The Collecting Christian Part I: Idolatry

Picture taken from: http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v237/poisonivory2/caps/shrine.png

Picture taken from: http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v237/poisonivory2/caps/shrine.png

Overview:

One day while praying on my lunch break I had the idea to do this series of articles on being a Christian who collects things. The purpose of this series isn’t to condemn anyone who collects, but to simply explore some possible pitfalls that we may come across with being both Christians and collectors. While this could probably be extended to a much larger degree (Hey, there are probably books on the subject for all I know), I’m going to focus on four areas that came to mind:

1) Idolatry

2) Greed

3) Covetousness

4) Earthly Treasure/Heavenly Treasure

I plan to do a separate article for each and ask that comments remain relevant to the particular articles’ focus; in other words, please discuss idolatry on the idolatry article and greed on the greed article, not vice versa. That being said…

Idolatry

“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.3 “You must not have any other god but me. – Exodus 20: 2-3 (NLT) (1)

Typically, I would quote from the NIV but I chose the NLT this time because of the wording (no translation wars, please; that is not the point of this article). Simply put, a lot of translations seem to use the phrasing “you shall have no other gods before me” in some capacity. While the meaning may be the same as the above, it leaves open the possible (mis)interpretation that, so long as we worship God first and foremost, it’s okay if we are a bit worshippy towards other things. As I understand it, that’s not the case, and the meaning is as above: God is to be our only God, period. This may or may not be common sense, but an idol is, essentially, something we worship other than God. It does not have to be a stone statue of some pagan deity to count. Ultimately, anything that takes a place in our hearts or lives that should only belong to God becomes an idol. I am certainly no expert on the criteria for something becoming an “idol,” but I’ll take my best shot and hope that you fine readers will contribute your thoughts in the comments section.

So, let’s get the obvious out of the way: if you’re bowing down to it, singing praises to it, and other things that you would typically associate with straight-up worship, then you’re treating it like an idol. Do people do this with their collections? Maybe not quite so obviously, but I think the following image may very well qualify:

Picture taken from: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_JZJKUMesReE/TNwRhvVuJAI/AAAAAAAAAi8/z2Bf0aynuHI/s640/otaku-celebrate-birthday-of-azusa-nakano-010.jpg

Picture taken from: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_JZJKUMesReE/TNwRhvVuJAI/AAAAAAAAAi8/z2Bf0aynuHI/s640/otaku-celebrate-birthday-of-azusa-nakano-010.jpg

If this is what I expect it to be, then it is a picture of a fan celebrating the “birthday” of K-On! character, Azusa. Now, I’m quite a fan of K-On!. I have figures of the characters (including Azusa), as well as the blu-rays of the show and (most) of the manga, but there is a fine line between appreciating a character (or a series) and being infatuated with them–a line we may all very well cross at times, whether we realize it or not. Now, granted, I cannot judge the spirit behind what this person is doing, so I can’t definitively say the person who did this is guilty of idolatry, but I think this is certainly an idea of what idolatry of a collection could look like. At the very least, it could be argued that this person is venerating a fictitious character enough to observe her birthday.

Let’s get a little more obscure, shall we? What if our collection starts taking up more time or money than God? Does that make it an idol? I think it’s easier to make the case for money. If you tithe on your income (that’s 10%, in case you’re unaware), then do you spend more on your particular collection than you tithe? Personally, I see this as hard to do unless you are a hardcore collector. Let’s crunch some numbers for a moment:

For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to say I make $30,000 a year. That means that my tithe to God would be $3,000 a year. Let’s take my hobby as a gamer and compare it to that. Even if I bought a PS4 and then bought a $60 game at the time of purchase, and then another game each month for the rest of the year, I would only spend $1119.99 total on that game collection a year–a significantly less amount than my tithe. How does money relate to idolatry? I would argue that, since our money ultimately comes from God, then we should probably make sure to honor Him with it first. Now, the argument could be made that God only asks for 10% back, and then we can do with the 90% what we will. Debate that if you will, but let’s not forget that we have other responsibilities besides our collections: bills, food, home and car maintenance, etc., and we are stewards of all these things that God has given us. Even if God has given us that 90% to do with as we wish, we are still responsible for caring for the other things He has placed in our care. If our collections or hobbies get in the way of this, then we have to ask ourselves what we are valuing more: our stewardship of God’s goods, or our own personal collections. The whole issue of spending on collections versus giving to God gets a little more muddy for someone, like me, who has multiple things he collects: should I apply my rule as a collective rule to the total sum of my collections, or should I just make sure that no one collection gets more money spent on it than what I give in tithes?

