Thursday, November 8, 2012

In Defense of Idols: Neopagans and Idol Worship

When pagans, heathens, and wiccans place images of a deity or several deities upon their ritual altar outsiders, particularly monotheists, atheists, and agnostics, might be compelled to think that they are worshiping a material object, but this is not so. The reality is that neopagans use idol images to enable them to better conceptualize their deity in much the same way that monotheists utilize their sacred texts to conceptualize the attributes of their deity, or in the same way anybody uses mathematical symbols to represent mathematical concepts.

Math, art and language are not all that different. A work of art is created by combining various symbols in a single space to create a single work of art. Like art, all language (including the language of math) is comprised of sets of symbols, and like those who utilize the written language contained in their sacred books to envision the nature, character, and attributes of their deity, neopagans utilize idol images for much the same ends. Pagans, like everyone else, believe in the power symbols have to call to mind the various concepts and attributes which are intimately connected to those symbols.

When heathens, wiccans, or other neopagans erect idol images they are not, as many might suppose, worshiping the image, rather they are revering the Platonic "forms" behind the image which comprise the attributes of a deity, lesser deity, nature spirit, etc. Since this is the case, it must be noted that one simply cannot grasp the purpose of idol images unless they first grasp Platonic philosophy and the concept of Plato's "forms", especially given the fact that most all of modern Western neopaganism has been heavily influenced by Platonic philosophy, particularly Plato's doctrine of "forms".

For instance, in Christian Theology there are both divine attributes and a divine essence. The divine attributes are derived from both reason and Scripture (both being communicated using a rational set of symbols called language), and are defined as those attributes which define who God is, while the divine essence is God. This theological framework is not all that different from what a pagan is intending when they set-up an idol, in that, the idol image serves as a visual representation (the means of communication, rather than language) of the divine attributes which define who a particular divine essence is. In other words, a pagan kneeling before an idol is not worshiping a vain image, but rather, he or she is attempting to invoke the attributes of their deity to gain a closer relationship with the essence which is that deity; frankly, this is no different than a Christian reading their Bible in order to call "God" to mind.

With this in mind, it only stands to reason that if a neopagan can be accused of worshiping "graven images" then a monotheist is equally guilty of worshiping their sacred text and not their "God".


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