Monday, January 20, 2014

Idolatry's Logical Failures

Idolatry is a visible religious phenomena in India, despite the fact that some religious reformers like Nanak, Dayananda Saraswati, and Raja Ram Mohan Roy opposed it. One of the most sympathetic apologetics that anyone ever presented was Swami Vivekananda. The story goes that once when he visited a king, the king who disbelieved in idolatry questioned Vivekananda's support of idol worship. The king argued that an idol is just an image and was nothing but clay, stone, and metal. Swami Vivekananda was not disturbed by this. He looked at a painting of the king hanging on the wall and asked an official there to take it down and spit on it. The official refused saying that it was a dishonor to the king. Then, the Swami rhetorically objected: "If a piece of paper with a painting of the king was to be so respected, then why shouldn't we understand the idol to also bear the same amount of value for the worshipper? The idol is not god; it is clay or stone or whatever, but the worshipper looks at it with respect because it embodies the sentiments towards god."

The king is said to have repented, thereafter.

The argument is quite sympathetic and relevant. We will certainly pay respect to any object that is considered to be connected in any way with a loved one. People treasure objects, pictures, and different things. Respect about things is a part of our daily life. But, I think we cannot ignore three issues with Vivekananda's analogy:

1. The painting of the king was based on his visible appearance. Someone saw him and painted his picture. But, nobody can claim that they have seen God.
2. If someone treasures the picture of a crocodile saying that for him it is the picture of the Prime Minister of India (just because he hasn't seen him, and based on certain description or metaphors, thinks he looks like a crocodile), then belief must address reality somewhere.
3. Probably, the picture of a crocodile with the caption of the Prime Minister is not honor but a misrepresentation in objectionable terms.

Of course, in some contexts the objects of veneration are objectionable as well. For instance, the Roman Catholics say that they do not worship the icons but venerate them. Only God is due worship, and that veneration is not the same as adoration. It may not seem the same as idolatry, of course; but, it also doesn't look much different from ancestor worship.

1 comment:

Swapnil Varghese said...

Excellent presentation of a controversial subject. You have presented the arguments in a well balanced un-offending manner! Blessings!