Making Idols of Jesus: Polytheists in Denial?

Ricky Bobby: Dear Lord baby Jesus, lyin’ there in your ghost manger, just lookin’ at your Baby Einstein developmental videos, learnin’ ’bout shapes and colors.

Cal Naughton, Jr.: I like to think of Jesus as a mischievous badger.

Chip: Jesus was a man! He had a beard!

Ricky Bobby: Dear 8 pounds 6 ounces… new born infant Jesus,don’t even know a word yet.

Cal Naughton, Jr.: I like to picture Jesus as a figure skater. He wears like a white outfit, and He does interpretive ice dances of my life’s journey.

Cal Naughton, Jr.: I had a dream where Jesus was a dirty old bum, and I was about to sock him in the face because, well he’s a dirty old bum, but then I thought, there’s something special about him…
Ricky Bobby: Because it was Jesus, right…
Cal Naughton, Jr.: Yeah…

Just a few quotes taken out of context from the film “Talladega Nights”.  Brian McLaren, in his book “A New Kind of Christianity”, says that, though the scene is from a silly movie,  it makes a good point about something pretty serious:  many Christians see Jesus in many different ways, which means they  see God in  different, and often opposing, ways.

I’ve had friends say that, well, perhaps these are all correct, yet incomplete, images of Jesus and God – that God is so big it’s like each vision is merely a glimpse of the total divine picture.  These same people will scoff at the idea that the avatars of Hinduism might be an example of a similar understanding.  No, they say,  it’s obvious that Hindus are polytheistic and their avatars are idols.

I’ve had friends argue that Allah is not God, that a God that is not incorporated in Jesus is not the same God they worship. Therefore Allah is just another idol standing in for God.  And though I don’t agree, I do see their point.

But if that difference makes Allah and the Christian God two distinct deities then  why don’t the extremely different ways in which  Christians perceive God suggest that our religion is also polytheistic?  Of course, since God is imperceptible,  it only makes sense that there would be such diversity of opinion.  Yet, Jesus was a historical figure with words attributed to him as well as writings that describe his life and death and there is still no universal Christian consensus on him.  We have thousands of  Christian denominations and many of them are on opposite sides of the Jesus fence..

If we label Hindus polytheistic because their avatars have different names and characteristics then maybe it’s only because they are  more honest than Christians.  We  have just as many versions of God,  but most share the same name. I’ve come to believe that many, if not most of us, have made idols out of Jesus.

Christians: polytheists in denial.

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  1. #1 by anon on April 10, 2010 - 2:28 pm

    Lao Tzu
    Since before time and space were
    Tao is
    It is beyond “is” and “is not”
    How do I know this is true?
    I look inside myself and see.

    Maybe we are too focused on the outward? Maybe, instead of defining God outwardly, if we were to focus on US trying to
    emulate his qualities of compassion, patience, mercy,
    justice…etc, we might come closer to understanding God?

  2. #2 by bfried5 on April 11, 2010 - 10:03 pm

    Well–Jews might consider us polytheists–after all, we address God in three persons.

    Do we actually understand God?

    Allah, not that’s a controversial name. Dave Hunt, the famed hunter of heresy, says Allah is the name of a deity local to Mecca, so Mohammed adopted the name to name his god.

    I think that the word El or Elohim, meaning god or judge, is the same terminology. The difference being that we say God is a person with a fatherly personality. Muslims think of God as a benevolent other, transcednant from creation (sort of a nice Deistic view). Ginn do the work, not unlike Plato’s universe and demigods.

    That is why I say we can’t confuse deitistic nomenclature. We are taught to see God as a Father, and the father of Christ–Muslims see God as a creator and provider, but fatherhood is not part of his nature (I have heard that they say “Far be it from Allah to have a son”).

    Just a thought.

    • #3 by Christian Beyer on April 12, 2010 - 11:45 am

      Ginn do the work, not unlike Plato’s universe and demigods.

      Yeah, we call them angels.

  3. #4 by bfried5 on April 11, 2010 - 10:04 pm

    Let me say “now that’s a controversial name.”

