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Against those who Call Religious Art Idolatry and Blasphemy

Often times Catholics are called pagans and idol worshipers for depicting Christ, expressing him in religious art, and expressing him in statues. This is true in depicting the saints, angels, and the like.

I find these arguments very strange. The most commonly cited “proof” is from Ex 20:4 and similar passages: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (KJV).

This is certainly true, especially when considering that the Israelites fashioned for themselves a golden calf and, in various ages, many other idols of Cannanite, Babylonian, and Assyrian gods. In these times God was without image. From Genesis and throughout the Old Testament God is not described as having proportions or form but rather as expansive, immense, and beyond comparison. Images, or more specifically similes and metaphors, were used to describe the power, love, and greatness of God, but no images were fashioned.

Moreover John the Apostle attests that “no one has ever seen God” (1 John 4:12 RSV). So why, then, do Catholics portray Christ as well as God the Father and God the Spirit?

There are logical proofs for such actions and dispositions, but they are logical proofs grounded in Scripture and the reality they portray.

It begins with the reality of Christ himself: that he is the Word and that he is God. This Word is the “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15) and he “reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature” (Heb 1:3). Similarly this all-powerful and glorious Word “became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). Thus God who was in former times had revealed himself in shadows and imperfect things, such as the prophets and the Law, now revealed himself in his perfect Son. The source of light is not seen in darkness, and we are all blind. But Jesus Christ, who gives sight to the blind, is “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12). We not only beheld him with our eyes but, as John said, we have also “looked upon [him] and touched [him] with our hands” (1 John 1:1).

Jesus was truly God and truly man, something to which Scripture and faith attest. Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Jesus (cf., Jn 17:21). All who believe in Jesus Christ have come to believe because they have heard about him from those who believe and who were sent out just as Jesus had been (cf. Jn 17:18). Similarly, the power of Jesus is described, just as the power of God had been described as of old, but now the power of God is expressed in image and flesh. This is how John the Baptist could say “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (Jn 1:29) and how Stephen could say “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).

Catholics depict Christ because he was seen both in his earthly flesh as well as his heavenly glory, both in Christ crucified and in Christ risen. Paul proclaims and preaches “Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23) and John looked upon the power and image of Christ the King in the book of Revelations. Thus not only was God seen but he was described. While, for example, his resplendence in heaven is described in metaphor and prophetic language the person of Christ is described as being who he is: a man who was humbled and humiliated on earth but now rules both heaven and earth in the fullness of power.

Thus, because we proclaim Christ and his life which was real, which was seen and touched, and which revealed the fullness of God and his plans. The Father has truly “made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will” (Eph 1:9) through Christ Jesus, and the light Jesus provides is his life as model, truth, and guide.

As such, when Catholics express Christ in stained-glass, in a crucifix, and in various media, it is because we are expressing the truth that Christ, in his very reality and image, reveals God to us. It was once blasphemous to portray God with graven images since no one had ever seen God and God had not yet revealed himself to the nations. Similarly it was contrary to the law to eat certain foods until Christ had made them clean. Yet in these last days God has revealed himself by his only-begotten Son and his Son showed us the way we should go in power and in truth.

The images we fashion of Christ, of the Spirit (as dove and fire), and the Father (similar to the Son) are expressions of the reality of Christ. In the eastern traditions of Catholicism and in among some of our Orthodox brethren only Christ is portrayed as a theological point that the Spirit and Father are both never seen or described, but that the image of Christ is also the image of the other two. I think the iconography of the east also has powerful and rich meanings behind it. Catholics too express the reality of God revealed through their art. Calling it blasphemous and idolatry is not only ignorant but foolish in light of the Gospel.
Against those who Call Religious Art Idolatry
This came to my mind a few days ago and I decided to review the Scriptural proofs that had been floating around in my head. I attempted, attempted mind you, to be as concise as possible.

I am, of course, open to comments and questions.


This season of Christmas we recall the powerful words of Scripture, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). Christ became man to be with us and to experience life with us. He lived an authentic and real human life with all of its many aspects.

I know during this time of year we often recall our many family members and friends who have died and how, even in this happy time, we miss them. Even I lost an uncle who was very dear to me on December 23rd last year. It is at these times, however, that I ask Christ to be with me. I pray for our faithful departed and families, always asking Christ to be with us as truly as he was a man here on earth.

I began wondering, then, what it means that Jesus experienced life like us in the following way:

Can you imagine how many people came up to tell Jesus about a death in the family, fear because of illness, anxiety because of unemployment, or divisions among their families? Jesus shared a great deal in the pain and hardship of our daily lives with us. Likewise, imagine those who came up to him saying, “I am getting married” and “my wife and I are finally having our first child.” Jesus went to weddings, celebrated at religious events, and spent his time sharing in the many joys of human life. We can relate to these events that punctuate our lives as well. Jesus through his ministry gives us that divine example. By his words and actions he always expressed the same thing, “I love you” and “Do not be afraid, I am with you.”

This time of year we also remember that Jesus Christ is God Himself. He alone can free us of the chains of sin, misery, regret, and death. Through him everything came into being and he sustains every individual instance in his love. For God is love and his entire being expresses love for creation and, in a special way, for us. Our great God who spoke and created all things became subject to our frail humanity for our sake.

So it is this day that we say, “A king is born to us!” and “God has visited his people!”

He came to us as one of us, and he understands each and every one of us. Yes, he even understands our weaknesses, our regrets, and our sinfulness. He ever and always calls us to himself and calls us to believe in him. For it is in believing in him, putting behind our sins, and following him that he will give us the “power to become children of God” (1:12). Through this power we can endure all hardship and, having run our course in this life, reign forever with him in heaven—a gift he so graciously gave to those who endure with him.

Let us, therefore, follow our great King this Christmastime. His every action has said from the beginning, “I love you and I am with you until the end of time.” Let us, by our lives, say the same.
School is done for another semester! Happy 4th week of Advent, all!
Very busy finals week (and a half). Hope to start writing/responding again by the break.
Do Religious Values have any Place in the Public Square?

The general consensus among those of faith and without seem to be “no.” Religion is a personal preference and conviction. Personal convictions, while good for me based on various experiences and reasons, are not grounds for me to impose these convictions and others. I believe in God because (a) I was brought up to believe, (b) it gives me comfort, and (c) it makes me a better person. But someone else may have experienced religion in negative circumstances. Likewise a non-believer may not share feelings and values of religious pronouncements on reproduction, family, and (deeper still) premises that inform public action and (politically-speaking) policy.

A non-Christian, non-religious, non-believer also builds convictions derived from his experiences and holds onto them for various reasons. They too may have been brought up to hold certain values that give them comfort and in turn, according to those values, make them “better.” I use quotes for “better” insofar as anyone, when he lives according to values, wants to live up to those values he considers as good. No one, or more accurately, very few of us ever embody fully the values we hold dear—but the more we live our lives according to these values we consider ourselves “better off,” perhaps because we can decide on things more confidently or can discern and solve problems more efficiently.

None of us can escape our upbringing and no one is ever truly free to choose his own experiences. While we are active agents in our lives we are also passive—things happen to us whether we like it or not. We are just as informed by what we do out of choice and by what we experience with no say in the matter. We as humans, however, have a unique ability to reflect on our experiences. More uniquely, since other animals also have memory and learn from experience, human beings have the capacity to reflect on their values and culture. This is not only consistent with ancient wisdom but also modern science.

Man, by applying his reason to himself, may reject what he has been given in a nearly-complete way. Moreover some may even claim that we are unique among the animals insofar as we know how we came to be and that we are also aware of how we are wired (this imagery is by no means exhaustive). Because we “know” we may also reject our wiring in some ways—the example Dawkins uses is that we “rebel against our genes” when we contracept, i.e., that we actively deny the 'desire' of our genes to be replicated through propagation.

Thus both ancient sources, e.g., philosophy or theology, and modern sciences have agreed throughout the ages that man is unique. He is not unique according to his flesh, since his flesh and composition is not too different from other mammals. Perhaps one might say that his brain as an organ is the most impressive according to its construction and capacity. Man is unique according to his reason—formulated in antiquity as possessing a “rational soul”—because by his reason he can even master himself.

While our knowledge, scientifically-speaking, is still expanding on the subject of human cognition we can see that we form connections, both socially (e.g., mother and child) and intellectually (i.e., neural connections), in a way not dissimilar from other creatures. All but a few can recognize, however, that we are capable of understanding how we work and, by our own efforts, direct ourselves beyond mere instinct. While evolution has brought the structure of our bodies and brains to a certain point we also know that in the realm of human and child-development the manner in which we teach each other affects the way that our brain makes connections. In a manner of speaking we can intentionally affect how our brains are organized. This organization, in turn, affects how we act and interact. One may even argue that how we act makes us more fit. Fitness in the narrow sense is simply propagation. I believe that in a broader sense it involves more than just reproduction—fitness also includes well-being, productivity, and living in concord with fellow human beings. Thus how we regard one another, work with one another, and help each other to be our best is a benefit for both ourselves and for those around us.

