“Counterfeit Gods” by Tim Keller – Chapter 2: Love is Not All You Need

Opening Prayer

Focus What is your favourite love song or poem?


Ernest Becker was born to Jewish parents on Sep 27, 1924 in Springfield, Massachusetts.  He completed his Ph. D. in cultural anthropology in 1960 and then became a professor at Simon Fraser University.  “Becker came to the position that psychological inquiry inevitably comes to a dead end beyond which belief systems must be invoked to satisfy the human psyche.”  This led to the development of what has been called the “science of evil.”  “Becker came to believe that individuals’ characters are essentially formed around the process of denying their own mortality, that this denial is necessary for us to function in the world, and that this character-armor prevents genuine self-knowledge. Much of the evil in the world, he believed, was a consequence of this need to deny death.”[1]

Becker viewed humans as having both a physical and a symbolic self.  To deny our own death, we develop “hero systems” in which our symbolic self is perceived to be heroic.  Because humanity’s traditional hero systems, i.e. religion, no longer work in the age of reason, Becker theorizes that humans create for themselves alternate convincing hero systems to sustain the illusion of denying death.  But he believes that we would be better off without such illusions.[2]

His most well-known work is the book The Denial of Death which was published in 1973 and for which he received a Pulitzer Prize in 1974, two months after his death at the age of 49 from cancer.  He died March 6, 1974 in Vancouver.[3]


  1. Why do we tend to make an idol out of love?
  2. What led Sally to make love an idol in her life?  What were the consequences?
  3. Is it possible that there is a connection between Jacob’s cynicism and bitterness (p. 25) and his all-consuming passion for Rachel?  Where is the best place to take our cynicism and bitterness?  What was the consequence of Jacob’s love idolatry?
  4. We often talk of how Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah by his uncle Laban.  How was Leah tricked?  What was her life like as a result?
  5. How does love help us to feel like a hero, that our lives have purpose and significance?  Is that feeling true and lasting, or is it an illusion?
  6. Tim Keller writes that Leah made a spiritual breakthrough in her love idolatry.  How did that breakthrough happen?
  7. 1 John 4:10 syas, “This is love:  not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  How can God’s love for us be the “expulsive power” (pp. 45-46) that drives out our love idols?


  1. On pp. 46-47, Tim Keller describes how Sally got her life back.  What Bible verses and spiritual practices can help us to keep our lives centred on Jesus Christ?


Closing Prayer

[1] “Ernest Becker,”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia (Internet;  available at:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Becker; downloaded on 27 Oct 2010).

[2] “Denial of Death,” Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia (Internet;  available at:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Denial_of_Death; downloaded on 27 Oct 2010.)

[3] “Ernest Becker,”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia (Internet;  available at:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Becker; downloaded on 27 Oct 2010).


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