UBIQUITOUS IDOLATRY IN MODERN TIMES
Anyone familiar with the Hebrew scriptures knows that the offspring of Abraham had an unhealthy affinity for idolatry. In this they were no different from the rest of mankind. Even today, in primitive lands, crude fetishes and rough-carved images still receive sacrifices and devotion and are used in magic and sorcery. Hindu and Buddhist worship still involves the open and unapologetic use of holy figures and artifacts, as does Catholicism, whether Roman (with statues, figurines, and medals) or Greek (with painted icons). Even in some Protestant churches there may be stained glass representations so large and prominent that they distract from the worship of God “in spirit and in truth.”
Muslims give excessive devotion to their central shrine, the Ka’abah, prostrating themselves before it, rubbing their bodies against it, kissing it, and drenching themselves with rainwater from it. One Hindu commentary on all this is, “O Muslim, if you worship the Ka’abah, why reproach the worshipers of idols?”
Idolatry should be a thing of the past. In the enlightened civilizations of the West, the veneration of inanimate objects generally holds less attraction than it did in ancient times. With the exception of Catholic statues and icons, the superstitious fear of graven images no longer poses a real threat to monotheistic religion. Such a symbolic figure as the Statue of Liberty may be identified technically as a “goddess,” but it is doubtful that anyone really regards her as such.
Sometimes it has been argued that idolatry still persists in the form of sins like “mammon,” “hedonism,” or an obsession for work, food, clothes, sex, etc. It is true that anything that comes between a person and his God may be looked upon as a form of idolatry, but only in a highly abstract sense. A man may spend all of his time thinking about his automobile, but for it to become an idol would require that he pray to it and view it as a sentient being with miraculous powers.
Now, Jews have successfully distanced themselves from the use of graven images, but they still take a Torah scroll and dress it in a robe and crown and parade it around a synagogue for people to touch and kiss. And should a museum want to include old Hebrew scrolls among their displays of ancient documents, some Jewish officials are sure to protest that their holy book is too sacred to be used as a museum piece. Evidently they are not able to perceive the fact that excessive veneration of an object made of paper and ink is in clear violation of the Second Commandment against practicing idolatry.
Likewise among Protestants, the closest thing to being an idol is the “Holy Bible.” There is a superstitious veneration of the Book by many, to the extent that it may be carried into battle by soldiers as a talisman of protection. Also it may be believed to provide written oracles that direct life decisions. And so, it may be consulted as a medium of fortune telling by random selection of passages from the sacred text. This superstitious practice is called “bibliomancy.”
The ultra-conservative proponents of every religion give too much devotion to their scriptures. Deeming their particular books to be infallible oracles straight from the lips of the Divinity, they bestow upon these volumes an aura of sanctity and call them “Holy” Scriptures. Accepting whatever is written on blind faith, and not daring to ask probing questions or allowing scientific analysis of the writings, as is done to other manuscripts, fundamentalists elevate their sacred scriptures to the status of idols and thereby commit the grave error of “bibliolatry.”
It is well that the original tablets of the Decalogue are no longer in existence, for without a doubt they would be idolized today. The idea that the Ten Commandments were etched into rock by flashes of lightning and tiny points of flame is something like the way common folks see the origin of every word of their Holy Scriptures.
So, set the Bible, or any book, up on a pedestal and praise its perfection, and an idol is thereby created to divert worship from Almighty God.
IDOLATRY IN CATHOLICISM
The images, icons, statues, figurines, holy medallions, and priest-blessed artifacts that are venerated in the Roman Catholic Church are idols. They are material representations of holy personages, which steal worship that is due to God alone. In the Bible this is called spiritual adultery.
The idols of the Roman Church are in direct violation of the Second Commandment of the Decalogue: “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”
The idols of the Roman Church are updated versions of the statues of the old pagan gods of Rome, which were condemned by early Christians. (In Venice, for example, the city’s patron god Mars was replaced by the patron saint Mark, thus deifying a man.)
The idols of the Roman Church are a scandal within Christendom, degrading the Faith to the level of the image-laden temples and shrines of the Hindus, the Buddhists, and savage animists in primitive lands.
The idols of the Roman Church are put to superstitious use as objects of prayer and devotion, as household gods, as protective amulets and talismans, and as lucky charms. When an idol is anointed, dressed in fine garments, and paraded through the streets, it is being worshiped. This is the exact way in which pagan idols have always been treated.