  4. #5 by anon on April 12, 2010 - 1:26 am

    “Allah, now that’s a controversial name. Dave Hunt, the famed hunter of heresy, says Allah is the name of a deity local to Mecca, so Mohammed adopted the name to name his god.”

    You bring up an important point—Why does the Quran use “Allah” instead of using a different name for God?—after all, “Allah” was the name of the Supreme God of the polytheists.
    The point the Quran is making is that there is only ONE God in EXISTENCE. That means that there CANNOT be a polythiestic Meccan God and a different monotheistic Muslim God. There is only ONE God, It is our concepts of God that differ.
    The miniute a monotheist says your God is different from my God—what happens?—you have made 2 Gods—one for yourself and another for the “other”. That is NOT monotheism–it is polythiesm.
    The Quran does not ask the Meccans to reject God/Allah, it only invites them to pure monotheism by changing their concept of God from a polytheistic one to a monotheistic one.

    Why is monotheism important?—because if there is only ONE God in existence, we cannot say, “my God is better than your God”—since my God is in reality the same as yours! This in turn can lead us to a correct understanding of God’s will (God’s will=Right belief that leads to right intentions that promotes right actions for the betterment of all of God’s creations.) There is only ONE God and we are ALL his creation. All human beings, regardless of whether they call themselves Meccans or Chineese are God’s creations. This means that when we understand God’s will as promoting the betterment of all of God’s creations, it is not limited to one group of people but encompasses everyone and everything. When we correctly understand this, we can come to the realization that if we are all praying to the same God and trying to do God’s will, we are all united in a common cause—we are all brothers and sisters who can help each other.

    When I was trying to read the Torah, a Jewish person put this in an interesting way–He said God is Unity (Unity=Tawheed(Islam), Shema(Judaism)), and Satan is the “force of division” that tries to seperate us from Unity(and thus from God)

    The Judeo-Islamic concept of God may be different from the Christian one, but instead of wasting our lives worrying about which relgion is right/wrong—What if we were to spend our lives helping each other accomplish God’s will?
    What if John 14:6 were interpreted in a different.more universal, way?–
    I am the way (the way=to promote betterment of all of God’s creation) and the truth (Unity/Monotheism) and the life (The wisdom teachings of Jesus Christ(pbuh)exemplified in his life)……Jesus Christ(pbuh)—his teachings and his example might help all human beings, regardless of their religious label, to be better human beings so as to accomplish God’s will?

  5. #6 by bfried5 on April 12, 2010 - 11:08 pm

    Okay, Anon–we are de jure monotheists, but Christians, especially Western Christians have made gods of popes, gods of exemplary Christians; in America we have made gods of certain evengelical preachers (fill in the blank).

    Not to mention the worship of the American flag.

    In short, we are in many ways, de facto polytheists.

  6. #7 by anon on April 13, 2010 - 12:27 am

    Christianity is complicated and I don’t claim to understand it. However,I am not against the showing of (reasonable)respect to people or symbols. I think it is important to cultivate a respectful attitude. We get into trouble when we get off-balance—go to extremes.

    There are some people within Islam who fear “idolization” and have destroyed historical/cultural symbols/sites in order to prevent this from happening. Ironically, what they are doing goes against the Quran which says that things have been preserved (archeology) so that we can study and learn from it.—-I suppose we can get off-balance when we pick and choose those parts of our religion that are “convenient” instead of looking at it as a whole…..

    Personally, I think we would all be better off if we tried to replace our fears with trust in God?

    • #8 by Jack on April 13, 2010 - 3:54 pm

      Yeah I guess when it really comes down to it all we really should do is put our trust in God.

  7. #9 by Jonathan on April 13, 2010 - 10:37 pm

    There are ways in which we could argue that a type of polytheism has emerged in Christianity. In a sense, the Trinity is often talked about in polytheistic terms. We either succumb to a tri-theistic theology (which is heresy for orthodox Christian theology) or modalism (also heresy). But, I think the polytheism that you’ve presented here is an odd one. Is the argument claiming that because we each as Christians have an individualized experiential expression of God, we therefore worship, in fact, a plurality of deities? This is an odd claim. For one, we could then make the claim that because I know my friend Spencer in certain ways, while my younger brother knows him in others, and Spencer’s brothers know him in still other ways that there is, in fact, a pluralities of ‘Spencer’? No, in fact, there is only one Spencer – but there is a plurality of Spencer-concepts. These concepts are composed of appropriate and inappropriate understandings of the object: Spencer. (in a similar manner, I would not think to claim that all of our concepts of God are ‘True’, rather each of our concepts are partial truth and partial error)

    For consistency’s sake, if we are to claim that these other religions are polytheistic, we could claim our own internal polytheism (which I believe is actually the argument you are making). This brings good light on the ‘let Islam….’ post – if we agree that Christianity is not (at least should not be, and is not appropriately) polytheistic, then mustn’t we also claim that Islam might also be a concept (though also both right and wrong) of the one Deity, whom we also worship and conceptualize (right and wrong)?

    So, while I would claim that we are not actually polytheists based on the composition of our individual perspectives, I do agree that we should rethink our hasty accusations of other religions. In doing so, we leave room for our own self-analysis (something we as Christians could use a lot of) as well as for cross-cultural/cross-religious dialogue.

    I would be interested in hearing how/why you believe we turn Jesus into an idol, Christian. I don’t want to decide that I agree or disagree until I find out how you’ve come to this conclusion.

    As always, interesting post.

  8. #10 by Christian Beyer on April 14, 2010 - 8:52 am

    For consistency’s sake, if we are to claim that these other religions are polytheistic, we could claim our own internal polytheism (which I believe is actually the argument you are making).

    Jonathan, hat’s exactly the point I was driving at. However I do think that there are some theologies under the Christian tent that are so at odds with each other that to accept both as “Christian” is tantamount to polytheism. I don’t think visions of God’s ‘character’ can be so contradictory. I think the real problem here is an obsessive devotion to literalism, i.e. Christ as the peaceful and suffering servant of the Gospels and Christ the avenging and violent victor of Revelations. Some worship one exclusively over the other.

    As for the idol thing: it occurred to me last Easter Sunday. Leaving any divine characteristics aside, we have made Jesus into such a ‘supernatural’ character that I think we tend to forget that his resurrection is not meant to be singular but perhaps the first incident of something that is promised to us all.

    We also tend to say that in order for this to happen we must believe “in” Jesus, as if the really important thing is to believe that he is God. When this happens, we supplant God the father with Jesus yet we tend to ignore his teachings that are meant to help us return to the Father. As if all we need to do is join this ‘cult’ of Jesus, saying words, making proclamations and reciting creeds.

    And then of course we have those who cry “Jesus” at the drop of a hat, calling upon his name almost like a mantra, to ward off evil or to improve certain circumstances.

    I am particularly familiar with this kind of (IMHO) idolatry as this describes me only a few years ago.

    • #11 by Jonathan on April 14, 2010 - 10:23 pm

      I completely agree about the ‘obsessive devotion to literalism.’ The concepts in the Bible of suffering servant and victor can be understood together, if they are seen as complimentary metaphors rather than literal realities.

      Perhaps we see this victory language in Revelation and say, victory here is not how we generally understand victory – rather victory is what happens when Christ lives in contrast to the powers and principalities of the world, is killed by them, and still is resurrected.

      And these mantras and formulas for Christianity are what I grew up with and had to retrain myself to think beyond here in college.

      Thank you for your wisdom (especially to a youth such as I) and for earnestly seeking to be reformed and reshaped by God, no matter age or history and tradition.

  9. #12 by Christian Beyer on April 15, 2010 - 8:58 am

    Wisdom? A youth? I’ve been learning from you! Gosh, now I feel so inadequate. And old. 😉

    Seriously, though. I see Revelation in precisely the same way you have described. One of the main reasons I ‘left behind’ the fundamentalist community was an inability to take this book literally. For a while I disregarded it completely (as Luther wanted to do). Only recently have I come to understand and enjoy this book. It could not have happened if I was still of a literal mindset.

  10. #13 by bfried5 on April 17, 2010 - 10:15 pm

    “now I feel so inadequate. And old.”

    What took you so long? I’ve seen you as inadequate for the 4 years in which we’ve been acquainted.

    Seriously, Chris, I struggle with adequacy amid all of my high-achieving colleagues and relatives.

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