Talk:Idolatry/Archive 5

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I removed two sections because I have a variety of problems with them. If we can addres them satisfactoraly, perhaps these sections can be reincorporated into the article -- but I think at the least they need some serious work.

=== As viewed in psychoanalysis ===
In a psychoanalytic sense, "idolatry" is conceptually similar to attachment, where something is valued beyond what others value it, or beyond a healty balance with other concerns. And like symbols, many concepts central to religion, if solidified into into literalities, lose their personal power.

I believe the above passage is vague, misleading and lacks NPOV. First, I am not sure if it represents [sychoanalysis clearly. Who, exactly. has cmpared idolatry to unhealthy atachments? I suspect Freud wrote something about idolatry in Moses and Monotheism but Freud did not really use the language of "attachment" theory. If there is a serious psychoanaltic analysis of idolatry, it belongs here -- but the above passage needs more detail, at least a citation.

I know that we normally do not need citations for every thing in an article. One reason I think we need a citation here is that this is a subsection that is about a particular group's view of idolatry (psychoanalysts'); in other words, the section reveals something not only about idolatry, but about psychology. In order to educate people (the task of an encyclpoedia) about psychology, this paragraph needs development: who made the argument, and why, and a citation so readers who want to learn more about this approach can.

But there is another reason I think citations are important. I think this psychoanalytic interpretation of idolatry -- if it really exists -- is ethnocentric. Psychoanalysis has been criticized by many. I personally think there is great value to psychoanalysis, and I certainly welcome its inclusion when appropriate in articles. But many critics question the scientific validity of psychoanalysis. When Freud wrote his case-studies, he derived arguments from a close examination of a person. That is a far cry from passing judgements on whole societies or civilizations. And in the 19th century one of the most common forms of Eurocentrism was the claim that we white guys are better at thinking abstractly than those wogs. And the passage above seems to echo that ethnocentric argument. The fact that psychoanalysis itself may lack NPOV or be ethnocentric is no surprise to critics of psychoanalysis -- and this is not enough eason to delete the passage, if a psychoanalyst really made the argument. But given that it is an example of Eurocentrism in psychonalysis, I think it is especially important to include the name(s) of the theorist, and some minimal context (when and where they practices).

I agree with Slr's comments. Is there any evidence that these claims are a mainstream belief within the psychiatric or psychoanalysts community? Or are these the lone views of one Wikipedia reader? RK

Slr removed the following:

Beliefs considered idolatrous: Polytheistic beliefs which the Abrahamic religions generally consider idolatrous include:
  • Multiple gods exist.
  • The gods can be appeased, and even have their minds changed, by setting one god against another.
  • Certain objects and places have supernatural power (see: mana)
  • Prayers in the presence of certain objects or places are likelier to be heard by the gods than elsewhere
These beliefs are at variance with the idea of monotheism, which holds that all power comes from God alone, and not from any other supernatural gods or agents. In such systems "God" at best would be the stronger of many other gods; this God then could not have omnipotence, God would not have an independent and sovereign will.

These beliefs may well be at odds with monotheism (except you can find plentifal examples of items 3 (the ark) and 4 (the holy of holies) in every monotheistic religion. Perhaps items 3 and 4 should be deleted or at least modified. Slrubenstein

I think they should still be included, but I agree with you that they should be modified. We may note that the [[Tanakh|Hebrew Bibl]e itself cautions against interpreting these symbols as objects with power independent from God, especially the later books of the Hebrew Bible. RK

But my main argument is that these, especially items 1 and 2, don't seem to be idolatry. I am not convinced that idolatry = polytheism. Prohibition of polytheism = don't have other gods before Me. Prohibition of idolatry = don't make graven images. Even if you believe in one God, you can still make an idol of Him, and that would be wrong. In short, I suspect that the above section belongs in an article on Monotheism versus Polytheism but are just not really germaine to this article. In short, the first two examples are true about polytheism, which is a separate issue than idolatry; the second two items can exist within monotheistic religions and not be considered idolatrous. Slrubenstein

