Idol worship is one of the most repugnant acts in religions. Some religions like Judaism and Islam prohibits the Idol worship and a person who worship Idol faces the greatest displeasure of God and he is liable to be punished to death. The Third of the Ten Commandments of Old Testament clearly state, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or the water below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” (Exodus 20 4-5).
According to the Quran, idolatry is the gravest sin. It is seen as the only categorically unforgivable sin. Like Islam, the Orthodox Christians abhor idol worship. There was a great resistance from the Christianity in creating the statue of Jesus for many centuries. Yet no Churches have become the house of the idols of Jesus, where people go and worship the image of Jesus.
The most interesting form of idolatry can be found in Buddhism. Buddha never considered himself as God and started the philosophy that was based on logic and reason. He was against the rituals and idol worship prevailing in Hinduism. Yet after few centuries after death, Buddhism got divided into Mahayana and Hinayana. While Hinayana continued to follow the principles of Buddha, the Mahayana made statues of Buddha as God and made Him popular all over the world. Today, Buddha statues can be found in the largest numbers all over the world in far more in numbers than any other God.
Idol worship is the most prominent form of worship in Hinduism though it has no religious or philosophical basis. Hindus practically worship the idols of practically every type of representation in the universe including, men, animals, plants, rivers, stones, earth, sun , moon and stars. All Hindu temples have the statues of the main deity and other deities.
It is a fact that despite of no sanction from the religions, idol worship is extremely popular in many religions. Idol worship is not the means of God realization for many but the very essence of religion. Why idols are so important in religions?
What is an Idol?
An idol is a man-made object that is worshipped in some way. TheFreeDictionary.com defines “Idol as an image used as an object of worship or a false god”. Idol is also defined as “an entity that is adored, often blindly or excessively or as something visible but without substance”.
In some way, idol is like a picture or a photograph of a person that is used as a substitute of the person. Idol represents the body of the entity that is visible to the senses particularly the eyes. However, a living entity like man is far more than his picture. Picture is the representation of the person only at given point of time in a given situation. The real person is always different from his image but for the moment when the picture was taken. Picture is not the person as the person is made of flesh and blood and the value of the person comes not from his body but from his soul which is the source of the body as well as the mind. Every person is unique in the history of universe. No person like you was ever born in the universe nor will ever bear in the future. A person is more than body. By worshiping the body, we are in the danger of missing the essence of the person which is the soul.
An idol can be made of wood, wax, stone or in the form of picture. They are what they are made of having no thoughts and power. In Old Testament the Lord explains the reason for not worshiping an idol in following words
“There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which can’t see or hear or eat or smell. But if from there you seek the LORD, your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and all your soul. (Deuteronomy 5:28-29)
While, a wise person use idol merely for focusing his attention to the God, most people confuses the Idol with the real God and preys to Him as if they are preying to the God. The popularity of temples around the world is a proof that most people take idols as God, or confuse a picture as the real person.
Worshiping the Scriptures
It is an irony that most men worship only the idols. If specific directions from Lord ensured that Muslims of Jews do not worship the image of God as man yet they could not avoid the worship of the words that are spoken by the prophets.
Christianity, Judaism and Islam are often called the “religions of the book” the words of God are believed to be revealed to the prophets. Yet the words too are not very different than the idols since each word is evolving with time like a person or the world. When, we focus on the words, we miss the soul of the scriptures.
It is for this reason, that each religion seems to be different from each other and their followers refuse to see the spirit of the scriptures. The worship of the words of the scriptures is a form of idol worship which is practiced by all religions who consider scriptures as the words of God and hence the Gospel Truth.
The Body and the Soul
All living entities in the universe can be divided into two basic components i.e. body and soul. Body is something that is visible to the senses and the mind while soul of the body is to be understood from our own soul using intuition and intelligence.
Arts, literature or scriptures too have their body that is in the forms of words or image which can be seen and felt. However, the spirit of the literature or art is hidden in the words that have to be interpreted by the individual using his intuition.
Let us understand this dichotomy by the help of this beautiful poem by Joy Allison.
Which Loved Best?
“I love you. Mother,” said little John;
Then, forgetting his work, his cap went on,
And he was off to the garden swing,
And left her the water and wood to bring.
“I love you Mother,” said Rosy Nell-
“I love you better than tongues can tell”;
Then she teased and pouted full half the day,
Till her mother rejoiced when she went to play.
