(This was inspired by the comments from my last blog, on The Blind Men and the Elephant.)
When I was practicing mediation at Sonoma Mountain Zen Center in the 1970s, they decided to do a ritual. Incense was burned and members took turns bowing before an image of Quan Yin, the bodhisattva (or goddess) of compassion. My friend Nancy, who like me, was raised Jewish, turned to me with a horrified expression asking, “Are we going to do this?”
I thought about it for a moment, understanding her recoil at the thought, since bowing before idols seemed one of the fundamental transgressions for a Jew. I had an irrational fear of being struck by lightening. It was the fear that decided me.
I responded, “It is BECAUSE of my horror and fear that I must do it.” Bowing then was less about idols and more about not letting irrational fear control me. I have not been hit by lightening, so far.
Yet the prohibition against idolatry is something I value, as I have come to a deeper understanding its meaning. One should only worship God (or Life), not false idols, even if they claim to be representations of God. For if God is omnipotent, everywhere and all powerful, then to worship anything less becomes a distortion.
An insidious form of idolatry exists in many fundamental religious organizations. Whether it is the holy books (the Bible—whichever versions–, the Torah, the Koran, etc.,) or the religious leaders modern or from the past, when respect crosses over to worship, it becomes idolatry.
When people are killed because a book has been destroyed, that is idolatry. When phrases from the Holy Books are selectively quoted to justify hate or bigotry, that is also idolatry. Those that do so claim to be defending faith and God, but how absurd. If God is real, She needs no such defense.
I understand that believers feel hurt by acts of ‘desecration.’ However that doesn’t justify killing or maiming others. It seems to me that biblical literalists in essence believe in a dead god, written in stone at some point in time and culture, rather than a living god. In their desperation to defend that rigid viewpoint, they attempt to wipe out all that feels threatening, at times including people.