Objects of passion

I visited the British Museum last week.  To my shame it was the first time that I had been to this amazing storehouse of anthropological objects. The museum tells the story of countless cultures, tribes and nations through the exhibition of objects. The former curator of the museum, Neil MacGregor inspired a series on Radio 4 called ‘The History of the World in 100 Objects’, retelling the history of human development from the first stone axe to the credit card.

This credit card exemplifies the global nature of modern finance.

Later this month he is following up that series with a new contribution called ‘Living with the Gods,’ exploring the role and expression of beliefs in lives and communities through time and around the world. MacGregor believes that questions of faith have, in recent decades, moved to the centre of the global political stage. MacGregor believes there is a rich religious ancestry across cultures and is still evident today. He believes that, “homo sapiens is also ‘homo religiosus’.”

The Lion Man. Stadel Cave, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, 40,000 years old. The oldest known evidence of religious belief in the world.

What is your favourite object, do you own it? Can you give it away? What does this object tell the world about you? What connections does this object make between you and your faith and your life in the community in which you live? Think of this treasured object now. Think of it before you, the reasons why you love it so much. Now picture yourself giving it away. How hard is that? Is it perhaps a difficult experience, or is it in some way, liberating? We will all react in different ways to this. In what way do possessions have a hold over us? The objects we love, tell a story about us, they describe something that words might not. They give us identity and, maybe, even recognition.

However, if the objects we love become objects of desire, they become idolatrous, paying more attention to our self-obsession, making icons out of idols and idols out of icons. The cult of personality has grown exponentially in the last 50 years. The ambition of many is to become famous without understanding where that fame may lead. At the heart of Jesus’ teaching is the call to repentance, revealing a new understanding that the objects of our desire – money, cars, houses – are simply covetous, illusory things which negate belief, faith and social harmony. Recognising God as the source of “all good things around us”- and not ourselves – is what it is to be fully human.

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Author: Gavin Knight

The Revd Gavin Knight has been the Vicar of St Michael & All Angels, Summertown in the Oxford Diocese since September 2011. After serving his title at St Alphege, Solihull, Gavin became parish priest of St Andrew's Fulham Fields in London. He moved to Wales in 2005 becoming Chaplain to Monmouth School. He is married to Jo, a clinical psychologist, and they have three sons.