Sunday, September 11, 2005


I have been thinking about idolatry recently, not practicing rather conceptually. Mostly this is because of a James Michener book that I am reading right now, The Source, where he goes into great detail his opinion on the sources of idol worship.

Jewish tradition has it that God removed the urge within us to worship idols around the time of Ezra (I believe). There is a story about a rabbi in the gemara who spoke degradingly about one of the Jewish kings who worshipped idols. The king came to him in a dream and said if you had been there, you would have lifted your robes and ran to worship, that's how powerful the urge was.

In a society without idolatry, excepting the Hindus who are a minority in parts of the world that I have been, it is very hard to understand the concept especially for people who have a very powerful tradition and scoped out way of life.

After thinking about it for a while, I have rejected Michener's theory, or rather what I suppose his theory is based on reading his book. I think we have to understand what the draw was and see what God removed from the world in order gain a deeper understanding of what went on back then. I also feel that removing the urge for idolatry also gave way to the birth of the atheist who believes there is no God at all.

From the beginning, there was 1 God who created the world, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. How exactly God created the world, was there evolution, a big bang, some sort of mixture or whatever is completely irrelevant to this discussion. God created various forces in nature, such that when God wants it to rain he doesn't turn on the faucet but rather he sends one of his angels, the minister of rain as it might be, and he turns on the faucet. These angels, while they don't exactly have freedom of choice, do have some level of freedom as the midrash brings down that some angels decided to come to earth because they couldn't understand how men could sin and they sinned as well. All that without the freedom of choice.
The way that I am understanding this is that the forces that controlled nature were more visible to the people living at that time. They saw that there was a different force controlling the rain then controlling the wind. When they saw or felt that there was a force controlling the needed resource they felt the need to show gratitude. The big mistake here was that God, hidden from view because he had assigned all the tasks to his "servants" was really running the show. Thanking a slave for doing something his master had ordered him to and ignoring the master is insulting to the master. The angels couldn't do anything without it fitting the plan that God had created. People were created with a need to show gratitude when something good happens, they have a need to pray when something bad happens or they want something. This is a builtin feature of humans that allows us to serve God. The people when they realized that there was something else besides them and God assumed that there were other Gods who controlled their own territories. Being that God, himself, was hidden from view, the people assumed that he was unreachable. Maybe they could pray and offer gifts to the lesser Gods who in turn would have a relationship with the Ultimate God.

When God removed the urge for idol worship, I believe he took away the ability to see the powers that control the forces of nature. When you can't see that there are differeing forces then it is much easier to step back and see that everything is run in concert by a single God who is in charge of everything. On the negative side, there is no visible spirituality in the world anymore because of that. That gives people the ability to say, this is natural, there is nothing spiritual about the world. It gives the world a "run-by-itself" kind of look and people started feeling that God has left us, or that there is no God.

This is the situation that we find ourselves in now. When spirituality was visible, people worshipped what they could see, when it became invisible, people started thinking there was nothing there.

God had a reason for creating the world in this way and we may not understand it at all. That, however, does not change the fact that it was.


Rolling hills of green said...

I can't imagine that it was so obvious that any lay man could see these forces. avraham was special in that he was the first one to somewhat acknoledge G-d, although we do have adam,Noach and others having contact.

rockofgalilee said...

Avraham was special in that he looked past all the other forces and acknowledged that there was a single force controlling them. He saw that the sun by itself had no power and neither did the moon etc.. But he first looked to the other powers to see if they were the true God and he determined that they weren't. That's when the midrash says that he understood that there must be one controlling force and that these had no real power of their own.

Rolling hills of green said...

michner's theory is not to far of course in the concept of realizing there was a greater power and then it was centralized into one G-d, however he goes about it wrong.