These activities are achieved through “values” which is shorthand for those conceptions which influence dispositions, habits, and actions. Man, since he has been able to communicate with his fellow man, has discussed values—what is good and what is best—and likewise handed down those values. Values themselves are tested by time and experience. They are tested by hardships and challenges.

Reason and discussion, it may be said, are what make up the furnace of values. Similarly values are applied by different people and in different circumstances, thus their weaknesses are exposed and strengths refined. How those values are expressed are also important—do our actions actually mirror our values? It is foolishness to think that we automatically embody our values—living in accord with any value takes time, effort, and humility. We must always recognize our weakness. On the other hand when we do not attempt to live out certain values we do not actually express them.

In a manner of speaking values are physical and organic, both in their history and within an individual. Consider the image of a tree: when a tree is planted it needs the right circumstances and ingredients to grow. It may very well grow in weak or sandy soil, grow in competition with other trees, grow to be proud and strong, or simply die. Some trees by virtue of its light source will grow in a different direction. Others may be twisted, broken, and bent because of natural disaster. Nevertheless many of them survive in various conditions and amid various trials. Thus, while the tree may appear different in its external presentation each tree is from the same heritage, source, or family (e.g., an oak or a maple are still themselves despite their outward image).

Values themselves may die or they may die in the individual. They may also take root and flourish. Every generation is both the soil and the planter. We are the ones who, having grown up, decide where to plant and how. Values are, in some ways, of supreme importance for how we interact with one another as well as important insofar as they actually affect our physical makeup on the macro and even micro level.

With these in mind, we will proceed to the next part and talk more directly about values and the people who hold them.
Private Values, Public Faith (Part I)
This has been a big arguing point for quite some time. I seem to recall it becoming a part of the public vernacular about 2-3 years ago. I'm certain that this has actually been a long, historical issue likely dating back hundreds of years. I would bet you that there are traces of it in the Roman Empire.

This is my attempt to address the issue as best I can. I always appreciate good discussion and dilogue.

Hello all,

Still at work on a number of things. Thought I might share with you what I'm looking into:

(1) Altruism from the perspective of (evolutionary) biology, neuroscience, philosophy, and theology

(some) Sources
Churchland--Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells us about Morality
Nietzsche--Genealogy of Morals
MacIntyre--After Virtue
Aristotle--De Anima (and scholarly essays)
Plato (essays about his works)

(2) Some translation projects involving Greek and Latin (nothing major, just time consuming)

I have some other stuff cooking in my little ol' brain, but nothing concrete just yet.

Til then, keep well, as I had the flu last week.

What are you all working on?

Be well,



Artist | Hobbyist | Literature
United States
Current Residence: Chicago

Favorite style of art: Realism, pointillism

Personal Quote: 'To mislead one's friends to the truth is the greatest injustice.' (Plato)

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Neoconvoy Featured By Owner Dec 24, 2014  Student General Artist
Merry Christmas!

God bless you, your family, and other dear ones!…
TESM Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Merry Christmas to you too.
14iv19 Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2014
I saw your forum thread and then I came here to see who you were.
I read few of your comments and I wanted to have your opinion.
I am a protestant.
I was in a catholic church before for few years, but followed my parents to protestant church.
What do you say about protestant?
TESM Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2014  Hobbyist Writer

Having worked with Protestants in hospital settings and in a few other instances it's hard to say one statement about such diverse groups.

I admire many protestant's willingness to serve--I think they are stronger than your average Catholics in that respect, but this is largely because most protestant groups do not have or emphasize a sacramental life (i.e., a life centered around the Church and the 7 sacraments).

One thing I noticed about working with many Protestants in academic or theological settings is that they do not connect to the past very well, meaning that in our rich tradition, many of their prayers and reflections come from the past 2-4 centuries. 

Again, this varies greatly from confession to confession.

For my part I hold to Catholicism as the true faith, though those who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit are no less my brothers and sisters in faith.
AntiRCCZealot Featured By Owner Jul 18, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
I pray to God that you and all other sexually perverted, idolatrous and slanderous servants of the Great Whore of Babylon and the Antichrist are judged by Lord Jesus Christ and burn in Hell for all Eternity along with Satan and his fallen angels.
TESM Featured By Owner Jul 18, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
That's really sweet of you, thanks.
AntiRCCZealot Featured By Owner Jul 18, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
I am surprised here... o.O Aren't you gonna block me like other Catholic users for spewing "hate"? ^^;
TESM Featured By Owner Edited Jul 18, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
I couldn't care less, honestly.

You should reflect on the image of Christians you're portraying to others with the way you're speaking, though.
(1 Reply)
Hoenn-Master Featured By Owner May 16, 2014
Happy (belated) Birthday, TESM!
TESM Featured By Owner May 16, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
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