World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson



For the monotheistic religions, the chief manifestation of ignorance is idolatry. Literally the worship of images, idolatry in the broader sense means allegiance to false values that substitute for God. In the Qur'an idols are regarded as evil spirits and Satan; those who worship them are therefore enemies to God. The idol-gods, being spiritual beings, have the nature of creatures, rather than of God, and hence cannot profit their adherents--cf. Spiritual Error and the Occult, pp. 376-81. The Bible views idols as human artifacts, not as representations of deity. Hence idol worship is regarded as a form of materialism, and, conversely, any false reliance on human power or wealth is a form of idolatry. A more spiritual conception of idolatry is to identify it with egoism and human craving, since attachment to these false realities separates us from our true nature. In our century, the idols of nationalism, racism, and secular ideologies have captivated millions, with horrible results.

Verily We have raised in every nation a messenger, proclaiming, "Serve God and shun false gods."

Islam. Qur'an 16.36

The parable of those who take protectors other than God is that of the spider who builds for itself a house; but truly the flimsiest of houses is the spider's house--if they only knew!

Islam. Qur'an 29.41

Set forth your case, says the Lord; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob.... Declare to us the things to come, tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods.

Qur'an 29:41: Cf. Qur'an 21.19-21, p. 84; 23.91-92, p. 83.

Do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified. Behold, you are nothing, and your work is nought; an abomination is he who chooses you.

Judaism and Christianity. Isaiah 41.21-24

How can you call that flirt a chaste lady Who kisses and embraces every man she meets And shamelessly says, "O Honey, my dear!"... Behold! a faithful wife has but one husband! Behold! a true believer has but one God! Look! the fellowship of other gods is debauchery! Look! to believe in different gods is harlotry!

Hinduism. Basavanna, Vacana 615-16

The Lord said to Hosea, "Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry, for the land commits great harlotry by forsaking the Lord." So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

And the Lord said to him, "Call his name Jezreel, for yet a little while, and I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. On that day, I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel."

She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the Lord said to him, "Call her name Not Pitied, for I will no more have pity on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all."...

When she had weaned Not Pitied, she conceived and bore a son. And the Lord said, "Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people and I am not your God."

Judaism and Christianity. Hosea 1.2-8

The law against idolatry outweighs all other commandments.

Judaism. Mekilta Exodus 12.6

Isaiah 41.21-24: God is calling the idol gods to account before the heavenly court. Cf. 1 Corinthians 8.4-6, p. 83. Hosea 1.2-8: God instructed the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute in order to dramatize through his own marriage Israel's religious apostasy. As Gomer was unfaithful to the prophet, so Israel was unfaithful to God. Gomer's children were given symbolic names as prophecies of coming judgment. On idolatry as harlotry, cf. Jeremiah 2-3. Mekilta Exodus 12.6: Cf. Exodus 20.3-5, p. 166; Tosefta Shebuot 3.6, p. 397.

God forgives not joining other gods with Him; other sins than this He forgives whom He pleases. One who joins other gods with God has strayed far, far away. The pagans, leaving Him, call but upon female deities: they actually call upon Satan, the persistent rebel!

Islam. Qur'an 4.116-17

Whoever knows the self as "I am Brahman," becomes all this [universe]. Even the gods cannot prevent his becoming this, for he has become their Self.

Now, if a man worships another deity, thinking, "He is one and I am another," he does not know. He is like an animal to the gods. As many animals serve a man, so does each man serve the gods [with offerings]. Even if one animal is taken away, it causes anguish to the owner; how much more so when many are taken away! Therefore it is not pleasing to the gods that men should know the truth.

Hinduism. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10

Who sees Me by form, Who seeks Me in sound, Perverted are his footsteps upon the Way; For he cannot perceive the Tathagata.

Buddhism. Diamond Sutra 26

Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth.

Judaism and Christianity. Deuteronomy 4.15-18

Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat.

Qur'an 4.116-17: Cf. Qur'an 21.26-29, p. 377. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10: Cf. Srimad Bhagavatam 11.20, p. 380; Qur'an 17.61-64, p. 440. Diamond Sutra 26: A similar stanza can be found in the Theravada scriptures, at Theragatha 469. Deuteronomy 4.15-18: Cf. Romans 1.21-25, p. 396.

Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them.

Judaism and Christianity. Psalm 115.3-8

It is people who make the gods important.

If a spirit [idol] becomes too troublesome, it will be shown the tree from which it was carved.

African Traditional Religions. Kalabari Proverbs (Namibia)

Fools misjudge me when I take a human form, Because they do not know my supreme state as Lord of Beings. Unconscious, they fall prey to a beguiling nature such as belongs to ogres and demons, For their hopes [ascribing to God human motives] are vain, and so are their rituals and their search for wisdom.

Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 9.11-12

Their land is filled with silver and gold, and there is no end to their treasures; their land is filled with horses, and there is no end to their chariots. Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made. So man is humbled, and men are brought low-- forgive them not!

Judaism and Christianity. Isaiah 2.7-9

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron, and said to him, "Up, make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him." And Aaron said to them, "Take off the rings of gold which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me." So all the people took off the rings of gold which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made a molten calf; and they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!" When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, "Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord." And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.

Judaism and Christianity. Exodus 32.1-6

Psalm 115.3-8: The Bible has a number of satires on idols as human creations, mere objects unable to do anything--for example Isaiah 44.9-20 and Jeremiah 10.1-10. Passages such as this have fostered a general disdain for visual representations of the divine in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Such satires are perhaps uncomprehending of genuine image-worship, in which the image is understood only as a representation of transcendent Reality and a means to focus the mind on God, who is beyond form. Yet veneration of images may become idolatry when the images are themselves regarded as having magical powers. Bhagavad Gita 9.11-12: Cf. Bhagavad Gita 9.23-25, p. 380. Isaiah 2.7-9: Cf. Matthew 6.24, p. 937.

Covetousness, which is idolatry.

Christianity. Colossians 3.5

"There shall be in you no strange god and you shall not worship a foreign god" [Psalm 81.10]. What is the "foreign god" within a man's body? It is the evil impulse.

Judaism. Talmud, Shabbat 105b

For many... live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

Christianity. Philippians 3.18-19

Have you seen him who makes his desire his god, and God sends him astray purposely, and seals up his hearing and his heart, and sets on his sight a covering? Who, then, will lead him after God [has condemned him]? Will you not then heed?

Islam. Qur'an 45.23

Resolve to gain the victory over your own selves, that haply the whole earth may be freed and sanctified from its servitude to the gods of its idle fancies--gods that have inflicted such loss upon, and are responsible for the misery of, their wretched worshipers. These idols form the obstacle that impedes man in his efforts to advance in the path of perfection.

Baha'i Faith. Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah 43

Shabbat 105b: On the Evil Inclination, cf. Kiddushin 30b, p. 390. Philippians 3.18-19: Cf. Romans 1.21-25, p. 396.


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