How many times have I heard the line, “We don’t worship statues”! It seems that whenever one brings up the subject of idolatry with a Roman Catholic, they invariably think it is a defense that they are not venerating the statue itself, but the thing it represents. My intuitive response has typically been: do you think the pagans think that the statue is actually the god itself?
Just in case they think that, I happen to have found an interesting article that makes the following claim:
P. Sivaraman, the chairman of the temple’s board of trustees, explained to the 80 [Roman] Catholics that Hindus do not worship the images — they are only there to help devotees focus their minds on an omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient God.
Now, where have we heard that before?
Recall what Augustine said:
Why have I said this? Please consider carefully the chief point I’m making. We had started to deal with the apparently better educated pagans — because the less educated are the ones who do the things about which these do not wish to be taken to task — so with the better educated ones, since they say to us, “You people also have your adorers of columns, and sometimes even of pictures.” And would to God that we didn’t have them, and may the Lord grant that we don’t go on having them! But all the same, this is not what the Church teaches you. I mean, which priest of theirs ever climbed into a pulpit and from there commanded the people not to adore idols, in the way that we, in Christ, publicly preach against the adoration of columns or of the stones of buildings in holy places, or even of pictures? On the contrary indeed, it was their very priests who used to turn to the idols and offer them victims for their congregations, and would still like to do so now.
“We,” they say, “don’t adore images, but what is signified by the image.” I ask what images signify, I ask what the image of the sun signifies; nothing else but the sun, surely? For yes, perhaps the explanation of other images convey deeper, more hidden meanings. For the time being let’s leave these, and put them on one side to come back to shortly. The image of the sun, certainly, can only signify the sun, and that of the moon the moon, and that of Tellus the earth. So if they don’t adore what they see in the image, but what the image signifies, why, when they have the things signified by these images so familiarly before their very eyes, do they offer adoration to their images in stead of directly to them?
Augustine, Sermon 198, Sections 16-17
Of course, the Hindu claims must be taken with a very large grain of salt. For example, the same folks are trying to suggest that Hinduism is somehow analogous to monotheistic Trinitarianism:
In Hinduism, Dhoraisingam explained, “The universe manifested from Brahman, is sustained by him and will return to him.” She added that Hindus believe in a trinitarian God personified by Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Sustainer, and Shiva the Transformer.
That title “transformer,” aside from making one chuckle about there being more to Shiva than meets the eye, appears to be an attempt to downplay the more traditional title of Shiva as “the destroyer.”
Nevertheless, despite the obvious propaganda nature of the piece, it is simply intuitive. When a Hindu looks at a statue of Brahma, or Vishnu, or Shiva, the Hindu doesn’t think that the statue is the god, any more than the Greeks thought that the statue of their gods were the gods themselves. But the true and living God is not worshiped with the works of man’s hands, as though he needed anything, as Scriptures teach. Therefore, whether your idolatry is Roman Catholic or Hindu, flee it. Keep yourselves from idols.