The idols of the Roman Church receive obsequious touching, kissing, bowing, and fawning. Such devotion to a sacred doll or picture is simply a display of delusion. And it is certainly worship, not just “veneration.”
The idols of the Roman Church are like those objects of worship that were purged from Hebrew religion by divine judgment that caused calamities to come down, time after time, upon the errant people.
Numerous passages of Scripture could be cited condemning idolatry. One example:
The poor, deluded fool feeds on ashes. He is trusting what can never give him any help at all. Yet he cannot bring himself to ask, “Is this thing, this idol that I am holding in my hand, a lie?” Isaiah 44:20
It is ironic that one of the clearest arguments against idolatry is in the Catholic Bible, in an apocryphal book that is not accepted in the Protestant canon. This is the Book of Baruch, the sixth chapter.
The argument that it is acceptable to worship images because Jesus was the Image of God is absurd. This means we can worship sheep because Jesus was the Lamb of God (or bread because He is the Bread of Life, or words because He is the Word of God, or doors because He is the Door).
Richard L. Atkins
BARUCH, CHAPTER SIX
(“THE EPISTLE OF JEREMIAH”)
This is a copy of the epistle that Jeremiah sent to those that were to be led away as captives into Babylon by the king of Babylon, to make known to them what was commanded him by God.
For the sins that you have committed against God, you shall be carried as captives into Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon. And when you have come into Babylon, you shall be there many years, and for a long time, even up to seven generations. And after that I will bring you away from there in peace.
But now, you are going to see in Babylon gods of gold, of silver, of stone, and of wood borne upon shoulders, causing fear to the Gentiles. Beware, therefore, that you do not imitate the actions of others and be afraid and seized by fears like theirs. But when you see the crowds around you adoring them, say in your hearts: “You, O Lord, ought to be adored.” For my angel will be there with you, and I will demand an account of your souls.
For the tongues (genitals) of the idols are polished by the craftsman. And those objects that are overlaid with gold and silver are false things, and they cannot speak. And just as a maiden likes to wear gay clothing, so do people take gold material and dress them up. Their gods have golden crowns upon their heads, and from them the priests secretly take gold and silver for themselves. Yes, and they give some of the garments to prostitutes, and they dress out harlots. And when they get them back from the harlots, they again adorn their gods.
And these gods cannot defend themselves from rust and moths. But when the priests have dressed them in a purple garment, they must wipe their faces because of the dust of the house, which they all stir up in passing.
One of these idols holds a scepter as a man and as a judge of the country, but he cannot put to death anybody who offends him. And this other one has a sword or an axe in his hand, but he cannot save himself from war or from robbers. Thus, let it be known to you that they are not gods.
So, do not fear them, for just as a vessel becomes useless when it is broken, even so are their gods. When they are placed in the temple, their eyes are full of dust by the feet of them that go in. And just as gates are closed on every side on one who has offended the king, or like a dead man carried to the grave, so do the priests secure the doors with bars and locks, lest the idols be stripped by thieves.
People light candles to them, and in great number, of which the idols cannot see a single one. They are just wood, like the beams of the house. And it is common knowledge that creeping things that come out of the ground gnaw their hearts, while they are eating them and their garments. And they do not feel it. Their faces are black with the smoke that is made in the house. Owls, swallows, and other birds roost on their bodies and on their heads, and cats do the same. Thus, let it be known to you that they are no gods. Therefore, do not fear them.
Also, the gold that they have is for show, and unless a man wipes off the rust, they will not shine. And when they were just molten metal, they did not feel the heat.
People buy them at a high price, although there is no breath in them. And not having the use of their feet, they are carried upon shoulders, thus showing everyone how pitiful they are. May all who worship them be confounded.
So, if they fall over and roll on the ground, they cannot rise up by themselves. Nor if a man sets them upright will they be able to stand by themselves.
Gifts are set before them just like offerings to the dead. The things that are sacrificed to them are sold and pilfered by the priests. Also, the wives of the priests grab some of the offerings and do not give anything of it to the sick or to the poor. Pregnant women and menstruous women touch and defile their sacrifices. Thus let it be known to you that they are not gods. Do not fear them.
