A couple of months ago I wrote a post about reclaiming this phrase “idol worship.” I still think that if it’s something people accuse us of, it’s fair to say: “So what? What’s it to you?” However, it turns out that I struck a nerve and a lot of Hindus are very upset at our murti being called idols.
They pointed out to me that when someone says idol worship, they mean literally bowing down to the brass, plastic, plaster, or marble that the statue is made from. And for the vast majority of Hindus that’s not accurate. Words have meaning, they said to me, and “idol” does not mean “murti.”
Even though I still think that we should defy Abrahamic religions and be proud to use statues in our worship, I can see that this accusation of idol worship has been used to make Hinduism sound primitive and lesser (from the point of view of someone who assumes that Christianity is the default and makes the most sense!)
The truth is that God’s energy is invoked into the murti (the statue/image) at the time of worship. We ask the God to come and inhabit this form so that we have somewhere to direct our energy and our focus.
It reminds me a little bit of the Christian communion concept where the bread and wine become (for some metaphorically and for others literally) the body and blood of Jesus. When you think about how Christianity involves the ritualistic eating of flesh, the idea that God could embody a a murti for the purpose of worship doesn’t seem unreasonable if you ask me.Because the word “idol” is used to dismiss and diminish my faith and my brethren, I will strive to use the term “murti” only. At the same time I’m not going to start “correcting” my fellow Hindus if they call their murti “idols.” I continue to refuse to live in a world where Christianity is the default.
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