Friday, November 04, 2005


Normally speaking, when the term "idol" is used, we tend to think of naturally occurring objects or crafted artifacts. Furthermore, to 'qualify' as an idol, these objects and/or artifacts should be treated by the idol worshipers as gods or goddesses to which the individual directs his or her worship, praise, and supplication.

From the perspective of practitioners of the Sufi path, the worship of idols constitutes a fundamental spiritual error. The nature of the error may vary from case to case.

For example, idol worship often involves a confusion of a surface manifestation with the Source and Creator of that manifestation. The surface manifestation may be a sign, in some sense, of the presence of Divinity, for nothing can exist without having a relationship with Divinity. However, the surface manifestation is just that - a manifestation. It is not in essence the Essence of Divinity.

A second kind of error often surrounding idol worship is the following. The infinite, unlimited, lasting, uncreated, non-physical, incorruptible and formless nature of Divinity is collapsed and reduced to the finite, limited, ephemeral, created, physical, and corruptible concrete form of an idol of whatever description.

Thirdly, idol worship tends to impose a purely conceptual or theoretical network of meanings onto the nature of Divinity. This network of meanings or interpretations distort and obscure the true reality of God's presence. As a result, people are led not to God, but away from Divinity, although they may believe this is not the case.

Fourthly, idol worship involves an ascribing of partners to God. In effect, the idol worshiper has isolated some particular form of manifestation from the underlying unity of Divinity. In addition, the idol worshiper claims such an aspect has, in and of itself, the capacity to help or hurt us.

The Sufi masters indicate only God has the ability to affect us. Yet, God may choose different modalities of Divine Names and Attributes to bring about such effects.

The foregoing four characteristics of idol worship have extensive ramifications concerning the way many of us live our lives. In fact, according to Sufi masters, idol worship may be far more pervasive, entrenched and insidiously entangled in our lives than we might like to think is the case.

Idols need not be restricted to naturally occurring objects such as the Sun, the moon, fire, water, and so on. Moreover, idols may not just be a matter of some sort of, say, stone artifact which has been fashioned by human hands.

Our desires, opinions, ideas, values, and beliefs can be idols to which we bow down in adulation and worship. The pursuit of physical pleasure also can constitute an idol, as can the pursuit of power, status, fame, money, material possessions, and fashion.

Political systems, ideologies, science, philosophy, literature, art and culture can constitute idols. The raising of athletic, political, business, artistic, scientific or academic figures to positions of praise, is to forget Who is the One really responsible for whatever good or benefit may be coming through a given locus of manifestation.

Even religion and mysticism can become nothing more than idol systems. Heaven, spiritual states, guides, mystical insights, Divine gifts, gnosis and teachings can all be calcified into idols to be worshiped, praised and loved in and of themselves, and quite independently of God.

To be pre-occupied with, focused on, striving for, committed to, or desirous of other than the pleasure of God, is to be engaged in a form of idol worship. Consequently, if one worships God out of a fear of hell or a desire for paradise, one may be engaged in idol worship.

Alternatively, if one worships God out of a desire for miraculous favors or strange experiences or spiritual elevation or mystical unveilings, then one is pursuing a form of idol worship. Moreover, if one worships God out of a desire for worldly success of whatever kind, then one is caught up in a form of idol worship.

The common thread running through all of these potential forms of idol worship is the manner in which loving, serving and obeying God does not play the central role in one's intentions and motivations. God really has been reduced to being a means to an end which serves the desires of the ego. The individual is worshiping God for what God is going to do for him or her.

In the foregoing circumstances, the individual actually is bowing down only to his or her own concept of God. The worship and praise are all directed toward the projections of the false self.

We have a tendency to interpret the spiritual activities of our lives as due to our doing and causing and accomplishing and achieving. Prayers, for example, are said, and our ego immediately exercises its inclination to appropriate these actions as its own.

Prayers are given expression through being, consciousness, will, hearing, seeing and speech, none of which belong to us. These qualities are manifestations of various Names and Attributes of God.

In claiming prayers as our own, we are maintaining we are the cause of those prayers. Furthermore, we are contending our prayers are the reason why benefit comes to us in this world and/or the next life. In effect, in both instances we are ascribing partners to God.

According to the masters of the Sufi way, fasting, night vigils, prayers, seclusion, remembrance, association and so on, are of value only if they are rooted in an intentional framework seeking detachment from: the false self, the world, expectation, reward, and personal accomplishment. Indeed, one of the fundamental values of the aforementioned practices is that, God willing, they bring about such detachment if engaged with sincerity.

Spiritual practices of any kind, whether exoteric or esoteric, are of essential value only if they are expressions of a desire for complete submission to, and love of, God, as ends in themselves. In fact, the essential value of spiritual practice, of whatever kind, is to help us realize what is involved in submitting ourselves to, and having love for, God to the full extent of our spiritual capacity.

If our intentions are shaped and colored by the false self, then we run a serious risk of sliding into idol worship of one description or another. Unfortunately, the hydra-like properties of the ego are such that very few, if any, of our intentions are not being seduced toward the slippery slope which leads to idol worship. Only the mercy of God prevents this from happening

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