“I love you Mother,” said little Fan;
“Today I’ll help you all I can;
How glad I am that school doesn’t keep!”
So she rocked the babe till it fell asleep.
Then, stepping softly, she fetched the broom,
And swept the floor and tidied the room;
Busy and happy all day was she,
Helpful and happy as child could be.
“I love you Mother,” again they said,
Three little children going to bed;
How do you think that mother guessed?
Which one of them really loved her best?
Here, when the poet ask the readers to think, which one of the three children loved their mother best, he is asking you to use your intuition Thus when you make a guess that it was the little Fan who loved her mother best, it is not based on any logic as logically, you can prove any of the three as most loving. It is by intuition or guess that you realize the Truth that the poet wanted to convey through this poem. The message seems to be “Actions speaks louder than words”. This is the soul or essence of the poem which is never said but understood only by intuition by us.
However, most of the people fail to appreciate the soul of the scripture but merely focuses on its words. They take the words as the “gospel truth” rather then the understanding the spirit of the scripture. People often do not understand the context, time and situations in which these scriptures were written. They also fail to appreciate that even the meaning of a written words keeps on changing with time.
For example, the meaning of commonly used words like love or God is different in every culture, religion, society and time. Therefore, in order to understand the real meaning of the words, one has to refer to the context and use his intuition to get the real meaning of it and the soul of the scripture like the soul of the person is never visible to the senses or the mind.
Thus the words like image are just the representation of the reality and not the reality itself. The real knowledge of the scripture can only be known by using our spirit (intuition) to decipher the spirit of the scriptures. The spirit can never be expressed in words as that has to be realized by “self”.
Why Idol worship is Popular?
It is also a fact that idol worship is extremely popular in all religions. All the theists’ either worship the idol of the God in the form of an image or worship (the words of) the scripture. Why is it so?
God represents the highest limit of human imagination. He is conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator, creator and ruler of the universe. In other words, we can say that God is known only to a person who has reached to the highest level of spiritual evolution. It is like a research paper which are published by the PhD scholars, the people of highest degree in the particular field. If you have seen a typical research paper in an international journal, you would realize that it is impossible to understand it unless you have specialized in that field. It is impossible to understand the research paper of the top scientists unless you too have matching knowledge of the subject.
While there is no such difficulty in the field of arts and literature. Once can easily understand and enjoy the fiction, movie or a painting of even the best of the world. The reason is that all arts deals with the senses while all branches of knowledge are dealt by the mind.
Therefore, the spiritual leaders and prophets have the challenge to reduce the complexity of the spiritual knowledge to an extent that it moves from the domain of mind to the domain of senses which can be seen and felt by every person.
This is where the role of idol becomes extremely important. Once can never see a omnipotent, omnipresent God as his potency and knowledge is limited. An idol can be seen and felt by all people and help them to pray before an idol rather than an abstract concept (creation of mind) like Brahma or Absolute.
Idols: The Gates to the Kingdoms of God
Therefore, if a person prays before the idol of God, it is no different than trying to integrate the soul of the individual with the Universal Soul. What is more important to make believe in a force that is beyond the conception of senses which rules the world? In both ways the spiritual eyes of the person is opened and man is able to see the world not as divided but united by a common entity called Universal Soul, Absolute or God.
Same is true for Scriptures as well. The do’s and don’ts of the scriptures like Ten Commandments are the summery of the knowledge that evolved over many thousands years of experience. One has to write perhaps thousands of books to explain the reasons for each action which hardly one in a million person can read and understand. By simplification of the knowledge, the religions help the man provide the benefit of spirituality without much effort. The difficulty arises, when a person instead of believing the idol or the words as symbol of the reality, confuse it with the reality itself. This is a great danger as most people find it extremely difficult to distinguish the body with the reality. Thus the wisdom lies in discovering the true knowledge by using the symbols of the religion by the help of his own soul. This is the true knowledge that come from within. A famous Sufi poet in India summarized this mystery in this couplet
The people died reading the scriptures,
None could become “known”;
One who understood the word called “Love”
Is the only one who is really “known”.
Love, like God is so simple to now that everyone can realize it with “Self”, yet none can know “love” even if he has read all books in the world on love. Pythagoras too said “Man know thyself; then thou shall know the Universe and God”. Idols like Scriptures are not God but just the Gateway to the Kingdom of God, and the journey to this Kingdom has to be performed by the “self” only.