idolatry

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In my previous post last week, I mentioned that the study of sculpture had been neglected in our culture because of the prohibition of idol worship. And this raised the question of why. Many in the west have accepted the concept of monotheism. And many are atheistic or agnostic. Because of the free thinking attitude towards faith and belief, many believe that the issue of whether it is proper or not to pray to, or worship an image seems irrelevant in our time.

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My dear friend Janet reminds us often that ‘everything in this world is interconnected’. This is the basis of monotheism, and one of the most important tenants of our religion. There are those who see powerful forces in this world as gods. The sea is a god to some, and there is a god of reproduction to others. Some people have a need to relate to an inspiring picture of a saint or a prophet in order to remind themselves of the virtues they believe in. There are so many pictures of saints, and medallions, and symbols of all kinds, that we have become accustomed to seeing such things. But our sages warned us that focusing on an image might distract us from our awareness of a god who is an intricate being reflected in all we sense in the world around us.

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I believe that those who coined the expression, ‘the almighty dollar’, meant to laugh at the phenomenon. But there is no doubt that a large portion of the population in the west has raised the importance of money to god-like proportions. Is it important? To some it is. To others not. For those of us who believe in god, it is important to consider what we receive from him, what sort of inspiration or example we envision when contemplating his presence in this world of ours, and how or if we choose to worship him.

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I have studied a bit of other religions, and found wisdom that has enhanced my own beliefs and worship of god in my religion. I have also found things that I cannot accept. Today is Friday, and this evening my Sabbath begins. And an essential part of my religion is not to work on the Sabbath. That is a day of freedom and appreciation of life, and it is set apart for contemplation and joy. This Sabbath is called the ‘Sabbath of consolation’, for on this last Sunday, we remembered the destruction of our holy temple. It was a very sad day for all. My best wishes to my readers for inspiration and delight from life. We all have our ups and downs. And how important it is, to maintain our perspective, to remember that there is beauty and pleasure in this life, despite the disappointments and pain.

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36 responses to “idolatry

  1. Good morning, Shimon – another very interesting post. Although the worship of idols, etc. doesn’t really bother me, that said, having read your post, I can see where it might get in the way of worshiping God.

    In the UK, we used to keep Sunday as a day of rest, and I am very sad to say that now all shops, restaurants, etc are open. To add fuel to fire, the powers that be have just extended Sunday trading times, which taps into the biggest idolatry issue….money!

    Anyway, my friend, I will think of you this weekend….quietly .contemplating the ‘Sabbath of consolation’.

    Janet. xx

    • I was raised with a very strong anti to idols. But I have to admit, that every time I see the smiling Buddha, I smile myself. It is a very pleasant reminder to me. But in the past, idols were identified with some really terrible behavior, so I can see the pluses and the minuses. What’s important, is that we remember that everything is interconnected. And it’s also a great relief to forget about commerce for one day a week. Thanks so much, my dear Janet, for your comment. xxx

  2. Sacred time is so important for gaining perspective, balance, and a healthy stillness..a blessed Shabbat, Shimon, and gentle peace.

  3. Shema Israel adonai elohenu adonai echad – la ilaha illallah

  4. Shabbat shalom to you and yours – may you have a truly restful shabbos.

  5. Interesting day of Sabbath for you. I had never heard of it. So very much has changed in out world since those laws were written, it does make me wonder. I find it interesting that I can’t read or perhaps some of your readers comments. I also find your collection of Netsuke to be impressive. How did you come about them? Were they really in the realm of idol in Japan?
    Shabbat Shalom looks like a proper statement.

    • Actually, Bob, it’s a little more radical than just not working on the sabbath. We don’t initiate the flow of electric current, don’t use any machines, and don’t cook or drive a car on the sabbath. It’s really a break in the normal activities in order to find sanctity. The routine stops for one day. The words that you couldn’t read were Hebrew words written in English letters, wishing me a good sabbath, and affirming the belief in one god. Turns out I have a few readers who know Hebrew. As for the Netsuke, they were not for the purpose of idol worship, but they recalled the very images that people prayed to. Thanks for your comment.