I agree with you, but that wasn't what I was trying to say. In fact, throughout this article I have been trying to say the opposite: I have been trying to say that idolatry is not polytheism. Rather, idolatry is a term that many people simply attach to all polytheistic practices and beliefs, even if that term is not correct. I will attempt to rewrite these sections to make this cleaerer. I think you misread the text when you think I am discussing monotheism versus polytheism; I am not (although others are welcome to do so.) I am only saying that many monotheists use this word for a wide variety of situations, even when it is not called for. RK
At least some Christians subscribe to a doctrine of progressive revelation which leaves open the possibility that such things as animal sacrifice, a holy of holies, and an Ark of the Covenant might be superseded beliefs even if they were authorised by the Hebrew Bible. By this theory, objects of worship were authorised in the past, for primitive people, as a concession to human weakness and anthropomorphism. Now that people are ready to grasp a purer and more abstract monotheism, they are no longer appropriate, and potentially fall into the category of idolatry. The destruction of the Nehushtan, apparently a genuine relic of Moses, after it became an object of veneration is perhaps an example of this within the Hebrew Bible itself. The notions that certain objects have mana, or that prayers using the objects are likelier to be heard than otherwise, seem to me to be of the essence of idolatry, for the reasons stated. A truly omnipresent and almighty God finds any such objects irrelevant. -- IHCOYC 20:07 Mar 9, 2003 (UTC)
Many Jews also have a view that may be termed progressive revelation. RK
Sure, God finds such objects irrelevant... they're for the benefit of us mortals, not God. Same was true of things like the Ark and Tabernacle. God was still omnipresent back then, but setting aside certain things and places helped the Israelites become cognizant of His presence with them. The idea of progressive revelation itself can cut either way. Either objects are no longer acceptable, or they are still acceptable and can even be used to depict God the Son because of the Incarnation. Eastern Orthodoxy accepts progressive revelation with the caveat that later revelations remain true to the foundation laid by earlier revelations; there can be more complete understanding, or new applications, but not contradictions of earlier fundamentals. In my experience, I don't think such objects help God hear my prayers, but they do encourage me to pray in various ways; Protestants use different kinds of prayer reminders as well, whether it's photos of missionary families on the fridge they want to remember in prayer, or wallet-sized cards with preprinted prayers or prayer outlines they carry in their wallet. It would be reasonable to keep both Points Of View in the article... haven't looked at it in a few days. Wesley 14:55 Mar 10, 2003 (UTC)

Now, this part is factually wrong:

Polytheistic beliefs which the Abrahamic religions generally consider idolatrous include:

  • Multiple gods and/or deities exist.
  • These gods may work together or against each other; A person may even set one god against another for one's benefit.
  • Certain objects or places have supernatural power independent of God; they can be manipulated by a person through the proper ceremony or sacrifice to achieve a result without God's instruction or consent.
  • Prayer in the presence of certain objects or places are likelier to be heard by the gods than elsewhere. Modern biblical scholars hold that the early books of the Hebrew Bible were written as a reaction against this belief. The Torah instructs the Israelites to demolish all local places that are repupted to have such power; in their place the Israelites were instructed to offer sacrifices at only one location, the Temple in Jerusalem. Later books of the Hebrew Bible make clear that prayers to God could be offered anywhere.

These beliefs are at variance with the idea of monotheism, which holds that all power comes from God alone, and not from any other supernatural gods or agents. In such systems "God" at best would be the stronger of many other gods; this God then could not have omnipotenc, God would not have an independent and sovereign will.

