Every system has a god, which means that when you have identified certain markers, you have identified the god of the system. If the god of the system is not the true God, the God who made Heaven and earth, then the god of the system is an idol.
In order to be an idol, the god of the system need not be an inert object, adored only by the superstitious. Paul says that those who sacrifice to idols sacrifice to demons (1 Cor. 10:20), and Paul certainly believed that the demons were there. Idolatry is not when you worship something that is non-existent; idolatry occurs when you worship something created.
Because people (in the grip of modernity) have come to believe that idols are necessarily nullities, they subsequently have come to believe that anything that is not a nullity — like the Supreme Court, or the spirit of the age, or what all the cool kids are doing — cannot be an idol. But it can be, and if it is created and is the god of the system, then that is precisely what it is. And that is why our current American polity is profoundly idolatrous.
Here are the markers of the god of the system:
First, the god of the system is the final court of appeal. There is no appeal beyond him. Once you get to his court, and the decision has been made, the matter is settled. If you continue to resist after that point, then you are a disruptive rebel, and an enemy of mankind. You are out of the appeals process, and into the justice system.
Second, the god of the system requires that his words be interpreted according the historical/grammatical hermeneutic. Lots of legal theorists think that the Constitution is a living document, which is elastic and stretchy, but only when you are stretching it to the left. The fact that you can mess around with constitutional words in this creative way means that the words of the Constitution are not part of the god of the system. But notice how nobody ever says that the majority opinions in pursuit of judicial activism are “living documents” also. No, you have to interpret their words with sobriety and respect, no funny business, and why? Where respect for the plain meaning of words is demanded, you have identified the god of the system.
And last, the god of the system is the fountainhead of morality. This is why Christians have an easy distinction in their minds between “legal” and “moral.” But for those who believe that there is no intelligence beyond our corporate and collective intelligence, there can ultimately be no such distinction. Right? Christians worship the God who is outside all our systems — He is transcendent — and that is why we can distinguish sins and crimes.
And this is why, going back to how profoundly idolatrous this project is, Christians are dealing with our current set of confrontations. But that’s all right. This is what Christians have always done. It’s our job.