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Is the worship of God idol worship?

There's a Buddhist saying that goes "If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him.

There's a Buddhist story of a monk and his student, alone in a monastery in the snowy mountains. A giant, wooden statue of the Buddha stood in the hall. The pair were starting to freeze, so the monk told his student to toss the statue of the Buddha onto the fire, so that they could get warm.

The student, eyes wide in shock, asked "How you be so disrespectful to the Buddha?"

The monk responded, "That statue is not the Buddha.


Both the saying, and the story, so far as I'd guess, discourage different forms of idol worship.

In the story, the student is practicing a kind of idol worship of a statue. He is placing the statue on the level of the Buddha and telling himself the statue is the Buddha. This was undoubtedly a subconscious mentality. He wasn't thinking, "I want to worship a wooden statue." He was merely thinking, "This symbolizes the Buddha, so I want to show respect to the Buddha through it," but it's that thinking...that presuming of what the Buddha wants that is what makes the stronger form of idol worship.

Now, back to that saying: "If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him."

That's, presumably, because if you see the Buddha on the road...that's not the Buddha. I would say, too, that if you think you see the Buddha in your mind, it'd be best to keep in mind that's merely an impression in your mind, rather than the real Buddha.

Human beings love to invent gods for ourselves, and I think the ancient Buddhists knew that, and warned against it.


Now...what about God? How much do we really know of God? Who has seen the face of God? I would say we know little to nothing of God, and anyone who believes they know pretty much anything about God, whether through the reading of holy texts or any other means is engaging in idol worship...

...but I would argue that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Frank Lloyd Wright once said, "buildings too are children of Earth and Sun." He personified those buildings, because he cared about them, and oftentimes when we personify things that helps us to care about them further.

Albert Einstein, I believe, did something similar with the universe when he said he wanted to understand the mind of God.

I believe many of these more casual forms of personification can give the universe a magical feel. They can inspire. They can be quite lovely, and so long as we keep an open mind, these views may be harmless to benevolent.

It's the more serious mentalities that concern me...the perspectives in which a person has great confidence that their view of God is correct, regardless of how well-studied it is. I suspect its these people, these serious believers who are likely most wary of idol-worship, who tend to be the biggest idol-worshippers.

Many of them might be compared to the most enthusiastic worshippers of the golden calf, whereas many of the agnostics and free-spirits might be compared to the folks on the sidelines, gazing at the golden calf and merely admiring the artwork.

MrShittles 6 July 26
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it amazes me to no end how many people think that because they themselves don't know God that means God can't be known or isn't even real. the purest form of arrogance I do believe I have ever encountered. whats great about God being real, is that interacting with him, often, is similar to the interactions we have with each other every day. the irony in suggesting that ones earnest belief in God is most likely wrong while preaching your own earnest belief is most likely correct can't possible be lost on everyone.

That makes absolutely no sense. Just because I have a belief, doesn't mean other beliefs can't be false. Also, there is no possible way it makes sense to claim that not knowing God or not believing God exists stems from arrogance. There are abundant reasons to not believe God exists...unless you're just playing word games in which you're defining God as something everyone already believes in, such as the universe...which most people (sensibly) see as a pointless way to define God.

@MrShittles thats silly, folks that do that are copping out or using the God as a title definition. you are quite good at word games, i thought thats what we were doing here. when your sentence literally reads you having a belief doesnt mean other beliefs are right, you demonstrate your desire to torture communications. im starting to get the impression you are misunderstanding me on purpose. not unusual, but still annoying.

@solopro My first 2 sentences made perfect sense, although upon first glance they might not seem to. They were in response to your last sentence. Your last sentence was the following:

"the irony in suggesting that ones earnest belief in God is most likely wrong while preaching your own earnest belief is most likely correct can't possible be lost on everyone."

Your last sentence (above) implied that there is somehow irony in claiming that others' beliefs are wrong while professing one's own belief. There is no irony in that. There is no reason why me having a belief means other beliefs can't be false. Your above sentence implies that you believe that me having a belief means that other beliefs can't be false. That's part of the reason why your paragraph didn't make sense.

It also doesn't make sense to call atheism arrogant, and it doesn't make sense to call having a belief while considering other beliefs wrong arrogant.

@MrShittles I apologize for pitching so far above your head

@solopro You were not pitching above my head. You were speaking in gibberish.

@MrShittles so I felt really bad for you. I was gonna try to really boil down what I was saying to see if i could help you understand what I was saying. I decided to stay by re-reading the entirety of our interaction to see if i found find where i lost you. literally this post is about idol worship, and the word idol excludes God by default. then immediately you confuse when I suggest something is silly with something that doesn't make sense. then you explain that you didn't understand anything i said addressing directly the word arrogance. I don't think it's going to happen. it doesn't even seem to be the ideas that are confusing you because it seems to be words that are confusing you. I have been at this a while and to be honest I have 0 interest in taking on a task so exhausting.

