Some idol thoughts about the USA’s growing dilemma regarding our commemorative monuments
By Henry H. Bucher, Jr., Associate Professor Emeritus of Humanities, Austin College
Sep 6, 2017
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The Persian prophet, Zoroaster, is considered the initiator of monotheism dating back to around 2000 BCE. The one deity was Ahura Mazda (Wise Lord), and those following Zoroastrianism today confirm that one of the oldest tenets was to forbid idolatry. No statues are permitted since He is spirit and is everywhere and in all things from the smallest atom to the largest planet.

A Washington, D.C. Rabbi Aaron Alexander, concludes in “On Confederate Statues and other graven images” (Religious News Service, 8/22/17) that “Idolatry is counter to any religious idea worth its weight in salt…monotheism is built upon oneness, unity…to experience and know that …is to realize that thick walls of hatred must collapse, with its graven images discarded or relegated to the halls where history is taught…”
The basic teachings of the “Ten Commandments” have commanded a central role in the religions of Abraham’s descendants: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In Exodus 20, the first four commandments address how we should relate to God while the last six are about humans relating to each other.  The second commandment, longest of the first four, forbids idols (graven images) in any form. Some groups in Christianity have attempted to keep this commandment. The first act of the Prophet Mohammed after controlling Mecca was to destroy all the idols in the Kaaba. Tradition says he exempted images of the Virgin Mary. Judaism and Islam today are more serious about avoiding graven images than is Christianity. Islam goes the farthest and forbids even artistic renditions of humankind—especially of the Prophet Mohammed.
Eastern Orthodoxy has been accused of idolatry from its extensive use of icons (from Greek for “image”). Most Orthodox churches explain that worshipping the icon itself is forbidden. Kissing an icon of Jesus or of any saint is to show devotion to the person depicted or reflected in the icon. On a practical level, icons that detail biblical stories have historically been crucial in teaching the masses who were mostly illiterate.
A few of the last six commandments are embedded in most US legal systems. In US culture, adultery and false witness are not considered to be on as serious a level as murder and theft. Yet the most disregarded of all the ten religious laws in western culture today is the one forbidding graven images.  In Old French, the word “estatue” conveyed up to the 1300s the sense of a graven image or a pagan statue. Sudden changes do not take place when different cultures meet. Indeed, Ariel David suggests in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz (8/28/17) that the biblical Ark of the Covenant may have held images of pagan gods along with the Ten Commandments.
What the USA should do with our historic statues touches many nerves. When Arkansas’ 6000 pound granite monument of the Ten Commandments was destroyed in June, 2017, the issue was considered to be “separation of church and state,” since the six foot statute was erected on the grounds of the state Capitol. Is some irony evident in the restoration of this monument in the same “Bible Belt” where most of the Confederate statues are causing so much debate? Would a second look at the second commandment cause some second thoughts? Does the religious zeal which so many have regarding the Confederate statues and the monument of the Ten Commandments indicate some sort of emerging idolatry?