It is wrong in several particulars. The earliest books of the Hebrew Bible show prayers and sacrifices being offered to God in several different places. The monopoly of the Temple in Jerusalem was a monopoly of sacrifice, not of prayer; it was not the earliest such situation in the Bible, since the Bible history shows that at one time the Jews did not control Jerusalem, but sacrifices were demanded of them even then. The monopoly of the Jerusalem temple became an issue after the breakup of Israel and Judah after the death of Solomon. Later books don't so much say that prayer can be offered anywhere --- there was never a Jerusalem monopoly on prayer --- as much as they seem to discount the sacrificial aspect of Jewish religion in favour of the more internal factors. IHCOYC
No, Ihcoyc, that paragraph is not wrong at all. In fact, it never denies that the early books of the Bible report the existence of multiple places of sacrifice. In fact, it does say that the Bible mentions these places! Allow me to state this important point again: If we read the early books of the Bible in order, we find a progression by which these places are destroyed and forbidden, until we are left with only one place that sacrifices are authorized to be held in. Further, I never said that the Temple in Jerusalm had a monopoly on prayer; in fact I wrote the precise opposite! Finally, later books of the Bible are absolutely clear that a person may offer a prayer to God even outside the Temple, and they may offer a prayer outside the context of sacrifices. Both ideas are in the Bible. I thus don't understand your claim of error, as you are not refuting what I wrote. RK
OK. I see what you are saying now. My understanding, though, is that the various shrines, altars, and "high places" that were destroyed in the chronicles of the Hebrew kings were places where other gods were worshipped. -- IHCOYC 21:01 Mar 9, 2003 (UTC)
I agree with you. The Bible isn't explicit about their early uses. Early Israelites seemed to have separate places of worship for monotheistic purposes; they may have had their own separate high places from the pagan ones. However, the way that the Israelites lasped back into polytheism on a number of occasions prompted the prophets to excorciate them loudly and often; we lack the details, but something allowed some of them to drift back into polytheism. I believe that the purpose of the one Temple in Jerusalem was part of a program to wean the Israelites away from polytheism. (In the minds of the average person 4000 years ago, separate places might mean separate gods; one place would mean one god.) RK

RK, why are you reverting my work without even bothering to discuss it? Susan Mason


I have a point to make concerning the above comments by RK and IHCOYC -- a point that I think is fairly reasonable and that I hope will guide both of you as you make more changes to the article. The point: there is a difference between change, which is an objective observable phenomenon, and progress, which is a a particular way of talking about change. It is true that Hebrew religion (and later, Judaism) has changed. Some people do beleive that these changes are progressive, meaning they represent incremental improvements in a generally positive direction. As RK says, there are Jews who hold a theory of "progressive revelation." The views of those Jews (or others) ought to be represented in this article. But I believe it is an ethnocentric view in that it implies that the revelation to people 2, 3, or 4,000 years ago was less complete, or less-fully realized. IHCOYC even refers to earlier monotheists as "primitive." If by "primitive" we just mean "first" or "prior" that is undeniable, but if by "primitive" we mean in some sense, inferior (IHCOYC uses the word weaker) -- well, that is ethhnocentric. I repeat: this view is a legitimate view among monothesists and should be represented in the article. But the other view should be represented as well. Slrubenstein

Points well worth considering; When they are discussed and wirtten up, I think they should be discussed in the article on revelation. I don't think they belong in this article. Too much of a side topic. RK

I think RK made this point, that the Bible itself provides multiple views towards sacred places. It is possible (as Wellhausen argued) that the people who edited the Torah and authorized the canon were of the belief that one place is holier than all others; but this does not mean that among ancient Hebrews, especially before the period of redaction and canonization, there weren't Hebrews -- still monotheists -- who held other views (such as the holiness of bamot). My point is, just as Judaism and Hebrew religion has changed, one can say that monotheism has changed, and any article that represents "monotheism" should:

