The Ten Commandments vary in their wording and order among the world’s major religions, but one commandment is comparatively clear in all versions of the Bible. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” the wording in the King James Version, is a theme of both the Old and New Testaments. This week’s clergy discuss what that commandment meant in ancient times, and how it translates to our modern era.

The Rev. Thomas Humphrey

Elder, Grace Community Church, Amityville

A false god, also known as an idol, is any person, object or activity you give a higher priority in your life than a relationship with God, the Lord Jesus Christ. It can be your home, your car, your children, your wife, your money, which you give a higher priority than God. What do I mean when I say you put things higher than God in your relationship? I mean that in your heart they are more important to you than God, in time, in thought and in deed. You feel in your heart that you can’t live without them. Sometimes you say in your heart, “I can’t exist without them.” You say in your heart, “I love them more than God.” That is a false god. As Paul says in Galatians 4:8, “Before you Gentiles knew God; you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist.”

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Rabbi Shimon Stillerman

Chabad of Islip Township

Another way of asking this question is “what is idol worship today?” We believe that the Torah is timeless, and whatever said then at Mount Sinai surely applies today. Now, I don’t wake up with a burning desire to worship a stone or golden statue. So what is idol worship today? As much as I constantly talk about God, and God’s involvement in my life, I find that most people don’t. In today’s society people are very focused on their health and wealth. We all strive to be successful, to be wealthy. We all want to eat right and exercise regularly. The trends of exercise and health food are booming. However, there is a thin line here, where we believe that our wealth and health are completely dependent on ourselves, and it’s only in our hands, that we need no blessings from God. “My strength and the might of my hand has accumulated this wealth for me” (Deuteronomy 8:17). History shows us that we can’t do it on our own; total self-reliance is false. How many people have worked to amass large personal fortunes, only to see it disappear due to circumstances beyond their control. Others who monitor their health meticulously are unfortunately still not immune to disease. I’m not saying you should stop working, and down a liter of Coke. God wants you to do your part in creating the vessel for a long, successful and healthy life. Just don’t believe in yourself as a false idol. So, the next time you get on the LIRR at 5 a.m. and drink Kambucha, remember that it’s not all in your hands, and say a little prayer to God.

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The Rev. Thomas W. Goodhue

Minister, Executive Director of the Long Island Council of Churches

Much of the Old Testament and the New Testament are about this question. Basically, Christianity would say — and I believe many other religions would also say — that putting your ultimate trust in anything other than God means that you are worshipping a false god. This includes putting your ultimate trust in power, money and your ability to solve all problems by yourself. Trusting entirely in your own abilities to do everything yourself without any help from others, including God, is a sign that you have turned yourself into a false god. If you really think that you are perfect and that you never make mistakes, you are deluding yourself. In the Bible, one thing is clear in almost all translations of the Ten Commandments, and that is the commandment that says, do not put other gods before me. What the Hebrews were being told and what they taught the best of the world was that you can’t manipulate God, and doing a fertility right does not guarantee a good harvest. Or that, as they say in Islam, God is greater than any one of us. There was a musical a few years ago that was about that. It was called “Your Arms Too Short to Box with God.” The message is that God is beyond our power to control. Any time you think you have found a way to control everything in the world and the universe, you are following a false god. Many Christians like to recite the phrase “God is good all the time,” to which I add, “you and I aren’t.” We might strive for perfection, but any religious tradition that says you have already reached it, means you are following a false god.