Rightly or wrongly, when I was a child in school, I was taught that in 1492 Columbus discovered America. We were always learning about great discoverers, but they never included the one who discovered God.
According to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, it was a discovery made a few thousand years ago by a nomadic Mesopotamian shepherd called Abraham at least that was the beginning of the discovery, for the discovery of the one God was a long, gradual process.
Abraham lived in a society where the existence of many gods was taken for granted. From his point of view, he was called by a god who promised great things to him in exchange for his special worship.
Isaac reverenced this same family god as the God of Abraham; Jacob, in turn, worshiped the God of Abraham and Isaac.
When Moses sought to know how he should identify the god who spoke to him on Sinai, he was told it was The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.
Moses, too, grew up in a world of many gods, but his great insight the great revelation he received was that they were all of no account compared to the God of his fathers.
The God of Moses demanded exclusive worship: You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves you shall not bow down before them or worship them.
It was not until centuries later that the prophet Isaiah taught that other gods were not only of no account but that they did not even exist.
We are the heirs of these great discoverers; their insights should be our precious inheritance. Alas, it isnt so.
In practice, worship of family, clan, tribal and national gods still continues in our modern world although it isnt called by that name.
For example, in parts of the Middle East honor demands that a sexual misadventure by a woman be punished by her family with death. This is placing family honor before God and his revealed will.
A few years ago in Rwanda, Catholic Hutus and Tutsis slaughtered each other for no better reason than tribal dominance clan loyalties were more important than God.
The world still remembers the horrors wrought by Hitlers National Socialism in the name of Aryan purity. What a jealous idol Nazism was, for millions of believers were killed in its name.
Even though Christian communities flourished in southern India before classical Brahmanism was established there, extreme Indian nationalists forbid conversions to Christianity because it is a foreign religion. For them, the nation must be placed over all.
And you and I, what idols do we worship possessions, security, health, esteem, power? If we carve anything out of life and make it our overriding value, we betray the greatest discovery of all the loving God.
Msgr. Archimandrite Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA