IDOLATRY 101 (my understanding)

This is my understanding of spiritual concepts and it is possible I only know half-truths or wishful-truths. Nonetheless, as lonely as I am I will put these inspired thoughts here to share. I hope it pleases:

In academia, and general popular liberalism, there is an opinion that culture is always “right”- or, that if a practice endures, then leave it alone as it belongs rightly with the people. This opinion seems to have emerged to oppose another conviction that cultures can be inherently “wrong”, if they are not right. The latter conviction forms the basis of much xenophobic and discriminatory ideologies and attitudes, and has led to many aggressive and violent acts against different peoples, religions, cultures, politics and races. Thus, in response to these acts- being abhorred and unjust -and in hopes of preventing discrimination, an equally radical liberal point of view emerged which essentially stated that cultures can rarely be wrong.

An example can be seen when people talk of diversity; many describe diversity in terms of ‘tolerance’, ‘non-interference’, and ‘each knows what is right for themselves’. People often hold their tongues in the name of diversity, and even if they feel that something is wrong they will refuse to say so on the grounds that it is a “cultural difference” and something they could not ‘interfere’ with simply because it is not “their tradition”.

This creates a minor migraine just thinking about the circles of arguments that have been shut down, or thrown off, because of this point of view. I can say that in my time alive I have come to the certain conclusion that cultures are NOT right. In fact, i would go so far as to say cultures are never right– nor are cultures ever wrong. Cultures are merely different.

Fundamentally, aside from culture, there is HUMANITY. Understanding or talking about humanity is something within the grasp of any other human being regardless of culture. What I mean to say is, human rights, needs and responsibilities do not change with culture: (with some slight variations) all humans have the same basic nutritional, social, educational and spiritual needs as everyone else.

    All humans require freedom, dignity, autonomy, and inclusion.
    All humans require community and protection.
    All humans have responsibility to treat their community and environment well.
    All humans require food, water, shelter, and rest.
    All humans require love and spiritual connectedness.

These things cannot be traded or withheld simply because of “tradition” or “culture”. Furthermore, any human being can notice a disadvantage of another human being and inquire about it– even if they hail from another culture, speak another language, or have another religion. They can still inquire, and if they see that an injustice is present, they can speak out against it. (When speaking out in any culture it is generally recommended to do so with respect and diplomacy, yet firmness and resolve). If a human does not inquire or speak out for another then they risk their children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren experiencing the same injustice with no protection.

If a human does not inquire or speak out for another then they risk their children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren experiencing the same injustice with no protection.

Now, I have concluded that if all humans have the same basic human needs, rights, and responsibilities, then the reason why discrimination exists is because the definition of “humanity” is not clear in most modern societies. Take the UN for example: while there are universal human rights, there are dozens of other specific “special” rights pertaining to various specified groups of people (i.e. women, children, disabled, indigenous, etc.). Every time a new marginalized group emerges in the spotlight, a new declaration of rights is made. If we are all humans, then why is it that some humans need to be categorically designated their “own” human rights in order to have their “universal” human rights respected?

If we are all humans, then why is it that some humans need to be categorically designated their “own” human rights in order to have their “universal” human rights respected?

To wrap your head around that you will most likely be caught in highly intellectualised, albeit arbitrary, political arguments. The truth is, our definition of who is human, of what is legitimate culture, of what is true religion, of what is real leadership, all stem from a lack of a consistent definition of HUMANITY. Rights should include all people- but do they include all people? Obviously not, because new laws are constantly being written to include more and more facets of the human experience.

      This lack of definition for who is human hails back to the days when human societies were more or less isolated from one another. Each community of humans had a name for themselves which might translate into some variation of “the inhabitants” or “the people”. When each “people” met another group of humans they often categorised the other group as something else: ‘non-people’, ‘barbarians’, ‘casteless’, ‘sinners’, or some version of a monster or animal. It is thus an old habit to categorise ourselves in terms of

us ‘the people’

versus

them ‘the others’.

      This is probably because most societies in those times were unsure whether there even existed other humans besides themselves. Our global population was minuscule, so one society bumping into another was not a frequent occurrence.
      But, once doubt was cleared up and it was understood that all were indeed “the people” and inhabitants of earth, then discrimination should have ceased– as all humans share basic needs and experiences. Sometimes this happened and societies would either merge, or form peaceful relationships with one another, sharing technology, trade, religion, territory, et cetera. But sometimes agreements about each other’s human nature did not occur. Reasons for this vary…usually some form of greed or fear was involved. Thus began a cycle of ruthless competitiveness and disrespect that is still going strong today.

To continue, if we say that all human beings are the same in needs, rights, and basic responsibilities, then we can easily examine needs across various cultures and religions. There is only one form of “water”, and for each nutritional requirement, there is only “one” form of each vitamin and mineral. There can be no substitute for H2O, no substitute for iron, for vitamin C, etc. In some manner, the required liquids and nutrients must be absorbed to meet the human body’s needs.

In the same way, all children require a community to care for them. They are born helpless and dependent, and nothing can substitute for community care and protection. In some manner, this need must be met for the child to survive, and it must be met well for the child to thrive. This need continues to a lesser degree into adulthood where companionship and community are necessary for meeting further physical and psychological needs.

It is reasonable to conclude that spiritual needs of human beings can be examined in similar ways. Thirst requires water; hunger requires nutrition and calories; and spiritual needs require what is often termed ‘God’. In other words, Spiritual needs require divine power, or love, or the something which maintains each persons moral, spiritual and ethical sensibilities.

Spiritual needs require divine power, or love, or the something which maintains each persons moral, spiritual and ethical sensibilities.

When spiritual needs are being met, we generally describe people as being satisfied, beneficent, compassionate, just, truthful, patient, kind, loving and peaceful. Conversely, when spiritual needs are not met, people are often described as “diseased”, corrupted, liars, greedy, jealous, hateful, and violent.

The symptoms of spiritually unhealthy versus spiritually healthy people are often agreed upon. But how to stay spiritually fit is commonly disputed. To the disputes I offer a simple analogy: If a person’s thirst is quenched, one must assume there was water involved in some way; likewise if a person’s spiritual thirst is quenched, one must assume the spiritual power necessary to quench that thirst was involved in some way. So, if you say that Allah is the only power which can bring peace to someone’s character and spirit, then if peace is present in a person’s character in spirit, then they must have consciously involved Allah somehow– regardless of whether or not that person is a muslim. In the same way, if spiritual satisfaction is only to be found out of the love of Jesus and the Father, then it is safe to conclude that where spiritual satisfaction exists, that Jesus and the Father *MUST* have been involved. Basically, where there is spirituality, God is there in some capacity.

To say otherwise would be to say that: spiritual needs can be met by other than Allah, or other than Jesus and the Father, or other than [insert deity of choice here]. And that my friends is idolatry. That is considered the height of spiritual ignorance. To pretend that one can live without spiritual needs being met, or to pretend that spiritual needs can be met by a substitute other than the required Divine power, are not only inconsistent positions to take with regards to every other human need, but they are the definitions of idolatry.

The Golden calf from the Idolatry story in the Abrahamic traditions. Print by David Binnig.

The Golden calf from the Idolatry story in the Abrahamic traditions. Print by David Binnig.

So, before evangelising or trying to convert everyone we meet, we must inquire as to what their needs are and be careful to not making an idol out of our faith. When we meet someone we could ask: Are they hungry? Thirsty? Lonely? Protected? Do they have a way to meet their spiritual needs? Then, if we have anything to share, we must do so out of brotherly affection. They can accept, or they can deny. But we must share because one day our children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren could be among those “other people”.

Yet…if a people have their own means of meeting food, water, community, and spiritual needs, why should we go about the business of convincing them they are starving, parched, lonely, and spiritually deprived? That would truly be a waste of energy, futile, and ultimately confusing for everyone. It would also be a sign of our own arrogance and idolatrous tendencies.

If a people have their own means of meeting food, water, community, and spiritual needs, why should we go about the business of convincing them they are starving, parched, lonely, and spiritually deprived?

We ought to inquire into one another’s wellbeing with the understanding that HUMANITY is one, and thus so are our physical, psychological, and spiritual needs. For this, we must reflect “what is humanity?” and refine our definition to include all humans. We must also reflect on the divine power we seek and expand our understanding of it’s universality. God is everyone’s God, and that power is available to meet everyone’s needs if they can access it. Finally, we need to drop our cultural biases when looking at one another and develop a love which will foster diplomatic and peaceful relationships.

      Hopefully this has opened your mind to the questions of idolatry, humanity, and diversity. In the world today, it is unfortunately the case that God has been divided up among us, and fought over in bloody, terrible wars. Likewise, humanity has been fragmented, dishonoured, and pitted against one another for arbitrary reasons. To make things altogether worse, false understanding of the meaning of diversity has led many to hold their tongues where they ought to inquire and speak out. In the world there is much hunger, much neglect, much thirst, much loneliness, and much spiritual emptiness. We can correct these deficits in ourselves by sharing what we have with one another…by understanding that we are all relatives, all human beings, and all animated with the same divine power. Culture is not a barrier to this understanding; it is merely a meeting place.

Amin.

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