, as we were driving home Sunday from a baseball tournament, an Instagram post made my heart skip a beat. 

It was a very normal autumn afternoon, the sun shining, a lovely fall breeze outside. Bored in the passenger seat, I got on my phone to peruse Instagram. The first post that popped up was from a business coach and podcaster I follow named Cathy Heller. It was a picture of Heller sobbing. The next slide was information about the Hamas attack on Israel. The information sounded so extreme, I was taken aback, wondering if it was another exaggerated social media outburst.

After reading a few news articles, however, from Al Jazeera and the BBC, I realized that everything Heller had written was true and the situation was even worse than she’d described. Over 1,500 people have died in Israel and Palestine as of Oct. 10, including hundreds of children. When this column is published, there will have been many more casualties.

I’m not diving into the minutiae of the conflict itself because I don’t want to misspeak or try and explain a situation that I’m still working to understand myself. With that being said, I do know a thing or two about false idols and humanity.

I’ve always had a relatively strong faith, but over the past two years, I’ve grown deeper in my spirituality. This new level involves much more than simply a belief in a higher power. Through daily meditations and reading the works of Thich Nhat Hanh and Eckhart Tolle and texts such as A Course in Miracles, I’m discovering that at their core, all religions encourage the same thing – for people to spend their time on earth embodying love, light and compassion.

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It sounds like such a simple request, yet we humans make it so very complicated. It’s hard for deeply spiritual people like myself to observe others acting violently in the name of religion. Jesus, Muhammad, the Buddha, Ghandi, Mother Teresa or any spiritual leader would never murder, rape and avenge, especially in the name of God.

The 13th-century Italian priest and influential philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, spoke of the four idols — money (financial wealth or accumulation of resources), power (control over others), pleasure (feeling good) and fame (admiration from others; approval and respect from peers). The theory states that we make most of our daily decisions based on the pursuit of one or more of the four idols, only to find when we get close, we feel restless for more and more. Aquinas said that as we pursue these idols we distance ourselves from God and therefore feel separate from the “good” feelings we were seeking in the first place.

Most people go through life unaware of which core idol they are pursuing. It’s a subconscious default setting that essentially runs on its own. The goal is not to avoid or reject the idols, but to become more aware of which one or ones you are chasing and how they affect your life and relationships.

Additionally, modern prophets such as Deepak Chopra and Abraham Hicks offer the wisdom that the more we live from a place of love and light, the more we end up feeling the positive effects of the four idols without the negative consequences. When we act from a place of true intention, abundance, joy, deep friendships and peace are natural byproducts.

Obviously. war is driven by ominous energy and the pursuit of one or more of the four idols. As history has demonstrated, running down an idol will never leave us feeling fulfilled. Terrorists who seek power and control will never truly feel a sense of joy or accomplishment. What they seek cannot bring anyone joy because it distances them from God and light. That is what is so sad about conflicts such as the ones in Israel and Ukraine. The death, destruction and heartbreak is purposeless, not to mention devastating.

What can we do as individuals to help? We can stop seeking idols ourselves and work from a place of understanding and love. We can be walking examples of how humans are supposed to act. Research has shown over and over that changing our subconscious programming is 100% possible and always leads to a more joyful existence.

I’m hopeful there will be a collective shift where people will move away from idols and toward love. Otherwise, we will always live in a place of unrest. All Mother Earth and God want is for us to be at peace within our souls and with one another. My heart is with the innocent Palestinians and the Israelis as well as Jews around the world who are suffering and dying because of this most recent brutal and unwarranted attack.

(Susanna Shetley is a writer, editor and digital media specialist with The Smoky Mountain News, Smoky Mountain Living and Mountain South Media.)

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