Five Stages of Idolatry

by[deleted]10y25th Jul 200916 comments


We all have heroes or idols, people we look up to and turn to, in one form or another, for guidance or wisdom. Over the years, I've noticed that my feelings towards those I've idolized tend to follow a predictable pattern. The following is the extraction of this pattern.

Stage 1: Exposure - you're exposed to the idol through some channel. Maybe something you read, or someone you know, or simply by chance. You begin to learn about them, and you become intrigued. If it's an author, maybe you pick up one of his books. If it's a group, maybe you check out their website. You begin to gradually absorb what the idol is offering. They don't actually become an idol though, until...
Stage 2: Resonance - after enough exposure, what the idol offers begins to strike a chord with you. You go on to ravenously consume everything related to it. You track down every one of the authors publications, or spend hours staring at all of an artists' paintings. As far as I can tell what's important here isn't actually the content of what the idol offers, but that feeling of resonance it engenders.
Step 3: Incorporation - the idol has become one of the lenses through which you view the world. Everyone and everything is compared to the idol, and everyone invariable comes up short (raise your hand if you've ever thought about someone "Well, they're pretty smart, but not as smart as Eliezer"). You change your lifestyle to be more like them, to think more like them. It's as if they have all aspects of life figured out, and you follow along in the hopes that you will reach their same understanding. The most fervent support of the idol lies here.
Step 4: Backlash - you start to realize that the idol does not, in fact, provide the answers to all of life's questions. That they might be wrong about some things, or that their specific offering does not apply to all life's situations. You've changed yourself to emulate the idol, and you realize that perhaps not all those changes were for the better. Paradoxically, the blame for this gets placed on the idol instead of you. Feelings toward it shift from worship to antipathy.
Step 5: Re-incorporation - after enough time has been spent hating the idol, you come to realize, if only subconsciously, that the fault lies not in the idol, but in your worship. The cycle ends with a more reserved incorporation of what the idol does offer, along with the realization of what it doesn't. The idol ceases to be an idol, and becomes another earthly entity, complete with faults.
Of course, the sample size I'm working with is one - this may be a general feature of humans, or simply nuances of my individual brain. If I had to bet though, my money would lie with the general feature - it's happened to me many different times of the years, with my brain in many different stages of development. And I suspect I've seen others in various stages of this (though I have no way of knowing, really.)
Looking at the above stages, worship seems to mirror the progression of infectious disease. Exposure leads to an infection, which then spreads throughout the body. At this point, the body mounts a counterattack, and produces masses of white blood cells to fight off the infection. The infection is expunged, the white blood cells return to normal levels, and you're left with antibodies which contribute to a more complete immune system.
The problem with this isn't so much that it isn't rational per se - taking new evidence and updating our beliefs until they converge on the 'right' answer seems to be exactly the sort of thing we should be doing. The problem is how long it can take to get through them. In the past it's taken me years to get through step five after encountering something new, and true believers in something seem to reach step three and then just stay in it. But we should be updating our beliefs as quickly as possible, not languishing with the wrong answer for huge chunks of our lives.
So my question to the community is twofold:
1) Is this something that happens to you?
2) Assuming this is a basic mental process that can't be just turned off, how can we cycle through it faster, so we can more quickly reach accurate beliefs?
For my part, simply recognizing that this cycle exists seems like it's reduced both it's duration, and the extremes I swing to in each direction. But I'm curious if I can do better.