Why is idol worship a sin?
There are a number of people in the world that practice idol worship. This article aims to critically analyze idol worship, taking into consideration the reasons given by those who practice it.
Reasons given for Idol Worship:
- An Idol itself is NOT god. It is just a symbol of God.
- Idols are just an object of concentration. We do not believe idols themselves to be Gods.
- We do not worship the idols - We worship God through idols.
- We revere God like we revere our leaders and forefathers by remembering them with their pictures and statues.
- God is everywhere, so worshiping idols is not a sin.
- We use simple examples to make children understand. Similarly, common people are like children when it comes to spirituality. That is why idols are used during worship.
Things to remember:
God’s image is an assumption
None of us have seen God. Therefore, the images of God that people worship are not correct. They are mere assumptions made by people.
Images derived from Man’s experience
The images attributed to God are derived from people’s experiences of what they have seen and perceived in their daily life.
Why is idol worship a sin?
People think that worshipping idols is not a sin because idols are worshipped only to revere God. Idol worship is not a sin since God understands the intentions behind it.
Even though people who worship God using idols might do so with the best of intentions, idol worship is still a sin because of the following reasons.
1. God did not permit idol worship
God did not allow people to worship Him through idols. In order to be remembered or thought upon no one would like to have the statue or painting of a dog or monkey made for him, since we consider them sub-human creatures which are far below us. Similarly all objects in this universe are created by God and everything here is so insignificant that there is no comparison to any of them with God. It is a gross injustice to God to erect any of these objects to remember or to concentrate on God. Hence it becomes an unpardonable sin.
2. Images attributed to God disrespect God
Although images are made to revere God, unfortunately the same images become a means for disrespecting God. For example: we see the images attributed to God being used in calendars, hand bags, crackers, lottery tickets, invitation cards and even beedis. Once the calendar year expires, the calendar which has the image of “God” gets thrown into the garbage bin. The same happens with used and old notebooks, invitation cards and hand bags. We see old lottery tickets with the image of God being used in hair salons, while some beedis with the image of God are flushed in toilets and others stamped under people’s feet.
Would we accept such things to be done to our picture or the pictures of our parents or our beloved ones? If not, how can we accept such things done to God?
3. Images attributed to God are many times unacceptable to us
Some of the images attributed to God are many times unacceptable to us. For example: would we like to see ourselves with a big pot belly, disfigured face with teeth protruding outside? Would we agree to marry such a person or agree to get our children married to such persons? We would never accept.
God who created beauty would be the most beautiful. The images do gross injustice to God by portraying God’s image as something we ourselves would not accept.
So the reason “We revere God like we revere our leaders and forefathers by remembering them with their pictures and statues” is not valid.
4. Images of God distort the correct concept of God
When images of God are drawn from what man has experienced, man starts to think that God’s nature is similar to humans and ends up attributing all types of human weaknesses like family, wives, concubines, sleep, forgetfulness etc to God. This leads to the distortion of the correct belief of God thus making man careless about the accountability of his deeds as he starts to consider God weak.
Do we need idols for concentration?
We do not need idols or images to concentrate. The following points will explain that.
- We see many people close their eyes when they pray standing in front of the images or idols. If images and idols are used for concentration, why do people close their eyes?
- Concentration needs to be at the maximum when we pray to God for an urgent need. For example: You travel in a bike and the brake of the bike fails. It is natural that you would pray to God and concentration for this prayer needs to be at the maximum. Would you search for a picture or an idol of God before you pray or would you directly pray to God?
- If idol is used ONLY for concentration, any object could be used and the substitution of any other object for the idol would not be opposed. This never happens. Hence the statement that idols are used only for concentration is not true.
- Moreover, if the idols are used only for concentration then people should be ready to treat the idols and images like any other object. This never happens. Man gets the image and reflection of things where his mind and eyes concentrate. The idolater will have the image of the idol settled in mind, and idols will occupy God’s place. This is why the statues and images are sanctified and honored with worship (pujas). This shows that people treat the images and the idols as God. So the reasons “Idol itself is NOT god. It is just a symbol of God; idols are just an object of concentration. We do not believe idols themselves to be Gods and we do not worship the idols - we worship God through idols” are not true.
- It is a common practice for people to use “photos” of the deceased during the anniversary rites. If the picture of the deceased is not to be found, would people agree to substitute with a picture of someone else? If no, how is it fine to substitute an image for God?
Is God everywhere?
People think that since God is everywhere, idols and statues can be worshipped. This reasoning is incorrect due to the following reasons.
- If God is everywhere, then we can start worshiping any object present around us and need not look for an idol or an image attributed to God. Example: pen, chairs, tables etc.
- It is illogical to think that God is everywhere. Creations have a beginning and end. If the God (creator) is within the creations, then what would happen to God when the creations come to an end?
