Daily Riches: Nonconformity to Idolatry (Robert McAfee Brown and Abraham Heschel)

“Religion begins as a breaking off, as a going away. It continues in acts of nonconformity to idolatry.” Abraham Heschel

“In the eyes of their contemporaries, the prophets were mad. Hosea, Elisha, and Jeremiah were all considered demented, individuals who …should be put ‘in the stocks and collars.’ (Heschel) “We call people ‘mad’ when they see things from a perspective different from our own. We have a vested interest in doing so, for it they are right, we are wrong. Since we do not gladly entertain the notion that we are wrong, we are more than ready to denounce such people as crazy, mad fools. To be sure, the prophets do engage in some very strange activities: they call kings to account for injustice, which is a very unhealthy things to do in a royal society; they excoriate religious leaders for being co-opted, which is equally unhealthy in a society that allows religious leaders to deal with their own deviants; they announce the fulfillment of God’s will through pagan leaders, which is considered unpatriotic by leaders of both church and state….” Robert McAfee Brown

“If the prophets Isaiah and Amos were to appear in our midst, would they accept the corruption in high places, the indifferent way in which the sick, the poor, and the old are treated? …Would they not be standing amidst those who protest against the war in Vietnam, the decay of our cities, the hypocrisy and falsehood that surround our present Administration, even at the highest levels?” Heschel (1979)

“O my people, your leaders mislead you;
they send you down the wrong road….”
Isaiah  3:12b

 Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • In what areas do political or religious leaders today need to be “called to account for injustice?”
  • Would voices of dissent more likely originate inside or outside traditional structures like your church? Do you think such critics would fare better in our day than prophets like Jeremiah did in his?
  • Are there prophets today? If so, have you dismissed them as outliers? as those who should be “in stocks and collars?”
  • How will you avoid reflexively rejecting criticism from those “with a perspective different than ours?” …who may be offering a divine perspective?

O Lord, we confess our sins, we are ashamed of the inadequacy of our anguish, of how faint and slight is our mercy. We are a generation that has lost the capacity for outrage. (Heschel)

For More: Saying Yes and Saying No by Robert McAfee Brown


These “Daily Riches” are for your encouragement as you seek God and he seeks you. I hope you’ll follow and share my blog. My goal is to share something of unique value with you daily in 400 words or less. I appreciate your interest!  –  Bill (Psalm 90:14)

3 thoughts on “Daily Riches: Nonconformity to Idolatry (Robert McAfee Brown and Abraham Heschel)

  1. So, I try to look at this from the angle you are suggesting….how would I look at those prophets among us today? You are correct I would probably label them “crazy”, which means I need to take a look at myself…….but it also leaves me with the question how would I want someone to approach me? I think I might respond to someone that simply talked to me, and actually got down into “my trenches”. What if someone came over and helped me weed my garden, without asking for pay? Made my day a little bit easier, then sat outside with a glass of water and talked with me about where I am at spiritually, without screaming on a street corner. I am not sure, but I think I might respond more to a friendship….


    • You raise good questions Laura, and I think what you’re saying especially applies to doing evangelism or just trying to show God’s love to someone. Also true that we can easily miss them today because they seem strange, have atypical backgrounds or stories, or … and perhaps most of all, in our day, it seems everyone sees themselves as “prophetic” – especially in social media – strident, vociferous, grasping for attention. Maybe today’s prophets are quiet, the overlooked ones praying and working for peace and forgiveness.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s