  • strive to do justice to all its forms, not just synchronically (Judaism, Islam, Christiantity) but diachronically as well (monotheism today, 2, 3, 4,000 years ago) and
  • the article itself ought not claim that the monotheism of today is better, more evolved, truer, more legitimate, more authentically monotheistic, than the earlier forms of monotheism (although the article can of course explain that some monotheists believe this to be so). Slrubenstein
I agree; however I would suggest that this particular article makes no attempt to discuss the evolution of monotheism, except in the most tangential fashion. That subject is best discussed in the extant entry on monotheism. Also, when I was writing about the view expressed in the Hebrew Bible, I had intended to refer to the views that Israelites would have had some centuries after the time of Moses, when the biblical stories and books has started to exist as we know them today. I did not intend to imply that these views existed in the time of Abraham, Isaac or Jacob, or even Moses's era. I was making a somewhat more limited claim then the issues you bring up. Your points, however, are well taken! RK
From the perspective of Christianity, the New Testament, specifically the Epistle to the Hebrews, explicitly teaches that the revelation contained in the Hebrew Bible is incomplete, and has been amended and in some respects superseded by the revelations from Jesus. There is a very definite notion of the primitive and imperfect being replaced by a more perfect and complete revelation from the Christian perspective. Christians, at least, tend to view the evolution that seems obvious, at least to non-fundamentalists, in the ideas of monotheism within the Hebrew Bible as a back-projection of their own belief in progressive revelation. In itself, it is not an unreasonable reading. Over the course of the Hebrew Bible, God seems to change from a tribal god who threw horse and rider into the sea, into the Creator of the Universe. It is not unreasonable to ask why the Creator of the Universe wants us to bring him a dead goat, and the prophets do seem to have asked that very question. For the literalist, who affirms that everyword of Scripture continues to mean what it says, it's a larger problem. This does belong somewhere other than the article on idolatry, but it is tangentially related if only that formerly worshipped and mana-containing objects like the Ark of the Covenant or the Nehushtan may seem idolatry to those with later perspectives -- IHCOYC 01:37 Mar 10, 2003 (UTC)

When, I don't have a problem with the above entering into any article, as long as it is explicit that it is (in your words above) a Christian (or NT) perspective -- and not a perspective of all monotheists, and not an "objective" perspective, that's all. Slrubenstein

While I agree with IHCOYC that, from Christianity's perspective, the New Testament represents a more complete revelation, I think it is going too far to suggest that the Israelites worshipped the Ark. That would suggest that when Moses received the Law on Mt. Sinai, God commanded Moses both to not worship graven images, and also commanded him to make an Ark and to worship it. I don't think this notion is found explicitly in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and instead seems to be an anachronistic superimposing of modern anthropologists' ideas about 'mana' onto what was happening there. Wesley 14:02 Mar 11, 2003 (UTC)
re: the ark. I do think one can say that the ark had "mana" -- if the wrong people touched it, they died. Of course, "mana" does not equal "worship" and the appropriate articles must be clear about the difference. It is a similar difference that is at stake here. I agree with Wesley that there is no evidence that the Hebrews ever worshipped the ark. But clearly, they considered it sacred. This distinction is clear to anyone who is or has be religious. But I think the challenge for us, writing an encyclopedia article, is how to explain the difference in terms comprehensible to anyone -- someone of a non-Abrahamic religion, or an atheist, for example? We have to start with the possibility that some people might not understand the difference, or might think it is "semantics." I see one of the tasks of an article on idolatry to be to provide an explanation that a secular person would find intelligible (and frankly, I am not sure how to do it), Slrubenstein

As I understand it, the question of whether the Ark had mana would depend on whether one thinks its power operated independently of God, or if God Himself caused the deaths and other misfortunes when it was mistreated or stolen. Maybe that's irrelevant; I may be misunderstanding what is meant by mana.

Unfortunately, I don't think the distinction is between sacred object and object of worship is universally clear even to the current editors of this article. I agree, there is a fundamental distinction between veneration and worship that needs to be spelled out, perhaps with the caveat that some (who exactly?) do not recognize any such distinction. Do we have an article yet on what religions mean when they say something, someone or some place is holy? This seems to be a related concept. Wesley

My understanding of mana is that it is some invisible force that makes an object potent, powerful, magical, or holy. It may be bestowed by a deity, but it seems more likely that mana is a sort of side-effect of a deity's presence. The ark definitely is treated in the Hebrew Bible in a way that's indistinguishable from mana. It is a source of dangerous power that may not be theologically independent of God's will, but acts as if it is nonetheless. It brings death to Uzzah and prosperity to Obed-Edom, seemingly by its mere presence. (1 Chron. XIII). The various Levitical rules that say priests who had witnessed particularly holy ceremonies retained a dangerous power map easily into the concept of mana. "Mana" is used by anthropologists as a sort of "neutral" term that covers all instances of these kinds of behaviour; not to see it in there because the Hebrew Bible is in "our" tradition seems to me to be what we are trying to avoid here. -- IHCOYC 20:09 Mar 11, 2003 (UTC)