- Our universe comprises of matter and anti-matter. When matter and anti-matter come in contact with each other, they cancel each other and the result is non-existence. So if God is present everywhere, it would mean God is present in both matter and anti-matter. So when the matter and anti-matter come in contact with each other, it would mean that God becomes non-existent because the matter and anti-matter cancel each other. Hence, God being present everywhere is illogical and impossible.
Hence the reason “God is everywhere, so worshiping idols is not a sin” is incorrect.
How can we achieve concentration in worship?
When man starts to think about the attributes of God like God’s mercy, forgiveness, love, wisdom, poweretc man would be able to really concentrate in his worship and the worship will also become meaningful.
One important thing everyone needs to ask themselves is: have we ever tried to worship God without using an image or an idol? If no, how is it correct to dismiss the idea without even trying it?
Common people need Idols to worship God
The claim that common people are incapable of worshipping God without idols is false because:
- There are millions of common people in Islam, Judaism and several denominations of Christianity who worship God without idols. If all these people can worship God without idols, it should be possible for common people of all faiths to worship God without images and idols.
- To say that common people are like children in spirituality and hence would need idols is like saying “we need to draw a picture of a small sun for children to look at since they cannot see the sun rays directly”.
- Only if the fundamentals of any particular subject are strong, a person will be able to excel in future. For e.g. a teacher of mathematics in standard one teaches the students that 2 + 2 = 4.Irrespective of whether the student passes school or does graduation or does a Ph. D. in mathematics, the basics of 2 + 2 = 4 will always remain the same, it will not change to 5 or 6. In higher standards the student may learn about Algebra, Trigonometry, and Logarithm etc. besides addition, but the fundamentals of addition will yet remain the same. If the teacher in standard one itself teaches the fundamentals wrong, how can you expect the student to excel in future?
Will you tell your son who is in standard one that 2 + 2 is not equal to 4 but is equal to 5 or 6 and tell him the truth after he passes school? We would never do that. In fact if he makes a mistake you will correct him and say it is 4 and not wait till he graduates; and if you don’t correct him initially you will ruin his future.
Similarly the fundamentals of worship can never change irrespective of whether the person is a scholar or a commoner.
Hindu Scriptures condemn Idol worship
A careful reading of the Vedas and Upanishads will show us that the Hindu scriptures are against idol worship. Hence organizations like AryaSamaj, BrahmoSamaj, GayathriSamaj etc which follow the teachings of Vedas and Upanishads speak against idol worship and regard idol worship as a sin.
Do we have an excuse to worship Idols?
When we confront the person who worships an Idol with the evidences and reasons against it, he may recant saying “What matters is to be good, let us not worry about how we worship God”. Using this statement, the person attempts to nullify all the arguments against idol worship.
If this statement is made by a person who worships God, we may ask him, if it is just about being a good human being, why do you worship God?
By worshiping God, the person agrees that as much as we strive to be good human beings, it is equally important to worship God. Since worship is for God, are we not supposed to see if God ratifies how we worship? We did see that God does not permit idol worship and also the problems with it and why it becomes a sin.
Let us try to understand this through a simple example. Say there is a person called A, who does a lot of social services like helping the poor, sick and the needy and he is known as an excellent human being in his society. One day, people discover that he was involved in treason by secretly helping an enemy nation by passing on confidential information to them.
On the other hand, we have another person called B, who does not do much social services or get involved in any social welfare activities and is not considered as a great person by his society. Although this person does not do any good acts, he stays loyal to his country.
Compare these two persons, A and B. Who is better of the two? Can person A be forgiven just because he has helped a few people? In no case, will he be forgiven, as what he has done amounts to treachery and planning against the country. All countries consider treason as a very serious crime.
Similarly, God does love people who do good deeds, but under NO pretext, will God forgive those who do ‘treachery’ against Him, by worshipping things other than Him or by worshipping idols.
It is hence, very clear that when a person is involved in idol worship, he disobeys God. A person can never be a good human being by disobeying God and doing things that displeases God.Hence, to be a good human being, a person has to obey God in all matters including worship.
So the excuse “What matters is to be good, let us not worry about how we worship God” is not justified.
Essence of Worship
Worship is a deed done by the worshipper out of extreme piety, reverence and humility to God. It is unbecoming of man, who is the best of God’s creations to offer worship to something that is equal to him to or something which is below him in status.
Moreover, worship with extreme reverence is shown only to the one who deserves it. God alone is perfect in greatness, wisdom and power. So God alone deserves worship and it is God’s privilege to be worshipped and adored. What God alone deserves should not be given to others; and doing so is against God’s will because it is like elevating them to the same level as God, who is the one and only deity.
- Idol worship is a major sin.
- God did not permit idol worship.
- Images attributed to God humiliate God.
- Images of God distort the correct concept of God.
- Images attributed to God are many times unacceptable to us.
- We do not need idols for concentration.Concentration in worship can be achieved by thinking about the attributes of God.
- The argument “God is everywhere, so Idol worship is correct” is erroneous.