Think of this another way. In the gnostic order of things, the material world is always convicted, damned. It is the problem. In the Christian world tugged on by gnosticism, the material world is not condemned — the orthodox faith forbids this because God made the world, and Jesus rose from the dead in it. But, when idolatry occurs, this doesn’t keep the material world from always being rounded up as one of the usual suspects.
It is assumed that where creation is thick — where the music is glorious, the beer stout, the women beautiful, the lawns rich, the architecture splendid, and so on — it presents a greater temptation to idolatry than where someone has mixed the paint thinner of ascetic striving into the created order in order to avoid the idolatrous distractions. But this does not work.
The apostle Paul says that this maneuver is of no value in checking fleshly indulgence. “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:20-23, ESV). Paul grants an appearance of wisdom here, but he says that it doesn’t work. A man can get the created order around him completely thinned out, and be as much in danger of idolatry as ever he was.
Read Augustine’s Confessions (33/49-50) for a good example of this mistake concerning where the temptation to idolatry actually lies. And I hasten to add that, while pointing out this mistake of Augustine’s, in a church with any decent standards I would not be qualified to be Augustine’s boot boy.
A man can worship an ornate idol, decked with gold and silver, and he can worship a Euclidian stick figure. The divide is a moral one. The divide has to do with whether God has given the man eyes to see. If God has given eyes to see, it does not hurt him to see a lot.
Here is the word of the Lord to Israel:
“Moreover all these curses shall come upon thee . . . Because thou servedst not the LORD thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things (Dt. 28:45, 47).
Here is a poem I wrote about this some time ago.
Rocks in the Drive
When strings are pulled taut, the cello is tuned,
The wood holds the wine that is seasoned and old.
Dark music poured out and emptied the cask,
And rolled in my goblet, rich, tawny and told
How holiness tastes, how righteousness laughs.
You shall be as God, the great dragon had said,
Philosophers argue their shapes in the fire
And each to his shadow tenaciously clings;
They miss that our great father Abram aspired
To a city of solids, celestial marble.
But our earthly solids are fleeting, like faerie,
Far closer to ether than what we conceive.
Our granite is balsa, our oceans are floating,
Our atoms are rootless, and we, not believing,
We miss that this world speaks a fortiori.
Stop thinking that heaven means standing on clouds.
Why falter when told that our God remains good?
Why think the Almighty exhausted in sadness
His strength on the Alps or the plains of Dakota?
Will He not speak solid and substantive gladness
And bid all His people emerge from the shadows?
The carpets of heaven are thicker than moss.
With paint on the walls that is glossy to stay.
Hard wood for the tables is grown on the hillsides,
And rocks in the drive are all sapphire gray.
The breezes move curtains that are facing the sea.