@solopro The word "Idol" may very well exclude "God" by default. It will not exclude the concept of God in people's minds though...and that's the emphasis of what I'm talking about. It doesn't matter if a God exists or not if the "God" one envisions and/or imagines in one's mind doesn't exist.

@MrShittles well that is 100% true

@solopro thanks for mentioning that you agree

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Idols may be worshiped by some - that is, the idol itself is considered holy or godly. Often referred to as a fetish. But for most religions, an idol merely represents a god, goddess, or some divine power. The statue of Buddha is not Buddha. A crucifix is not Christ.

However, our own conceptions of God may be likened to idols or "graven images." This notion was dealt with by St. John of the Cross, a Christian mystic who wrote Dark Night of the Soul. He describes the strange terror and feelings of abandonment when one approaches the true nature of God. The "inner lights" of our conceptions of what God ought to be rather than what He truly is begin to fade, and we feel as if we've been cast into darkness. But casting away these false images, these inner idols is necessary if we are to commune with God as He is.

Now this message I approve of. I think it's an intelligent, healthy response. It's polite too...even though my own post was somewhat antagonistic due to its nature. Thanks.

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God is the power. We worship the power, righteousness, holiness.

Unless the one in your mind doesn't exist.

@MrShittles Not in YOUR mind. Jesus said 'I in you, you in me'. This is far more than some mind game. I've been led, healed, rescued and all that couldn't happen in the mind.
And your judging does judge you since NOBODY here is so much living in their own shut mind thzn you, that I've seen.
Likely lots, but haven't seen them.
You show yourself to be a 'l8ver of yourself', the construct you created unshared by others.

Not sure that's correctable or if you'd be willing.
I'd guess stronger than drugs.

I think you show your mind process more, while others hide it, or so it seems.

But if it's working for you, not hurting others, generally, other than slight attacks, no problem.

@2FollowHim That post doesn't make sense to me.

@MrShittles Well, it wouldn't. But what's important is it does for me. And many others.
You live in your own private world. How many do you understand, communicate with?
It's how it GOES, or how we're LED, or NOT led.
The bible is clear that fewer would believe. It says it's in the age of lawlessness.
That's clear, getting clearer.

@2FollowHim It may not be the most important thing that I understand your perspective, but I don't see much point to talking to me about it, if you don't think I'll understand.

I very strongly disagree that we're entering into an age of lawlessness. I see the opposite, that people are getting progressively less nihilistic with time. I think this is largely due to the decrease in religiosity in first world nations. Religiosity, I'd often describe as idol worship. I would not describe someone's practice of ritualistically worshipping a wooden statue as idol worship, necessarily, so long as the person realizes that statue is just a stand-in for the God they actually revere.

Similarly, if people realize the God they envision in their mind probably has different traits from any God that actually exists, I'd be far more hesitant to call that idol worship than I would to call the person's beliefs who KNOW their visions of God and God's views are accurate.

The purpose of discouraging idol worship is discouraging illusions...so if there no illusions, regardless of whether the person is worshiping a statue or not, I don't count it as idol worship. I think revering thoughts can be just as much idol worship as revering statues though.

The problem, I think, that I hope is being progressively stripped away is that a lot of people firmly stick to their ideas of God, KNOWING their ideas are correct and never thinking about why, KNOWING that their views of what God wants are correct...not thinking about why, or questioning those views. I see that as a pretty major form of idol worship...one which atheists and deists and agnostics and pantheists and even the pagans who often don't take their beliefs seriously, but treat them like a fun game, are far less vulnerable to than the followers of organized religions.

People appear to be taking religion less seriously over time, becoming more agnostic, and to me that means, probably, less idol worship, because such people are acknowledging more about how little they know.

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Not the explanation I was hoping for. If you talk to people, you'll learn more and teach more. Maybe you could convince me I'm wrong, and if I convince you you're wrong, you'll have grown. You missed a golden opportunity here for a discussion, with no downsides, except for a little time lost.

@MrShittles I was a Religion and Philosophy major. It is not for me to convince. My one word answer was succinct and allows you more insight than debate.

@ThomasinaPaine That doesn't allow any insight into your thoughts. I'll tell you what is an extremely respectable post though. This post made by someone. This post gives me hope for theism. It shows that sometimes people understand the risks I was talking about.


"Idols may be worshiped by some - that is, the idol itself is considered holy or godly. Often referred to as a fetish. But for most religions, an idol merely represents a god, goddess, or some divine power. The statue of Buddha is not Buddha. A crucifix is not Christ.

However, our own conceptions of God may be likened to idols or "graven images." This notion was dealt with by St. John of the Cross, a Christian mystic who wrote Dark Night of the Soul. He describes the strange terror and feelings of abandonment when one approaches the true nature of God. The "inner lights" of our conceptions of what God ought to be rather than what He truly is begin to fade, and we feel as if we've been cast into darkness. But casting away these false images, these inner idols is necessary if we are to commune with God as He is."


The correct answer would have been that sometimes, at minimum, belief in God is idol worship. The worthwhile question to ask oneself is when. There is no relevant difference between a fictional imaginary God, and a wooden God.

@MrShittles I suppose I could quote Tillich or Kierkegaard but I spent a better portion of my life looking at the world through the lens of the academic. The person I was could describe to you the meter, the schema of "Birches" and how it might be interpreted from Frost's own life, acting as a metaphor towards a larger lesson of wonder--but sadly I missed out on the doing because I spent way too much time thinking.

It's not your question that I chose to answer--god is not always worshiped in spirit and truth so it can be correct to say that sometimes the belief in god is idol worship. I chose with my "no" to say that sometimes the questioning of the belief in god is self-worship. Humans live in a age where we have great understanding of the mechanics of God's works--we can use lasers to restore sight in the blind! BUT we are not happier or more fulfilled because of this. We bear staggeringly high rates of mental illness without as much questioning as you put to this topic.

This is not the fault of any god or religion but in ourselves. Rather than asking if the belief in god is or can be idol worship (for myself) a more fruitful discussion is why I have not done more to worship that God in spirit and truth so that I might dance a dervish or swing on a birch branch while living with youthful awe staring at its Creation.

@ThomasinaPaine #1. I understand why you answered the way you did now. That makes sense.

#2. I see things differently. I think the the best thing we can do for society to create healthy religious belief is to remind people that belief in God can be idol worship, in the sense that the visions and beliefs people worship can be entirely made up in their minds. I don't know whether or not religion is useful to society...but I do know that it's not going away anytime soon. I also, however, know that an agnostic religious belief will tend to be a lot more in-line with how the real world works than a non-agnostic brand. My dream is therefore for people to keep their lovely visions and spiritual connections, but keep in mind that they may be wrong.

#3. I'd say it's difficult to determine whether or not we're happier and more fulfilled than in the past. It really wasn't that long ago since the average person in a first world nation might use a magazine for toilet paper. The difference between now and our more religious pasts is the difference between the modern age and times when people were taught to grin and bear many greater hardships. However, when it comes to planning one's life, if you have the clearest, most accurate view of reality possible you'll gain a lot of advantages. From my perspective, that clearest worldview is atheism. If you are not an atheist, then you're still probably going to see some advantages to people having clearer worldviews, you're just going to have a different opinion than me about what it means to have a clear worldview, and so teaching society that certain religions can be idol worship could benefit people with your belief system too.

#4. It is possible to gain the awe you're speaking of without any religious belief at all...at least for some people. I have a completely imaginary pantheon of gods that I care about more than most people I know. Einstein, I suspect, did something similar. He presumably personified the universe and didn't care that he was doing so. I think agnosticism, or even atheism, might make that sort of spiritual, pantheistic worldview easier than religious fundamentalism...at least for some people. If I'm agnostic, I can use my imagination to dream up whatever visions of God I wish. If I think God is something concrete that I know the traits of from my holy text...I may feel less inclined to envisions it's beauty in a manner that works best for me. That's just a possibility...but I think it's a noteworthy possibility.

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Yes the statue of Buddha is not the Buddha. My understanding is that Idols are man made physical images of diety or any number of material things and possessions or natural things too, maybe even people but the worship of God is not idolatry.

If you envision God, are you not making a manmade thing?

What's the reason why the Buddhist story discourages Idol worship? It's not because of a difference between the physical and the mental. That's a meaningless differences. It's probably, I think, to discourage people from creating inaccurate depictions, in their minds, of law-givers, wisdom-givers, and rule-givers they revere.

Yes, there is no statue of God, or accurate ones of Jesus or Peter, or John the Baptist.
Yet much is said about Jesus and if drawn, we may follow Him.

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that's a lot of words. worshipping God isn't worshiping an idol, by definition.

Then the people who worshipped the golden calf in the Bible were not engaging in idol worship either, despite Moses's semi-understandable frustration with them. They might very well have believed they were worshipping a God too. Like many people who believe in God, they created one in their minds. The only difference is that they built theirs, and that's the most trivial difference. That's a meaningless difference. The important difference is the creating of a deity with imagined traits in one's mind.

@MrShittles did you just say the difference between God being real or fake is a trivial, meaningless difference ?
I can't stop laughing lol

@solopro No, I said the opposite. I said the difference between physical idols, like a wooden God, and imaginary God is a trivial difference.