  6. It seems the world around those of us in the U.S. bow to activities and money. The Lord’s Day really was a day of worship; not sports, shopping, etc. No more and we are all guilty of its demise! Shame on us. There is no other God…

    • Change is a part of existence, and this includes changes in life style too. But in many cases our enthusiasm for what’s new overshadows the advantages of what we already have. And so it’s to our advantage sometimes, to reassess our behavior. Unfortunately, commercialism has had an overwhelming influence on our lives. Thanks for your comment, Vasca.

  7. I admire you for staying with your belief system and worshiping in the way you were taught. How nice it must be to have people honor the Sabbath with no work and a chance to enjoy the beauty around them.

    • The sabbath for us is more than just not working. It is a complete change in routine, with the accent on enjoying the day, and appreciating life. The routine is completely turned around for one day. There are many here who do appreciate it. But, as you can imagine, there are also young people who want us to be more like everyone else. Our sister city, Tel Aviv, is much more modern, and the rules of Sabbath are very relaxed there. Thanks for your comment, Bev.

  8. Wonderful post Shimon – thank you.

  9. An interesting post Shimon. I can certainly understand how idolatry could be seen as getting in the way of worshipping God. It’s interesting, although not religeous I consider myself quite spiritual and it’s the times when I am alone in nature that I feel this the most strongly. All other distractions of the modern world aside, I can truly appreciate the beauty that surrounds me from the macro level on up.
    As we have spoken about before Shimon, I think a Sabbath that is observed is a very worthy and useful thing. I certainly think our society is the poorer for Sunday trading. When I was a child, Sunday was a family day. We were not church goers. In my early childhood, Sunday was the only day of the week my Dad didn’t work and it was a special day we all spent together. Our Sunday roast was a big part of the day, a meal we shared together after a days sailing perhaps or some other pursuit. It is such a shame that children today do not have this. It’s quite rare I understand for families to even share meals now.

    • Very interesting, what you say, Chillbrook. We had a great teacher here, who was referred to as the lion of Tzfat, a city in northern Israel. He used to take his followers out into nature on Fridays, at the eve of the Sabbath, to worship god. I understand that a lot of people these days differentiate between spiritual and religious. And I know there are certain resentments towards religion nowadays. But it is the essence that matters, and not how we call it. And I agree with you, that going out to nature can be a great inspiration for heart and soul. In my eyes too, the family is a very important unit. It teaches us to love and respect others. And I agree with you again, that there is a growing sense of alienation in the west as people put more and more importance on the individual, and forget at times the importance of social interaction. Let’s hope for enlightenment.

  10. This is a lovely post for the evening before my own Sabbath. Thank you, Shimon.

  11. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Inspiration | The World Is a Book...

  12. A very thoughtful post, Shimon. I trust that you spent a peaceful Sabbath. I too agree with Chillbrook that when Sundays used to be kept really special and apart from the other busy days of the week, families did seem much closer. As a child, I really looked forward to our Sundays together.

    • I’ve seen some really extreme changes in my lifetime, and I think we’re going to see a re-evaluation of life style in the near future. It is very good to put some time aside for a really warm get together with the people we love. Thanks for your comment, Sylvia.

  13. A most interesting post Shimon.

  14. It’s an important day for us to be able to set aside the normal things of work, and concentrate instead on enjoying God’s beauty and truth and feeding our spirits with his wisdom.

    • Yes, as both you and I know, Gill, even retiring doesn’t make every day a sabbath. So, how wonderful it is to have one day apart from the rest of the week. Thanks for the comment.

