What do you worship? You may be a dedicated atheist, but as the philosophers have said pretty much forever, we all worship something. We all have treasures we want to attain.
Each person has an ultimate aim, a goal, something they desire more than anything else. Whether it be a comfortable life, a set of professional achievements, or even a personal relationship, we can all be said to worship—or assign ultimate worth—to one or more of those aims:
A person will worship something—have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts—but it will out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Man is made to adore and obey; but … if you give him nothing to worship, he will fashion his own divinities and find a chieftain in his own passions. – Disraeli
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes you are
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody. – Bob Dylan
… he who worships God for worldly goods, worships not God; he worships what he worships God for and employs God as his servant. – Meister Eckhart
Surely religion is the worship of the true; superstition of the false. And what makes all the difference is what you worship, not how you worship. – Lactantius
Normally, though, we reserve the word worship for the love of God and its human expression in prayer or music or some other form of devotion. That’s just one way the Baha’i teachings define it:
Worship none but God, and, with radiant hearts, lift up your faces unto your Lord, the Lord of all names. – Baha’u’llah, The Most Holy Book, p. 48.
What, O people! Do ye worship the dust, and turn away from your Lord, the Gracious, the All-Bountiful? – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 104.
But in today’s society, people worship lots of other things: sports teams, celebrities, nations, political figures, ideologies and even consumer brands. Some people worship status, success, fame, money, nature or physical beauty.
Sociologists have written extensively about this modern transference of worshipfulness, discovering as Disraeli did that it may come from an innate, inner human drive to devote our lives to something larger than ourselves. Perhaps that explains why, combined with the increasing lack of religion in some cultures, many people in contemporary society worship the idols they themselves have created—whatever has become most important in our lives. Instead of worshipping God, we substitute other earthly things—as Baha’u’llah so poetically put it, we worship the dust. If we have our hearts set on material things, or on relationships or achievements destined to fade away and mean nothing over time, we worship something ephemeral and temporary. Every student of history knows that this has happened before:
In brief, Moses … founded the law of God, purified the morals of the people of Israel and gave them an impetus toward nobler and higher attainments. But after the departure of Moses, following the decline of the glory of Solomon’s era and during the reign of Jeroboam there came a great change in this nation. The high ethical standards and spiritual perfections ceased to exist. Conditions and morals became corrupt, religion was debased, and the perfect principles of the Mosaic law were obscured in superstition and polytheism. War and strife arose among the tribes, and their unity was destroyed. The followers of Jeroboam declared themselves rightful and valid in kingly succession, and the supporters of Rehoboam made the same claim. Finally, the tribes were torn asunder by hostility and hatred, the glory of Israel was eclipsed, and so complete was the degradation that a golden calf was set up as an object of worship in the city of Tyre. Thereupon God sent Elijah, the prophet, who redeemed the people, renewed the law of God and established an era of new life for Israel. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 406-407.
That cautionary metaphor, called “The Sin of the Calf”—the story from Exodus about the worshipful veneration of the Golden Calf—aptly describes the contemporary urge to worship materialistic idols like wealth, fame or worldly achievement. The Book of Mathew personified this tendency with Mammon, the Biblical symbol for greed and materialism:
… where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. – Matthew 6:19–21, 24.
Every Faith, including the Baha’i Faith, warns us against this human inclination to substitute anything material for that which lasts forever; to barter away the pure gold of eternal life for a mere trinket:
O friend, the heart is the dwelling of eternal mysteries, make it not the home of fleeting fancies; waste not the treasure of thy precious life in employment with this swiftly passing world. Thou comest from the world of holiness—bind not thine heart to the earth; thou art a dweller in the court of nearness—choose not the homeland of the dust. – Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 35.
O Son of Being! If thine heart be set upon this eternal, imperishable dominion, and this ancient, everlasting life, forsake this mortal and fleeting sovereignty. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 16.
By calling us to the eternal world of the soul, the Baha’i teachings ask us to worship only God:
Know that thy true adornment consisteth in the love of God and in thy detachment from all save Him, and not in the luxuries thou dost possess. Abandon them unto those who seek after them and turn unto God, He Who causeth the rivers to flow. – Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 61.