Why do Abrahamic religions violently oppose Deity Worship?

by Chaitanya Charan dasNovember 12, 2013

Answer Podcast

Transcription: Vandana Goel Mataji

Question: Why are the Abrahamic religions so much against deity worship?

Answer: In your book idol worship, it mentions how Moses had the image of the cow that people were worshiping destroyed and he even destroyed the people who were worshiping that, he ordered for those people to be killed. Why do they have so much hatred against deity worship? We see that even Muslims when they came to India they destroyed deities. So what is the reason? Isn’t it just religious Fanatic? Moses is the founder of Judaism so even he seems to have that so is it that there are some fanatical people who are against deity worship or is it that even the spiritual leaders are against deity worship?

Answer- if we understand the difference between deity worship and idol worship so what is opposed in the Abraham religion is idol worship. And they don’t have any conception of deity worship at all. Now we generally do the differentiation between the deity worship and idol worship as a form made according to some scriptural description and a form for which the pranaprathishta is done. But this conception is not there in Abrahamic religion. Of clear description of God’s form. And because of that the idea in those religions is that God is transcendental and God is beyond any material representation. Because God is beyond material representation so therefore they say that any material representation of God is false. Because cannot be represented by anything material. So their idea is that whenever there is any material representation of God that is not actually God that is false representation. And people start worshiping that representation and they forget the person who is represented or forget God who is being represented by it. And in that way their idea is that in that representation becomes a competitor to God. That means the representation was meant to be used to worship God but people focus on the representation and forget what the representation was representing and in this way the representation instead of taking people towards God becomes an obstacle on the path towards God. And when that happens the people seem to be doing religious activity but they are actually being …from going towards God so in that condition they consider any material representation of God to be a false God, a competitor who needs to be destroyed so that the true glory of God could be established and people focus on worship of true God so that’s why in those traditions there are repeated references to discretion of the temples of the false Gods and the destruction of idols. And this is often celebrated as an act of religious glory. So that means the kings when they conquer, if the kings are religious when they destroy the temples they think that oh! We have done so glorious something which we are proud of to establish the glory of God. So desecrated idols is not an act of extremely fanaticism it is an act that is very inheritant in the tradition of Abrahamic religions. Even Mohammad when he comes back to Mecca bashes up all the idols that are present in the sacred place that is in Kabba. Of course in some Muslim historian accounts it is said that it is representation of Jesus and Mary and while everything is else has been destroyed He protected that. He did not let that get that destroyed. And of course there are some Muslim historians who compete that and afterwards he let them also be destroyed. But whatever in these religious traditions there is no positive description of God and therefore no representation can be made which is actually based on the original description of God. Even among various traditions within the Abrahamic religions there are some churches in which there are pictures of the religious heads over there, of some religious figures. Pictures of Jesus, pictures of Moses, pictures of even God. So there is the idea of God with a long beard and God as an old man. This is actually idol worship where we imagine God having a particular form and then make that imagined form as the object of narration. So actually the idea of God as an old person and long beard is a false representation of God and it repels people away from God. The idea that all representations of God are similar is an incorrect extrapolation from this misconception and this incorrect extrapolation needs to be clarified and corrected. In the Vedic tradition there is description of God’s eternal form and there is in the Panchratra description of how that form can be represented in Deities. So this whole conception of representing God through matter and letting those materialistic representation become means by which we connect to Krishna, that conception is not there in Abrahamic religions. And that’s why they are so opposed to deity worship because what their religious tradition oppose to is idol worship. But because they do not know what is the difference between the deity worship and idol worship they assume that the idol is same as the deity, deity to be the same as the idol and then oppose deity worship also quite violently at times. Therefore we as devotees if we follow these religions then we have to give proper philosophical understanding and sometimes this may be so deeply ingrained in them as preconception that even the most exhaustible understanding may not be adequate for clarifying. In fact there are within these Abrahamic religions only there are conflicts. In some religions for example some nominations of Christianity some kind of representations of God are allowed. And in some branches of Christianity it is allowed at all for example the Hamish who leave alone representing God in any way they don’t allow any photos of even people to be taken. They say if we take photos of people and if we are attracted to those photos then we are creating a false idol which would become an object of our affection. Now this is extremism. Even in many branches of Islam we find all types of art are banned and that’s why they don’t have any …they have only floral designs in the mosques. So there are other nominations within these religions which oppose this. So especially say when Christians come to India they even have deities of Jesus because they want to attract Hindus and they adopt the culture of Hindus so that they can attract people. The point is there are other places where they will destroy any material representation of any God and in India they will come and make images of Jesus even idols of Jesus. So there is internal confusion and internal conflict because there is no clear understanding of God as a person and no clear description of God’s form. As devotees we have to recognize that because of this very inherent opposition to idol worship these religions at some level do pose a threat to deity worship as is described in the Vedic tradition. And that’s why we see that our Acharayas worked when Aurangzeb was ruling. They worked to take the deities from Vrindavan to Jaipur where Rajput king, Vaishnava king was there. So we shouldn’t think that this opposition to deity worship is just the result of some fanatics within those religions and let our guard down and we have to protect the temple and deities. But this protection doesn’t mean we have to start hating these religions and its followers. We have to give proper understanding through philosophy, through logic and through scriptural description and we will see that many of these people we see most of these people…if we see many of the Iskcon devotees in the first generation..that is the Prabhupada’s disciples many of them were western and they were all brought up in culture where deity worship was where any worship of God was strongly opposed and yet many of them had become leaders in deity worship. And they have devoted their years, decades, whole life for the servicing the deities. We shouldn’t think that this misconception is a fringe misconception..antipathy towards deity worship. But at the same time that doesn’t mean that we should hate. What we should understand is that they need a much deeper philosophy of re-education and we should try to provide that as much as possible and we cherish the blessing that we have been connected with the tradition where we have the opportunity to get glimpses of the all attractive form of Krishna through the deity.

Thank you
Hare Krishna

About The Author
Chaitanya Charan das

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