Time is a little more tricky for me, and let me explain why. The obvious thing here is that, if you are ultimately sacrificing time that you would have spent with God for the sake of your collecting, then you are breaching idolatry territory because you are willingly avoiding God to sink time into this collection of yours. I do not know that I would go so far as to say that spending more time with your collection than with God immediately equals idolatry, though. Simply put, if we spend three hours with God only so we can justify spending two hours working on our collections, then what is the true status of our hearts? Didn’t we just essentially use God so we can justify what we wanted to do? On the other hand, if we only spend thirty minutes with God while spending more time working on our collections, but that time with God sets our direction for the day and causes us to reflect on His word even when we’re spending time doing other things, then I would argue that God is still the most important thing to us. I may be using this out of context (please correct me if I am), but Oswald Chambers has a quote that I think is applicable here:

“It is not the thing we spend the most time on that moulds us most; the greatest element is the thing that exerts most power. We must determine to be limited and concentrate our affinities.”(2)

Simply put: does God or our collection exert the most power over us?

While this could inevitably go on, I’ll close with a question that can probably be assumed from things already said: what holds the place of prominence in our hearts?

We can offer God all of the religious language and body poses we want, but if our hearts are ultimately consumed with our collections–if we’re worshipping God in church or at home, and all we can think about is when we can get home to our stuff–then we have us an idol. Ultimately, if we love our collections more than God–if God is just an obstacle we must get through in order to spend more time on our collections, rather than the One we give thanks to for allowing us to enjoy these things–then our collection is our god, and we have exchanged the glory of God for an idol. Can any of us truly say that we never slip into idolatry with our collections? To that, I must simply say that I don’t know. It’s certainly a question that I constantly ask myself, particularly in the area of videogames. While I have no problem going without playing a game, I certainly prefer being able to play over not being able to play. Is it idolatrous to get excited over our collections or the thought of our collections–perhaps, even, over the thought of adding to our collections? Again, I don’t know, although I suppose it would have something to do in part with how much emphasis we put on these things.

I previously admitted that this whole topic could certainly be fleshed out more, and that includes each individual area. I am certainly no expert on idols, and this article is really just a reflection from things that I know/have learned/etc. We could probably discuss this for years and still have new thoughts coming in. That being said, I welcome any and all comments and thoughts that you may have. Some questions you may like to consider:

1) Do you have a collection?
2) If so, how do you keep it from becoming an idol?
3) Is it just too dangerous for a Christian to have a collection of anything?

Of course, you’re not limited to those questions at all. Sound off below!

Resources:

(1) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Exodus+20&version=NLT

(2) http://utmost.org/classic/don%E2%80%99t-slack-off-classic/

Background image taken from: http://th06.deviantart.net/fs44/PRE/i/2009/134/a/e/Mecha_Model_Collection_by_yukikaze07.jpg

Rob M.

Christian, anime fan, and gamer are a few words you could use to describe me. I've been a Christian since 2012 (and thought I was one prior to that), although I'm far from having the Christian walk down pat. At one point I started thinking about how I could use various things for Christ, and eventually put my thoughts to action, resulting in Cosplay for Christ (my attempt at a cosplay ministry) and Christian Anime Review (my review blog). As you can imagine, I enjoy playing games, watching anime, and going to anime conventions. I also like to build Gundam models, fiddle with the guitar (occasionally), and listen to music (mostly Christian rock and metal).

14 Comments

  1. Teodoro Garcia on May 22, 2020 at 11:38 pm

    This a cool article. I am Shogun Warrior collector and Godzilla and made wondered if my collection was ok. Yes I agree it can lead you to idolatry, thanks

  2. Rebekah Hiatt on March 6, 2020 at 5:24 am

    Hello, my name is Rebekah. I came across this and I’ve got to say I feel like I’ve been battling for the past few weeks. I love God first and foremost and I’m married. Have a son as well. I happen to love watching anime to the point I started collecting manga and then got into light novel reading. As a downtime I know it’s not a bad thing. But I know if it interferes with spending time with God, and like you said, taking up alot of money, then yeah it becomes an idol. So my struggle is should I let my light novels go especially if it’s going before God? Would love to hear your thoughts ????

