Opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. You know it. (If you don’t, you above all people are to be pitied.) Indiana Jones has journeyed deep into a cavern deep in the South American jungle. He reaches the place where a shiny idol sits, perched on a weight-sensitive pedestal.
Indy sizes it up. He runs the guesstimated calculations in his head. He pulls out a pouch of sand, feels its weight in his hand, hoping it is equally heavy to the idol grinning back at him. He pours a bit out. He knows the only way to safely dispossess the pedestal of its old affection is the equal weight of a new one (pdf). He steels himself. He stretches his arms. Quick as lightning he snatches the idol from its stony cradle while simultaneously putting the sandbag in its place.
There is a pause. Nothing happens. He smiles, turns. And then all heck breaks loose. Actually, the cave breaks loose. A gigantic stone bowling ball comes tumbling down. Poison darts start shooting out of the walls. Pits open up. Walls slam down. And before you know it, Alfred Molina has a wall of spikes through his brainbone.
This is exactly what happens when we try replacing an idol with religious behavior. We think it’ll work. But it’s just a bag of sand.