So, when we were laid over in Bangkok, we had some good conversation with our friends about religions and understandings of the world. One of the girls is a sort of post-Christian, Hindu/Buddhist seeker. We had some great conversation about finding truth in other places than we previously expected it.
One key word that has defined the church in the Western world (at least) is control. The church has controlled they way so many people think, feel, and live. Now, on the surface (and to many Christians or churchpeople) that might sound good, but to the rest of the waking world, it is an awful thing. It can be suffocating and dangerous. But that's another topic for another blog entry...
What I wanted to talk about was the notion of idols, particularly in respect to Christian idols.
Before I began to understand (and I am really just barely beginning) the differences and similarities in other religions, their histories, their failures and successes, their motives, their stories, their worldviews, I figured things much differently. When I would read passages in the Old Testament, I would see a God angered by the worship of idols... a God furious about that.
Because I didn't really know of idols in my tradition; I just knew of the "other religious idols" like little trinkets of other gods.
Here's my point (cause I could ramble all day on this topic): I still think that God hates idols. But I think many people miss a great many things: First, when they see a Buddha as an idol, they forget that Sidartha Guatama himself would not have wanted golden idols made of himself. I am saying it does not discredit the entire religion/philosophy. What he taught was/is very synonomous to the Christian gospel. A sort of death to self. In fact, Mahayana Buddhism is a very dying-to-self-for-the-good-of-all kind of tradition.
Hinduism, which boasts 330 million gods is often misunderstood as well. The ultimate force is Brahman. This is very similar to the Tao (which was one way to translate Logos from Greek into Chinese language) in that it is the ultimate reality that holds all together and is the good in all things.
Well, in Hinduism, this Brahman was represented by these gods (think metaphors for the Ultimate) because no one could fully describe the ultimate, so they settled for these smaller understandings of him/her/whatever. Can you see where I am going? That the idols and smaller gods were not the point! Of course there are still idols worshipped, but that wasn't the point in Hinduism: the point was God.
Well, I now turn my eyes towards Christianity... a religion free of idols, right? Not so fast. I think of how many people see Jesus on the cross as the ultimate expression of God. Well, it's just not true. God cannot be summed up in that man hanging on the cross. What about God as Creator? What about God as judge? What about Jesus who lived a simple life? Taught love? Lived it out? Certainly some of these things are there in the cross, but not all.
So, perhaps the crosses in our houses of worship are just as much idols as the little gods of Hinduism? I think the point about idols is it stops short of seeing the big picture. It is a worship of the metaphor of God or a specific story of God and not the whole of God. Does this make sense? And I don't mean to take away the hugeness of the Cross of Christ, but I don't think that is the entire point... especially when you consider how little of the Scriptures are devoted to it, you know?
Perhaps some hold to the picture of Jesus with the children, all lovey-dovey... oh Jesus, the representation of God that asks nothing of me, except just to be with him. He really didn't really want me to die to self or whatnot. Can you see how we can miss the boat when we honor idols?
So, to sum up: Yes, of course there are idols which miss the point, but they are in all religions (especially folk religions) and the gospel is to awaken people to the greater God who is behind all that... or perhaps it's even greater than that...