  3. Codename Zell on February 7, 2020 at 1:14 pm

    Thanks for posting this article. My pondering of this led me to here. I have reflected on this same idea for a long time since I have reconnected with Christ. I have actively avoided trading card games/collection games that I used to play a lot such as Yu-gi-oh and Pokemon, because I can’t enjoy playing them without obsessing over them and investing large sums of time and money in them. It sucks, because I know how much these collections and trading card games have contributed to having met many of the friends that I have strong bonds with now. It almost feels like a betrayal at times, but ultimately I have found it to be wiser in the long run to not participate when my friends offer. After a few offers, my friends back off with understanding and we continue as the great friends that we have always been.

    I don’t think that it is dangerous for Christians to have collection as long as they keep from obsessing and can resist spending too much time and money into it. If it starts to consume a persons life then it is better to throw them all away and stop engaging in such games. Matthew 18:7-9 NIV says “(v7)Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! (v8) If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. (v9) And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.” I used to justify my obsession by saying things like “the game is good at teaching strategy, logic, and reason skills.” Well the same benefits can probably more so be obtained from games such as chess which is inexpensive and requires less time and so the benefit from trading card games do not out weigh the amount of my energy and focus that it takes away from my relationship with Christ. If I want the benefits that trading card/collection games offer then I can play something that requires less “soul investment.”

    This is true for me, but may not be true for other Christians who play these games. In fact chess can later become an idol if someone obsesses to much into it as well. It is the task of each of us to search our heart for the answers about the effect of our personal hobbies on our relationship with Christ.

    • Rebekah Hiatt on March 6, 2020 at 5:29 am

      This helps loads. Thank you for sharing! Been having a book light novel collection going and I may have to reconsider getting rid of most of them. ???? It’s gonna be hard.

  4. desa mari on October 16, 2015 at 4:44 am

    Hi. I googled “idolatry vs anime (addiction)” and came across this article.
    For a backdrop, I spend much of my spare time (off work) watching anime, reading manga and/ or planning what new anime-related items to buy.
    (And, of course, I am spending money for these things.)
    I am much concerned now of my addiction to anime and how it might affect my relationship with God.
    I can say that my addiction can be called idolatry, I admit that, and even if I try, I keep on coming back to how addicted I was before and sometimes gets even worse.
    You know the feeling when after a long time of enduring, you would not be able to contain the thirst for anime and when you start watching one episode (as you have planned) you would find yourself addicted again and wanting for more?
    Jeez~
    That has always been my problem.

  5. GLFighter on September 22, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    Hi, while I may not be a follower of God and I have not experienced grace of God yet, amybe due to my pride or simply my laziness (please, do not condemn me), I absolutely agree with you. Whether you have a faith or not, letting becoming your hobby your idol is dangerous.
    I remeber being obssesed with collecting all comicbooks and when I was spending extertraordinary amount of money on it.
    Yet for some reason, I have not found any hapiness in it. I was constantly tired of trying finding rare pieces which I only tried to find to impress other with my collection. So basicly, I was buying things I didn’t need, for money I didn’t had, to impress people I didn’t liked.
    I have abandoned this style of life. Do I sitll read and buy comics, collect figures, just manny other geeks? Sure, but I’m trying to be less and less controled by my hobby. I’m rarely buying expensive stuff (the best record is less 70 dollars spended on my hobby per year) and I’m trying to have self-control over myself. After all, these things, while fun and all, should not eb in control. I started to prefer simplier things like rather having fun, hapiness and good memories on trips with my friend, that materialistic possesion, which while nice, will not make me happy…unleast not entirely. And giving money to people who need it more than I do, certainly helps too.

  6. Michael M. on September 14, 2014 at 3:18 am

    Great stuff here Rob. I agree, my hobbies that take up my time that I’ve had to stop doing have even been music to anime to video games. I would spend hours upon hours whether playing a game, watching an anime, or making my playlists “perfect” for when I’m driving or out and about. Thanks for writing this, and I will keep myself open and aware of anything that is taking my time from God in worship/prayer/study of His word.