@MrShittles Not if God exists. If God exists then the difference is as significant as a bridge over a steep gorge, as significant as preferring a loveless marriage to one with laughter and joy.

@ThomasinaPaine Everyone's perception of God inevitably doesn't exist...it's just a matter of how wrong the person is. That's because we must create imaginary impressions of God to contemplate God, regardless of whether or not God exists.

Also, your statement is wrong. Regardless of whether or not a God exists, the difference between physical idols, like a wooden God, and an imaginary God is a trivial difference. They have the same disadvantages for the same reasons.

@MrShittles Depending on your philosophical alignment nothing but yourself may exist or everything that is may exist because you do.

I am of the belief these days that philosophy without purpose is mental masturbation, a poor substitute for intimacy and connection. Yes, I know this was an attempt to impart wisdom upon those who contemplate--we were to learn that we create God in Our Image and therefore God exists only in our minds eye and therefore not at all. Therefore, IDOL.

But that feels like boring sophistry at this peculiar moment in history. To me this dialogue lacks authenticity and good faith, not in "god" but in your fellow humans.

By using words like "idol" or "imaginary" the entire question becomes less of an attempt to connect with your fellow humans but a method wherein to establish a patriarchal pedestal from which to look down upon the person you allege a connection with through the question. We do not live in the world of either Siddartha or Jesus, where religious devotion begs these questions. We live in age where science is political, religious and ubiquitous. Whimsy and wonder are the provenance of the very wealthy along with religious retreat. It costs quite a bit for that Sedona yoga and detox retreat and your favorite bottled glacial water doesn't pay for itself. Wisdom once more costs money and long-haired world renouncers have bigger problems than the ego it takes to visualize my personal god.

Not to be offensive but it seems to me that encouraging someone to question the reality of God in 2020 is rather like encouraging them to register to vote. It's a type of blasé virtue signaling that I had hoped to leave behind in post grad.

I could tell from the question the outcome of the conversation and this did not require precognition or guesswork. I need only fall back upon the cynicism built, block by block, upon the corpse of prior religious debate. Hence my one word response.

My avoidance of the tedious and dull has led me to where I am now. I would rather talk about the substance of faith as it applies to joy or at the very least how attempting a relationship with the Divine, however you see it, changes the seeker.

You see, we do not live in a joy-filled world. We exist in a world of of angst-profiteering, where anger, depression, and anxiety are manufactured by a media who profits off division and despair. I'm not interested in more division. I'm interested in diversion. Joyful diversion.

@ThomasinaPaine #1. There can be no rational thought process that says that nothing except oneself exists. There is no evidence for that. There is abundant evidence for the alternative though. I could explain why...but you have not specifically stated that you disagreed with my opinion on this matter, and it could be quite long, so I'll avoid that for now.

#2. I agree that my statement lacks good faith in my fellow humans. That's because I believe I know something most people don't. I often do. I think that's fine. I'm good at thinking about these sorts of abstract concepts in the same way archaeologists are good at their jobs. We all have our skills.

#3. The idea that God can be idol worship appears to be a very new concept to most people, to me. That warrants pointing out. The Bible denounces the worshipping of the golden calf. Meanwhile, everybody endlessly encourages God-belief in general, regardless of where it comes from...never realizing that they could be encouraging the exact same kind of idol worship Moses denounced in the Bible, which would be harmful for the same reasons.

Meanwhile, most people appear to totally misunderstand why idol-worship is worth discouraging. People often glorify devout belief, while frowning heavily upon religious beliefs that followers don't take seriously, or funny pseudo-religions like the religion of Jedi, never realizing that it's not the fake religions like Jedi that are worth discouraging...because the followers of the Jedi "religion" already know their religion is fake. It's the devout followers of religious belief, who don't base their belief off much of worth who pose the greater problems to themselves and society.

I think this is a pretty new way of looking at things, and looking at things in this way is the best way I can think of to render religious belief more healthy. People have been trying to get rid of religious belief since forever. That doesn't appear to have worked...but perhaps by reminding people that belief in God can be idol worship, we can inspire more agnostic religious beliefs, removing most of the harm caused by those religious beliefs. I see that as far different than merely reminding people that there are views out there that God doesn't exist, or reminding people to question God's existence.

#4. You say you're interested in joyful diversion. Religion doesn't necessarily provide that. What does, however, is a certain form of creative agnosticism. As an atheist or agnostic, I wonder if it's a lot easier to paint mental images of your ideal reality, at least for some people, than it is for religious fundamentalists with a very concrete, unbending perception of God, who've been taught that idol worship is an evil act, and that they should not use their imagination to envision God in ways besides those that they have been taught to.

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