Deity worship; not idol worship

Taken from a lecture:

Why do Abrahamic religions violently oppose Deity Worship?


Why are the Abrahamic religions so much against deity worship?  In a book called 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 these traditions have so much hatred against deity worship? We see that even Muslims when they came to India they desecrated many deities and temples. So what is the reason? Isn’t it just religious fanaticism? Moses was one of the founders of Judaism so even he seems to have that mood, 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?


We need to understand the difference between deity worship and idol worship to understand what is opposed in the Abrahamic religions, and that is idol worship. These traditions don’t have any conception of deity worship at all. We generally acknowledge the differentiation between the authorized process of deity worship and idol worship- as that worship of the Supreme Personality of Godhead fully spiritual who descends by His grace in a bonafide form of God which we can see, to accept our service.

This form is made according to scriptural descriptions of the Lords Form, and for which the pranaprathishta is done. (The process of requesting the Lord to appear,to accept our worship, this is generally done by the pure devotee, who invokes the Lord to descend). But this conception is not there in Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christanity and Islam).  They do not have a clear description of God’s form. In fact they often say that no one knows the form of God, only that He appears to them in a “burning bush”, or a celestial voice.  They sometime depict God as an old man and neither is “Love of God” very much developed in these traditions.   And because of this, their ideas in those religions traditions, is that God is transcendental and God is beyond any material representation.

Because God is beyond material representation they say that any material representation of God is false. Because He 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 a false representation. And that those people that start worshiping that representation – forget God who is being represented by it. And in that way their idea is that any representation of God, 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 inhibited 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 can focus on the worship of the true God.  So that’s why in those traditions there are repeated references to desecration 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 those kings when they conquered “heathen” lands, the kings are religious when they destroyed the temples and they think that oh! We have done a glorious activity,  something which we are proud of- to establish the glory of God.

So desecrating idols is not an act of extreme fanaticism; it is an act that is very inherent in the tradition of Abrahamic religions. Even Mohammad, when he came back to Mecca, he bashed up all the idols that were present in the sacred place in the Kabba. Of course in some Muslim historian accounts, it is said that it was the representation of Jesus and Mary and while everything  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 it is, 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 many discrepancies among the denominations.  Some churches have religious pictures and some religious figures and some do not. Pictures of Jesus, Mary, pictures of Moses, pictures of even God, so denominations of the same tradition oppose each other on this point.

These traditions depict God as an old man with a long beard. This is actually idol worship where they imagine God having a particular form and then make that imagined form as the object of veneration. So actually the idea of God as an old person with a long white beard is a false representation of God and it repels some 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, in our scriptures, there is description of God’s eternal form and there is in the Panchratra a description of how that form can be invoked into Deities (arcan-vigraha). It is important to note, the Vaishnava’s do not worship a material form of God, but a Spiritual Form, that Supreme Spriritual  Sri Krsna becomes fully manifested in His Archa Vigraha (Deity form) and can accept the offerings and prayers of the devotee, according to the devotee’s faith and level of consciousness.   So this whole conception of representing God through matter, (because it is also His energy), by invoking the fully spiritual  Lord of the Heart, from the pure devotee into His authorized representation of His form and the process of Seva to the Lord, which becomes the  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 opposes, 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, and then strongly oppose the Vedic tradition of deity worship – quite violently at times. Therefore we as devotees if we have to approach members of these religions then we have to give proper philosophical understanding to them.  Often their conception may be so deeply ingrained in them as a preconception that even the most exhaustible explanation may not be adequate for clarifying to them as they may not have the sukriti and piety to understand.

In fact, within these Abrahamic religions, there a lot of conflicts on this topic. In some religions for example, as denominations of Christianity, some kind of representations of God are allowed (Catholicism). And in some branches of Christianity it is not allowed at all. For example, the Hamish who do not allow any representation of God in any way- they don’t even allow any photos of 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, detracting from worshiping God. Now this is an example of 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 denominations within these religions which oppose this.

Especially, we see that 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 that there are other places where they will destroy any material representation of 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 our Vedic tradition. And that’s why we see what our Acharyas did when Aurangzeb was ruling. They transferred the Deities from Vrindavan to Jaipur where there was a Rajput Vaishnava King. 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 as 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 then we will see that many of these persons, who are pious will start to understand.

Many of the devotees in the first generation of Krishna Bhaktas, that are Prabhupada’s disciples, have grown up in the Western Religious traditions and were brought up in a culture where deity worship of God was strongly opposed and yet most all of them have become cognizant and compliant in fully understanding the need of deity worship, to progress spiritually from kanistha to madhyuma adhikaris. And they have devoted decades of their years, whole life for the servicing the deities. So, there is much hope for those not familiar with the Arca vigraha form of God (Deity form of Krsna) to understand. If that person has some sukriti (spiritual merit) they can properly be presented our philosophy, that the Deity form is not an imagination but actually a representation of the True Form of God (Krsna)  when properly installed, as per the description in our Vedic Scriptures. Radha and Krsna manifest Themselves in that form to accept our worship… much like when putting a letter in an official “US Mail box”, that letter goes to its recipient in a far away country.  Similarly, in the installed official form of the Lord, as opposed to some imaginary form of God, He accepts our tiny efforts to serve him, and by the service we begin to develop love for Him.

We shouldn’t think that this misconception towards deity worship by the Abrahamic traditions is a fringe misconception… is not.  But they have scanty information on the name, form,qualities and pastimes of God, hence in their limited knowledge they think they are doing “religious service” by condemning bonafide Deity worship thinking it akin with imaginary Idol worship. But at the same time that doesn’t mean that we should hate these religious traditions and aspirants. What we should understand is that they need a much deeper philosophical understanding of the development of Love of God, and they are needing re-education as to the Name, Form, and Qualities of God, and we should try to provide that as much as possible to those sincerely wanting to know, and avoid those that have antagonistic and fanatical dispositions toward the Deity form of Radha and Krishna.

We should 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 Radha and Krishna through Their Deity manifestations.

hare kṛṣṇa hare kṛṣṇa

kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa hare hare

hare rāma hare rāma

rāma rāma hare hare

Chant and be happy! 🙂

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