dol worship or Dilatory is one of the most controversial aspect of the religious rituals. Idolatry is usually defined as worship of any cult image, idea, or object. Hebrew Bible, the holy book of Judaism, has been most critical of the idolatry which include the worship of idols or images, the worship of polytheistic gods by use of idols or images, the worship of animals or people or the use of idols in the worship of God.
In Judaism, God prohibits idol worship in no uncertain term in The Ten Commandments (4-6) that read,
“You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
In Islam, Idolatry is an unforgivable sin which deserves the most severe punishment.
Idolatry is prohibited in almost every religion. Yet is a fact that the worship of idols are most popular in the world. Almost all religions worship God in some form. Even Buddha who preached against organized religion and idol worship could not prevent his followers to worship him as God incarnation. Today, the idols of Buddha are found in more number than any other God.
If idolatry has survived so long despite opposition from all religions, there must be some reasons for the existence of idolatry, which may not be logically explainable yet may have something to do with human emotion.
The Popularity of Idolatry
Hinduism is perhaps the only religion, which allows idol worship in its temple. Though, the practice of idol worship is not supported in any of the Hindu Scriptures like Vedas, Upanishads or Gita. In Upanishads, God is said to be Brahma who is Absolute i.e. beyond the conception of human imagination. Yet people started worshiping t ever Symbol of Om that was used to represent Brahma. Vedas provides for the worship of nature which are believed to be the manifestation of God. This lead to the representation of Sun, Moon, Air etc as Gods in human form, who were worshipped like any other Gods of Mythologies.
In a Hindu temple, one can see numerous idols of different Gods which are worshipped by the devotees. The Hindu Gods and Goddess are part of mythological tales or Puranas which are extremely popular amongst the masses. For example, the deities of Rama and Krishna are described in Rama-charit-manas (The Story of Ram) and Mahabharata (The Great War). Even the sects which are based on the teachings of saints could not avoid idolatry after the death of the saints. Often the statues and even pictures of the saints are worshipped like God. So you have temples of Sai Baba, Swamynarayan where the idols of these saints are worshipped as God.
In Christianity, the statues of Jesus and Mary are fond in every Church and worshipped by Christians.
In another Indian religion, Sikhism that prohibits idol worship and ask the Sikhs to follow the book (Scripture) “Guru Granth Sahib”, people virtually worship the book as God. The pictures of Guru Nanak, the founder Guru of Sikhism , is considered holy and found in every home of Sikhs.
Why Idolatry is Prohibited?
It is argued that Idolatry must be avoided as God has no shape or form, and is utterly incomparable. Therefore, no idol, image, idea, or anything comparable to creation could ever capture God’s essence.
The people, who bows before the idol of God, tend to believe that they are bowing before God while an idol is nothing but a statue made of stone or wood. Such people are often disappointed because their wishes are not fulfilled. Often the priests use this weakness of man and extort money from innocent devotees with the promise to fulfill their wishes.
Therefore, the scriptures ask men to shun idol worship as the idols are not God. God is formless and infinite while idols have forms and limited in time and space. Man can know the Formless (God) only when his thoughts travels beyond the form.
Idols Have Deeper Meaning
A picture is worth millions of words. The same can be said for a name. It would be wrong to see the words like Albert Einstein, Allah, God, Rama, Hitler, and Clinton made of certain alphabets of English. The mere combination of the words do not represents the reality that is hidden in the names. Every name represents the complete personality and life of the person that is associated with the name.
When you read the world “Einstein” and you know about him, your mind automatically see the picture of Albert Einstein and all the inventions he made in physical sciences like the theory of relativity, mass energy equivalence etc. However, if you have never heard the name of Albert Einstein, these words are nothing but one of the billions of names that exist in this world.
A name is, therefore, not a mere combination of words as it appears to the person who does not identify the person associated with the name but a whole concept. You can write books if you want to describe a person like Gandhi, Rama or even your father or mother. In the same way, every idol symbolizes the person whose idol or image it is. When you pray before the idol of Rama, you are not praying to the statue of Rama but the Incarnation of God as described in epic Rama-charita-manasa. When you bow before the statue of Christ, you pay respect to all that Jesus Christ lived for. Yet for a person, who does not know the personality, it is simply bowing before a stone statue.
Therefore, when a person worships an Idol, he actually worships the concept and values that is represented by the person whose statue it is. It is similar to respecting your parents or a scholarly person or a great leader or scientist. When a man bows before another person, he shows respect for the deeds and thoughts of the person and shows his desire to become like him. Hence a true worshipper of Rama would always aspire to become like Rama and follow the path shown by him in his life.
Worshipping God Brings Goodness
Since every God represents goodness in the world, a religious person who bows before God may find it extremely difficult to follow evil path. If you love God, Devil (the source of evil) can never live in you. Thus worship to an Idol of God transforms the soul of the man in the same way as a man get transformed in the company of good people or saint. Thus people may find idolatry as useful for the spiritual enlightenment of a man as any other form of complicated ritual provided in the scriptures.
Dr. Awdhesh K Singh is an Engineer by education and philosopher by passion. He holds his PhD degree in the area of E-Governance.
He has published several papers in International Journals and Conferences on the subject of E-governance and the application of Artificial Intelligence tools like Fuzzy Logic (FL) and Expert Systems (ES) for E-governance.
He has keen interest in the study and application of Religion, Spirtuality and Philosophies for solving the real-life problems of the modern world.