Monday, April 19, 2010

On the Nature of Idols

This is something of a little known fact, but Abraham’s Father (yes the Abraham of the Israelite and Ishmaelite nations) was a maker of Idols. One day, Abraham was left in charge of the shop where his father’s idols were sold, and Abraham, in a monotheistic zeal, smashed all the idols but one and left the stick in the survivor’s hand. When his father returned, the poor man grew angry and asked what happened. Abraham replied that the large idol had smashed all the others. His father replied that this was impossible, as the idols were made of stone and wood, were not alive, and couldn’t do such things. Abraham said exactly and then asked his father why he worshiped them.

Every time I have heard this story, it is used to prove the genius and faith of Abraham, who realized there was only one true living god. After all, if idols are only base representations and have no power, why pray to them? Better to worship the single all powerful god, praise Abraham for his insight and wisdom.

Sadly, all I see is the ignorance of a boy who failed to understand the true nature of the idols. It is true, as his father said, that Idols are not living things in and of themselves. But those who pray to idols do not pray to the materials they are made of, but rather the being they represent. The idol functions as a visual aid to picture the being one is trying to communicate with and as I direct line to that being. To use a modern analogy, the Idol is a phone.

Little idols and symbols one carries around are like cell phones.

This becomes clear if we look at the function of both phones and idols. A phone is not a living thing, yet it connects you to a person who maybe two feet away, a state over, or on the other side of the world. So too are idols to their respective gods, who might be wandering around or in their homes in which ever place that may be. Praying to an idol served the same function for our ancient ancestors in communicating to their gods as a modern cell phone does for us in communicating with our friends.

Perhaps the story of Abraham is what most people make it out to be. Or maybe it’s the story of a son who failed to learn about his people’s ways from his father and learned something he thought was better. It surely is a story about the destruction of property and loss of business and hours of hard work for Abraham’s father. Still, let us not forget the story of the broken Idols, for they were but the first in a long line smashed by the followers of the monotheistic path. And like a broken phone, it made it that much harder to contact our friends the gods, which we are only now beginning to rebuild.

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