  15. Dear Shimon, I’m putting my thought together about your last two posts (brainstorming)…
    You said that in the Bible there aren’t much comments about nudity. We shall not forget that 2000 yrs. are gone by… and I do think that few “changes”, censures and “cleaning up” of unwished details (from the Church) have happened.
    But as little I know about the Christian Texts, there are wonderful sensual expressions in the most delighted particulars: see the Canticle of Canticles (Solomon’s Songs). The text is included in the Cristian and Hebrew Bible but from the antique Sumerian and Acadians poetic tradition.
    Art is (or could be) an expression of inner wisdom, of clairvoyance, of imagination, of creativity and as well a sort of rebellion against someone or something.
    Art is very personal and subjective: fortunately not all what is called “art” find place in an artistic catalogue or in a museum… far from that to happen.
    Anyhow, sometimes unfortunately for most and fortunately for the artist, monstrosities of low value and even less morality are beaten in auctions for exorbitant prices. But that is the Human being, so special in his/her every form of thought and presence… this is human nature!
    Since the Paleolithic (Venus von Willendorf or the Venus of Dolni Vestonice), you find the representation of the woman (seen as Pacha Mama – Mother Earth). I do like this carving from 24.000 BC, full with an innocence in which breasts and womb are large as to symbolize fertility. The ancients have venerated these figures, down to the millennia, for several reasons. Anthropology (of religions) studies the flow of different believes, dating back in the millennia… I guess our progenitors have always had the necessity to “believe” in something, after giving to it a material consistence in which direct prayers and donations. I have not learned about these things, and then what I express here is only my perception.
    Since I saw the movie Cloud Atlas, there is one strange idea flipping in my mind… maybe you saw it too and you can follow my thoughts. There is the young Sonmi451, a waitress in the New Seoul of 2144, whom become a sort of Goddess after the great Catastrophe in 2321 (related to her Manifesto build on a sentence of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn).
    Even if it is a crazy sci-fi not that easy to understand because of the six stories combined, the base of the ideas of the author D.Mitchell enlightens and at the same time make me shiver.
    At the rise of mankind the symbols related to idiolatry used in Totemism, animism, paganism, shamanism and so on, are all means of devotions toward something that gave the human beings force and constancy to confront themselves to live and the perils connected to it… and yes, even the last frontier: death.
    I like to think that God is all over us, in any form, as energy, and permeate every single presence.
    I stop asking myself the too many questions (remained without answers) which used to pop out of my mind specially at night before falling (finally and fortunately) asleep. This is the reason why I follow this path in which my mind/soul/spirit will have to come back, and back again… until I will have achieved the intrinsticate reason of my past-present-future “existence”.
    Dear Shimon, have a bright day :-)claudine

    • Yes, I agree with you. Solomon’s song of songs is one of the great literary works, and very sensual. There is every reason to believe it was written in Hebrew. And it is wonderful to see the human expression in art, in all its many forms. And it’s also true that many times, religions have lost the essence in their search for purity. But we do know that it is all around us, and we only need relax in order to appreciate it. Thanks very much for your comment, Claudine.

  16. An interesting post indeed – then again, it’s simply you being yourself. To me, I like this blend of history and culture that is delivered with sincerity along with slight a touch of a smirk … and the latter is in a good way.

    • I’ve gotten the impression that some of our cultural and historical influences are unfamiliar outside of our country. So I try and give a bit of the background to our strange ways… I had to look up smirk in the dictionary, and what I found was, “smile in an irritatingly smug, conceited, or silly way”. I hope that my explanations are not irritating, but I accept your assurance that it’s ‘in a good way’. Thanks for the comment, Frank.

  17. Your pictures as works of art have great clarity, unlike the cultural and belief associations with the idols. Idolatry and ritual are intertwined. I have noticed in some events I have attended, that when there are no obvious idols in view, but there are signs and symbols and displays of structural power that followers appear to idolize. Though not humanoid likenesses, they connect with what we have been culturally steeped in. I suspect that the connection creates subliminal sensations, pictures and likenesses in our minds.

    There’s more than a touch of Shimon challenging notions in this post…and why not!

    Great writing, stimulating thinking and an interesting post.

    • I agree with you whole heartedly about signs and symbols that become variations of idolatry. I used to upset my students occasionally by pointing this out to them. Seemingly, we have this tendency, as human beings, to attach too much importance to signs and physical objects. And many scholars have discussed the notion that the very character that aspires towards the religious or spiritual significance is more likely to go astray by following insubstantial faith. Faith itself is a double edged sword, and I appreciate your comment, menhir.

  18. I just loved that final sentence Shimon….yes maintaining perspective is important, as sometimes we just get lost in situations….
    Again, a really interesting post. You always leave me thinking…xxx

    • Thank you very much, Dina. Yesterday evening, I was walking in the area of the old train station, and I saw two very interesting paintings that protested our obsession with cell phones these days, and the predominance of Google. The female painter saw both of these as evidence of modern day idolatry, and I thought the paintings really should have been included in the blog. Maybe I’ll try to post them in the near future. the struggle between the true and innocent appreciation of life, and the worship of ‘things’ continues in our society. There is so much to think about. May you continue to enjoy the summer. xxx

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