In his first general audience after taking a month-long summer break, Pope Francis issued a strong message against idol worship, pointing specifically to tarot card or palm readings in order to see the future, calling the practice “an idolatry of our times.”
The pope opened his Aug. 1 audience with a direct question to attendees, asking, “how many of you go to pray with tarot cards to see your future? How many of you go to get your hands read to see your future, instead of praying to God?”
Fortune tellers are a common sight in Rome, with men and women often set up in stalls on the city’s streets, using Tarot cards and offering palm readings to passersby.
“God is living, the rest [of these] are idols, and they aren’t useful,” he said.
Francis, who continued a new series of catechesis on the ten commandments, focused specifically on the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.”
Idolatry is a “human tendency” affecting both believers and non-believers alike, he said, adding that it is a “constant temptation of the faith” and consists of “divinizing that which is not God.”
On an existential level, a “god” is the center of a person’s life, and is what guides a person’s thoughts and behaviors, he said, noting that even if a person grows up in a nominally Christian home, their point of reference for life in reality is “foreign to the Gospel.”
Pointing to the Greek root of the word “idol,” which comes from the verb “to see,” Francis said idol worship can be described as “a vision which becomes a fixation, an obsession.”
“The idol is actually the projection of oneself into objects or projects,” he said, explaining that this dynamic is often used in advertising, since ads for a car or a smartphone have nothing to do with the objects themselves, but rather, “they are a means of realizing and responding to my essential needs.”
The thought of owning that object, then, can become “an obsession” and can be seen as a “tower to heaven” and a path to happiness.
Idols, today as in the past, demand sacrifices, the pope said. Noting how in ancient times human sacrifices were made, he said the same thing happens today when parents, for the sake of their career, “sacrifice their children, neglecting them or simply not having them.”
Beauty and fame can also turn into idols, leading to the “immolation of oneself, of one’s own innocence and authenticity,” he said, stressing that “idols ask for blood.”
Referring to the dangers of an idolatrous worship of money, he said an exaggerated desire for wealth “steals life.” Economic structures often “sacrifice human life for greater profits,” he said, and pointed to businessmen who either cut employee contracts or who give workers contracts for only part of the year in order to save more money.
He also pointed to the widespread drug use among youth, which can also become an idol. “How many young people ruin their health, lose their lives, worshiping this idol of drugs?” he asked, and urged pilgrims to ask themselves which idols they worship in their own lives.
“Idols enslave. They promise happiness, but they do not give it; and we find ourselves living for that vision, caught in that self-destructive vortex,” he said. “Idols promise life, but in reality, they take it.”
The true God, he said, does not ask for one’s life, but offers his own as a gift. “The true God does not offer a projection of our success, but teaches us to love,” whereas idols steal love.
“Recognizing one’s idols is the beginning of grace, and it puts us on the path to love,” Francis said, and closed his address stressing that the attachment to an object or idea “blinds us to love,” so in order to truly love, “one must be free from idols.”