||[Feb. 1st, 2013|01:31 pm]
The Second Commandment given to Moses – at least, in the edition I looked in – was "Thou shall make no graven images". There's some later language about also not bowing down to them, or else God will smack you so hard your great-grandchildren will say "Ow!". I have some ideas.|
The commandment goes on to say that he's a jealous God (and is going to fuck you up, and everyone related to you, if you piss him off). This indicates to me that he's considering the potential images as competition for the attention and approval he craves. This holds even if you think you've carved an image of Yahweh, as well as a nice representation of, say, Baal. Though the Church and most Protestant sects have long since abandoned any pretense of even noticing this commandment, Moslems and some conservative Christians still eschew any figurative art whatsoever.
I think it's based in the tendency of people to confuse the map and the territory. I also think it's based on the tendency of people to need deities they can relate to.
I've said a lot of this before, but I think one of God's major problems is mission creep. In the Bronze Age, he was creator and lord of the entire universe, but the entire universe was maybe a month's ride across. The Known Universe, for the tribe that made him up, was the area to the East of the Mediterranean, basically. The politics were even more horrible back then, but it's still not a bad Universe to own.
Then the world got bigger. The known area spread, and empires from further and further away showed up, and eventually God had to be in charge of en entire planet. That's seriously above the pay grade of the deity who went to Eden in the cool of the morning. Then the Enlightenment showed up and we were in an entire Solar System, and then a whole damn galaxy, and then it turns out that most nebula were in face other galaxies, and eventually a tribal deity was juggling a space ninety billion light years across and 14 billion years old.
Believers dealt with this in two ways. The larger group kept upgrading their deity with add-on mods of omniscience and omnipresence. (The smaller group simply sat down in the middle of the path and declared that the entire Universe was one planet, about five thousand years old.) But this left the believers sadly outclassed in scale. Job, remember, was able to demand and get an appointment; Adam and Eve and Moses also talked to him face-to-face (or, um, face-to-bush). Nowadays, though, a supplicant is facing a deity at least ninety billion light years across. Omniscience or not, you're not going to get a great deal of attention from him.
Romans had, as I understand it, lares and penates – household gods who watched over your house and your family, who you would make little sacrifices to and could petition directly. I believe the loa function somewhat similarly, though they're unique and less local; you can still offer sacrifice and ask for intercession. The Church has Jesus, Mary, and several flocks of saints who function in the exact same way. (You don't sacrifice to them? Then why are you lighting candles before you ask for favor or help?)
People need human-scale deities, someone who can stand between them and a cold and hostile universe, but can be approached and influenced, who have much smaller warrant. People want divine parents, someone up in the front seat driving, someone who will keep them safe and might stop for ice cream.
Almost always, these minor household gods are represented with some idol or charm. Statues, plaques, saint's medals, rosaries, fetish bags, something. Invisible and immaterial is too conceptual when you're trying to bargain. People need somewhere to put their attention.
Fairly soon these symbols of the entity become the entity itself. Even though the map is not the territory and this is not a drill, the object and not the abstract concept behind it becomes the target of veneration.
As mentioned, the Christian god is a jealous god. OK, he's actually a monster of narcissism who, if he were human, would be strapped to a two-wheeler and fitted with a muzzle and a personal FBI agent. The entire point of human existence seems to be to praise and adore him right now, all the time, and throughout eternity – which is a long damn time. He doesn't want any competition. He certainly doesn't want competition from any other god –he's very clear on that. I The Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me. You notice that the definition of "hate Me", here, is "look away for even a moment". Hell, even when he needed a field agent down on the rock, it was still him.
And – this is the really hot-eyed, spittle-flecked insane part – he doesn't want the competition of a representation of even himself. He doesn't want you paying attention to any other god, and he doesn't want you paying attention to an image of himself, because that means you're not worshiping him directly. This deity wants all of creation to adore him constantly, loudly, and in choruses, and is happy to use baroque and horrifying threats to enforce his demands.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I'll sing on,
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be,
And through eternity I’ll sing on…