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  • Counterfeit Gods


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  • A l s o b y T i m o T h y K e l l e r

    The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism

    The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith


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  • Counterfeit Gods

    The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters

    timothy keller



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  • duttonPublished by Penguin Group (u.S.A) Inc.

    375 Hudson Street, new York, new York 10014, u.S.A.Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, toronto, on-tario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.); Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England; Penguin Ireland, 25 St

    Stephens Green, dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd); Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd); Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, new delhi110 017, India; Penguin Group (nZ), 67 Apollo drive, Rosedale, north Shore 0632, new Zealand (a

    division of Pearson new Zealand Ltd); Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

    Penguin Books Ltd, Registered offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

    Published by dutton, a member of Penguin Group (u.S.A) Inc.

    First printing, october 200910 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

    Copyright 2009 by timothy KellerAll rights reserved



    ISBn 978-0-525-95136-0

    Printed in the united States of AmericaSet in ItC Galliard

    designed by Leonard telesca

    Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copy-right owner and the above publisher of this book.

    the scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the authors rights is appreciated.

    While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone num-bers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.


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  • to my sons,david, Michael, and Jonathan,who can detect the counterfeit


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  • [vii ]


    Introduction: The Idol Factory ix

    one All Youve Ever Wanted 1

    Two Love Is not All You need 22

    Three Money Changes Everything 48

    four the Seduction of Success 72

    five the Power and the Glory 97

    six the Hidden Idols in our Lives 126

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  • seven the End of Counterfeit Gods 154

    Epilogue: Finding and Replacing Your Idols 165

    Notes 178

    Bibliography 206

    Acknoweldgments 207


    [viii ]


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  • [ix ]

    IntroductionThe Idol FacTory

    There are more idols in the world than there are realities.

    Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

    A Strange Melancholy

    After the global economic crisis began in mid- 2008, there followed a tragic string of suicides of formerly wealthy and well-connected individuals. the acting chief financial officer of Freddie Mac, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, hanged himself in his basement. the chief executive of Shel-don Good, a leading u.S. real estate auction firm, shot himself in the head behind the wheel of his red Jaguar. A French money manager who invested the wealth of many of Europes royal and leading families, and who had lost $1.4 billion of his clients money in Bernard Madoffs Ponzi scheme, slit his wrists and died in his

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  • Introduction

    [x ]


    Madison Avenue office. A danish senior executive with HSBC Bank hanged himself in the wardrobe of his 500-a-night suite in Knightsbridge, London. When a Bear Stearns executive learned that he would not be hired by JPMorgan Chase, which had bought his col-lapsed firm, he took a drug overdose and leapt from the twenty-ninth floor of his office building. A friend said, this Bear Stearns thing . . . broke his spirit.1 It was grimly reminiscent of the suicides in the wake of the 1929 stock market crash.

    In the 1830s, when Alexis de tocqueville re-corded his famous observations on America, he noted a strange melancholy that haunts the inhabitants . . . in the midst of abundance.2 Americans believed that prosperity could quench their yearning for happiness, but such a hope was illusory, because, de tocqueville added, the incomplete joys of this world will never satisfy [the human] heart.3 this strange melancholy manifests itself in many ways, but always leads to the same despair of not finding what is sought.

    there is a difference between sorrow and despair. Sorrow is pain for which there are sources of consola-tion. Sorrow comes from losing one good thing among others, so that, if you experience a career reversal, you can find comfort in your family to get you through it. despair, however, is inconsolable, because it comes from losing an ultimate thing. When you lose the ul-

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  • Introduction

    [xi ]


    timate source of your meaning or hope, there are no alternative sources to turn to. It breaks your spirit.

    What is the cause of this strange melancholy that permeates our society even during boom times of fre-netic activity, and which turns to outright despair when prosperity diminishes? de tocqueville says it comes from taking some incomplete joy of this world and building your entire life on it. that is the definition of idolatry.

    A Culture Filled with Idols

    to contemporary people the word idolatry conjures up pictures of primitive people bowing down before statues. the biblical book of Acts in the new testa-ment contains vivid descriptions of the cultures of the ancient Greco-Roman world. Each city worshipped its favorite deities and built shrines around their images for worship. When Paul went to Athens he saw that it was literally filled with images of these divinities (Acts 17:16). the Parthenon of Athena overshadowed every-thing, but other deities were represented in every pub-lic space. there was Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty; Ares, the god of war; Artemis, the goddess of fertility and wealth; Hephaestus, the god of craftsmanship.

    our contemporary society is not fundamen-tally different from these ancient ones. Each culture

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  • Introduction

    [xii ]


    is dominated by its own set of idols. Each has its priesthoods, its totems and rituals. Each one has its shrineswhether office towers, spas and gyms, studios, or stadiumswhere sacrifices must be made in order to procure the blessings of the good life and ward off di-saster. What are the gods of beauty, power, money, and achievement but these same things that have assumed mythic proportions in our individual lives and in our society? We may not physically kneel before the statue of Aphrodite, but many young women today are driven into depression and eating disorders by an obsessive concern over their body image. We may not actually burn incense to Artemis, but when money and career are raised to cosmic proportions, we perform a kind of child sacrifice, neglecting family and community to achieve a higher place in business and gain more wealth and prestige.

    After new Yorks governor Eliot Spitzer destroyed his career because of his involvement in a high-priced prostitution ring, david Brooks noted how our culture has produced a class of high achievers with rank-link imbalances. they have social skills for vertical rela-tionships, for improving their rank with mentors and bosses, but none for genuine bonding in horizontal re-lationships with spouses, friends, and family. Count-less presidential candidates say they are running on behalf of their families, even though their entire lives

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  • Introduction

    [xiii ]


    have been spent on the campaign trail away from their families. As the years go by they come to the sickening realization that their grandeur is not enough and that they are lonely.4 Many of their children and spouses are alienated from them. they seek to heal the hurt. they get into affairs or take other desperate measures to medicate the inner emptiness. then comes family breakdown or scandal or both.

    they had sacrificed everything to the god of suc-cess, but it wasnt enough. In an