For how can they be called gods? Because women set offerings before the gods of silver, of gold, and of wood. And priests sit in their temples having their garments rent and their heads and beards shaved off, and with nothing upon their heads. And they yell and cry before their gods as people do at funerals for the dead.
The priests take away their garments and clothe their wives and their children. And if anyone does something evil to them, or good, they are not able to recompense it. Neither can they set up a king or put him down. Likewise, they can neither give riches nor punish evil. If a man makes a vow to them and does not perform it, they cannot demand it. They cannot deliver a man from death nor save the weak from the mighty. They cannot restore the blind man to his sight nor deliver a man from distress. They do not pity the widow nor do good to the fatherless.
Their gods of wood, of stone, of gold, and of silver, are like the stone blocks that are hewn out of the mountains. And they that worship them shall be confounded. How then is it to be imagined or stated that they are gods?
Even the Chaldeans themselves bring dishonor to them, because they vainly take a dumb man who cannot speak and present him before the image of Bel, begging him to let the man speak - as though an idol could be sensible which has no motion itself. And when they see nothing happen, they just leave the afflicted person, for the gods have no sense.
Women sit by the waysides, with cords wrapped around them, and burn olive pits (seeking to offer their virginity to the love goddess). And when one of them is taken away by some man who passes by and who lies with her, she comes back and makes fun of the woman who was sitting beside her, and she taunts the woman for not being as attractive as herself and for not having her cord broken. So, everything that is done for the idols is ridiculous. How can it be imagined or said that they are gods?
Idols are made by workmen and by goldsmiths, and they cannot be anything except what the priests want them to be. Also, the artificers that make the idols do not live very long, so how can those things that are made by them be gods? These artificers have crafted false things that will just be a delusion for later generations.
When war comes upon them, or evil times, the priests decide amongst themselves where they can hide themselves and their idols. How then can they be thought to be gods, that can neither deliver themselves from war nor save themselves from evil times? So, seeing that they are just wood, laid over with gold and silver, it should be known hereafter by all nations and kings that they are false things. And it shall be manifest that they are no gods, but the work of men’s hands, and that there is no work of God in them. Thus it is known that they are not gods, but the work of men’s hands, and no work of God in them.
They cannot set up a king over the land, nor give rain to men. They determine no outcomes of causes, nor deliver countries from oppression, because they can do nothing and are like birds flying in the sky. For when fire shall fall upon the house of these gods of wood, of silver, and of gold, their priests will run away and save themselves. But the idols will be burned in the flames like the beams of the house. And they cannot withstand a king or a war. How then can it be supposed or suggested that they are gods?
Neither are these gods of wood and of stone, laid over with gold and silver, able to deliver themselves from thieves and robbers. Those that are stronger than them can take from them the gold and silver and the garments in which they are clothed and go away. Neither will they be able to help themselves.
Thus it is better to be a powerful king or a useful vessel in a house, with which the owner is satisfied. It is better to be a door in the house to keep things safe than such false gods. The sun and the moon and the stars, being bright, are sent forth for profitable uses and are obedient. Also, lightning, when it strikes, is easy to be seen. And also the wind blows through every country. And the clouds go over the whole world when God commands them, and they do what they are commanded to do. Fire is also sent from above to consume mountains and woods, and it does as it is commanded to do, but these idols are not like any of these things either in show or in power. Therefore, it is not to be thought or to be said that they are gods, since they are neither able to judge causes nor to do any good for mankind. Therefore, knowing that they are not gods, do not fear them.
For neither can they curse kings nor bless them. Neither do they show signs in the heavens to the nations, nor shine as the sun, nor give light as the moon. Beasts are better than they, which can run for safety under a covert and help themselves. Therefore, there is not the slightest appearance that they are gods, so do not fear them.
Just as a scarecrow in a garden of cucumbers cannot keep anything, so are these gods of wood, of silver, and gold overlay. They are no better than a white thorn tree in the garden, upon which every bird sits. Just so, their gods of wood, overlaid with gold or silver, are like a dead body cast forth in the dark. By the purple and the scarlet, which are moth-eaten on them, you shall know that they are not gods. And when they are themselves at last decayed, they will only become a reproach upon the country.
So, a just and sensible man will be all the better for having no idols, for then he will not have to bear any reproach.