  7. Annalyn on September 13, 2014 at 10:57 pm

    I appreciate this post, and actually, I was just reflecting on a similar topic in my journal. I’m reading Augustine’s Confessions for class, and he seems very single-minded in his approach to God, and examines everything he enjoys, to make sure he isn’t pursuing it unduly–including smells and tastes! It will take me a while to process his apparently radical approach. Not sure how he’d feel about these aspects of geekdom. I don’t collect figures (my entertainment/hobby budget is slim), but there are other things I have to watch out for. I ask myself, “Do I treasure and worship God as I should? Or have other things taken precedence?” Usually, the “other things” I have to confess about aren’t a single hobby like anime-watching. Instead, I realize I’ve pursued too much passing pleasure in general, including not only anime, but also attention from the internet on my blog/Tumblr/Twitter/etc., as well as any low-energy distraction that keeps me and my brain out of service–to God or to anyone else.

  8. Nas Helewa on September 11, 2014 at 4:10 am

    I’ve struggled with this for years. Close to 40, to be exact. As a lifelong Christian AND geek, with a definite predilection for collecting, I’ve certainly gone overboard more times than I’d like to admit, often being convicted by the Holy Spirit that my time and treasure are being misspent. You make great points – Do I then try to “pay” for my time wasted by somehow being more devotional for a season, just to justify my personal preferences? I’ve done that – The HS doesn’t fall for it.

    I think you hit the nail on the head – Listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Creativity and imagination are good things, and for myself, I find that my collections help me enjoy creativity. I collect action figures (GI Joe and He-Man and others) and each character has a story, which is what I find most appealing. I do think that age and continued prayer on the matter yields results in the heart, and I do believe it when we are told “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” As I realize the impermanence of “the world” and learn to trust God’s promises more and more, it becomes easier and easier to have a healthy relationship with my collections, and even begin to realize that they don’t hold the same appeal as they once did, which I thought would be a sad day. It isn’t however, when the old appeal is replaced with a peace, and greater love for God.

    Ultimately, can we say we are like Paul, who said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” That secret, of course, was his peace in Christ. We should pray that when and if brought to that day when our collections are gone or lost, or we see a need that must be met which may limit our own pleasures (As we know them, in this case, collecting…), we too can know his “secret”, and be content.

  9. Drew Koehler on September 10, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    A very convincing article Rob! Thank you! I too collect things and can see the dangers. I especially liked what you said about the money you spend. That was very profound!!!

  10. Casey Covel on September 10, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    I’m a collector, mainly of videogame figurines, and this is certainly a temptation that’s easy to fall into. It’s a time-consuming hobby, especially when you’re searching for rare pieces. I’ve found that one way to keep it out of “idol” territory is to limit your spending budget each month; for example, spend a limit of $50 per month on figurines. Especially with eBay, it can be tempting to snatch up killer deals when you see them. Unfortunately, that can become an obsession and hurt your budget, too.

    I think a lot has to do with “heart-attitude.” I like the example you made about spending 30-minutes in God’s Word and having it set the mood for your entire day. If that’s what you feel convicted by the Holy Spirit to do, and still feel free to collect and enjoy, that’s fine. I think it’s important to pay attention to the warnings of the Holy Spirit, though. If something feels overboard–like we’re getting in too deep–it will always tell us.

    That picture of the birthday celebration does seem rather overboard, though there’s a good chance it’s done out of humor or simply self-acknowledged nerdiness. In the past, I’ve hosted entire nerd-themed days featuring food, entertainment, and activities based on a particular franchise. It’s a lot of fun to do, especially around notable, franchise-based dates. That being said, it’s all in good fun, much like a special holiday. I think if you’re partaking in such activities out of utter infatuation with a character or franchise, it might be time to re-examine your standing with God in order to make sure he hasn’t taken second priority.

    • Rob M. on September 10, 2014 at 3:17 pm

      Yeah, I know I can’t say with any honesty that I know the true intentions of the person doing that. It just made me think of an offering, with all the figurines and the cake in the middle.

  11. Shawn Bain on September 10, 2014 at 2:45 pm

    Great article, Rob!

    I do collect, and I appreciate this insight into how to keep my collecting from entering idol territory. It can be very easy to do.

    • Rob M. on September 10, 2014 at 2:56 pm

      Thanks, Shawn! While I do suspect that I have a gift for teaching, I don’t know that I really consider myself knowledgeable enough or adequate enough to truly lead people away from idolatry. As you said, it can be easy to slip in to, and I wonder if many of us don’t do it without even realizing it. Like I said, I don’t know when something truly slips into ” idol” territory–the article covers what I think are some more obvious points, but when we get into some more obscure things (such as being daily committed to God and not your collection, but feeling more emotional excitement towards your collection as opposed to your time with God), I’d be hard-pressed to make a judgement call as to whether that’s idolatry or not.

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