Reflections on Conversations Past
2nd in a series of posts
Do You Engage In Idolatry?
Recently, it was suggested that I was engaging in idolatry by posting a specific meme on a page that I administer. I was surprised by the suggestion, as the though had never occurred to me. When comments such as this one are made, I see it as an opportunity to re-examine my own thoughts, to learn, and to grow. After spending time thinking through my own thoughts and beliefs, talking to others whose opinions I respect, reading scripture, and spending time in prayer, I am ready to share the experience. First, it would probably help to share the image that started it all.
The person who was commenting felt that the image here consisted of idolatry, and wrote "Second Command do not worship or make any graven image". As I said, I was surprised by the comment, as I would never have considered this idolatry. However, I've also shared in the past that I have no formal training and have much to learn myself.
I spent some time in prayerful meditation considering this. What makes this idolatry? Is it the figure of Jesus, as represented in crucifixes? If so, does this also mean that statuary with images of Christ, Mary, Joseph and the saints would constitute idolatry? I wondered what my Catholic family and friends would have to say about this? How would one even define idolatry?
From the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
Definition of idolatry
the worship of a physical object as a god
Merriam-Webster doesn't say that this only relates to items with an actual figure of a person. So, with that definition leading me, I began to wonder where the actual line in the sand is. Couldn't one argue that a cross, a fish symbol, or even a candle could be considered idolatry? Oh my, this could be a never ending list. This is how my mind works, if some images are idolatry and others are not I want to understand the distinction.
Now I knew what my thoughts were, it was time to discuss this with others. I spoke to several of my Catholic friends, family and colleagues, and to be fair I also discussed it with several Protestant friends, family and colleagues.
Without exception, and without any convincing on my part, they all shared the same opinion.
The image shared in the meme is only idolatry if one actually worships the image, views the image itself as a god. Our world is full of symbols with meaning, this is one of them. None of the people I know worship this symbol, none pray to the crucifix. It is a reminder, a symbol. The crucifix in some churches, the elaborate crosses in others, or the plain wooden crosses in still other churches, all serve as reminders that God so loved the world that He came down in the form of Jesus, His only son. He lived as man, faced and conquered temptation, died on the cross to pay the price for our sins. Well, you know the rest of the story. It is the story of our salvation.
The symbols used by many churches were, and are, often teaching tools. In the early years of the church many people could not read. Hymns, and cantors, were a means of telling the story of Jesus. It was easier to learn the gospel by singing it in familiar hymns, and by repetition. In a similar manner, paintings, carvings, statues helped people to learn and remember the gospels. Even today, when many of us can, and do, read the bible, how can one look at a statue of the crucifixion and not feel deeply moved. How can one look at a statue of Mary cradling the broken body of her son, Jesus, and not feel a surge of compassion for the great sacrifice she also made?
Idolatry does still exist in the world, and it is a sin. It exists in the worship of celebrities, in the worship of money, and in many other areas of our lives. It could also be in religious symbols, for those who don't understand that it is not the symbol itself that is worthy of worship. I pray those cases are rare, and that those people find charitable Christians ready to teach them.