The Tao of Christ

Smashing Idols

August 14, 2022 Marshall Davis
The Tao of Christ
Smashing Idols
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode I tell some stories about idol-smashing, beginning with the Midrash about Abraham destroying the idols of his father’s idol-making workshop. In telling these stories of idol-smashing I discern the spiritual meaning behind iconoclasm. I am talking about smashing spiritual and religious and intellectual and theological and philosophical idols. Idols of the heart. The spiritual search is an iconoclastic process. In particular I address the idols of Christianity, but I also address the idols of the nondualism spiritual movement. 



The father of Western religious traditions – including Judaism, Christianity and Islam – is Abraham. His name even means father of many. There is a well-known Jewish Midrash about Abraham that is also echoed in Islam. 

The story says that Abraham’s father, Terah was an idol-maker and idol-seller in Ur. Terah went away on a journey, and he left Abraham in charge of the shop. Abraham took a club and shattered all the idols in the shop but one, and then he placed the club in the hand of the remaining largest idol. When Terah returned from his trip, he found his merchandise in pieces on the floor. “What happened?” he demanded to know.  “Oh, father, it was terrible,” Abraham said. “The small idols got hungry and they started fighting for food, and finally the large idol got angry and he broke them into little pieces.”  “Idols don’t get hungry, said Terah. “They don’t get angry, they don’t speak, they don’t hit other idols —they’re just idols.”  Upon hearing this, Abraham replied: “Oh, father, why, then, do you worship them?” And so Abraham broke with idolatry and started what came to be the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition of monotheism.

This pattern of idol-smashing is repeated in the Hebrew Scriptures by figures like Moses, who destroyed the Golden Calf, and Gideon, who destroyed his father’s idols of Baal and Asherah, and Josiah who cleansed the temple of idols, and others in the Old Testament. I think Jesus was symbolically doing the same sort of thing when he overturned the fables of the moneychangers in the Jerusalem temple. Idol smashing is in the DNA of western religion. 

In telling these idol-smashing stories, I am not condoning destroying physical religious images today, like the Taliban did in Afghanistan in 2001 when they tore down the two huge Bamiyan Buddha statues, which had been carved into the face of a cliff in the 6th century. That was a crime against a cultural treasure. You often read stories of how Islamic fundamentalist groups deface the images of other religions when they take over a territory. 

There was a story in the news a couple of days ago about how a statue of Mahatma Gandhi outside a Hindu Temple in Queens was vandalized. Apparnalty it is not the first time. Such behavior is religious bigotry, and I am not condoning such acts. I advocate religious tolerance. In telling these stories of idol-smashing I am discerning the spiritual meaning behind iconoclasm. I am talking about smashing spiritual and religious and intellectual and theological and philosophical idols. Idols of the heart. 

The spiritual search is an iconoclastic process. At least it has been so for me. I have shared previously how my spiritual search took me into the ruthless process of deconstructing my evangelical Christianity. In time that resulted in awakening to unitive awareness, which Jesus refers to as seeing or entering the Kingdom of God. That spiritual awakening happened exactly ten years ago this month, so it has been on my mind.

I questioned absolutely everything about my religion, and discarded everything that was not God. In my heart I smashed every idol I had believed in. Every crutch that the ego held onto – especially religious and spiritual crutches – I kicked away, so the ego had nothing left to hold onto. I rejected every idol that the ego had made in its own image in order to try to justify its existence. Only when the self has no place to stand, only then did I see what was left. This is seeing through the illusion of the self and seeing our true nature as nondual reality. 

The process does not end with spiritual awakening. After awakening there is then a process of integrating nondual awareness into ordinary human life. That is what I have been doing for the last ten years, especially the first few years. At first one cannot not understand this new reality – which is really an eternal reality - much less talk about it. Only later does one find ideas that may help us understand it a little and words that perhaps may point others to this reality. During that process of integration, there is always the danger that one might once again mistake words and ideas for truth.

One knows ideas are not truth, but in trying to describe or point to truth, certain ideas are latched onto. Nondual awareness can once again be clouded or occluded by religion or philosophy or a spiritual method or practices. The ego wants to build idols. That is what egos do. Therefore idols must be continually taken down. They have to be destroyed again and again. The spiritual life is continual idol smashing. That is what I try to do in these talks. I see the idols that even those who talk about nonduality have created, and I smash them. 

Nonduality is beyond religion or philosophy. Yet many who embrace nonduality still mistake religion or philosophy for truth. I did not smash all my Christian idols just to accept idols that are erroneously labeled “nondual.” So let me say this as clear as I can. Christian Nonduality is not about a theological or philosophical system. It is not about philosophical idealism, for example. It is not about monism or pantheism or panentheism. It is not about understanding the world through a spiritual worldview, whether that be Hindu or Buddhist or Taoist or Advaita or Christian or any other. 

Nondual Reality is not a spiritual system or intellectual worldview. It is not a way of understanding the nature of reality. Forget about understanding! Ultimate Reality cannot be understood and any attempt to do that is a dead end. Reality is accessed only by realizing it. It is about liberation, not understanding liberation. Trying to understand it is just a clever way of avoiding it. It just makes you into a very clever and spiritual-appearing ego that is completely deceived by its own illusion of a superior or more inclusive spirituality. It is not about what we know. It is about unknowing. 

Sometimes in these episodes I share ideas. In those episodes it may seem as if I am espousing a certain philosophy, theology or worldview. I am not. I have no philosophy, theology or worldview. All such things are mental creations and not true. When I use ideas to refute ideas and theologies and philosophies, I am trying to unstick people from their ideas. I am using a thorn to take out a thorn, as the saying goes. I am not trying to get people to accept my ideas instead of theirs. I don’t care about ideas. I do not want you to agree with me. Please do not accept any ideas you hear from me. They are not true. Ideas are worthless except when they are used to point beyond themselves. 

The Buddha had a famous illustration about a poison arrow that points to this truth.  A man came to Buddha and asked about the nature of the universe. Buddha said it is like a man who was wounded by a poisoned arrow. His family wants to bring him to a physician to be healed, but he refused. He would not consent to be treated until he knew who shot him, why he shot him, what type of bow he used, what type of wood the arrow was made from, what type of bird the fletching came from, and so on and so forth. And so the man died before all his questions are answered. That is what happens when we get caught up in ideas. We die before we wake up to the foolishness of that approach. Forget metaphysics. Forget theology and philosophy and spirituality and religion. Forget about the nature of the universe. Just take the damn arrow out!

All philosophical and theological and religious systems are idols. All doctrines are idols. All scriptures are idols. That is especially hard for Jews, Christians and Muslims to accept. I see fellow Christians putting the Bible in the place of God and it saddens me. They have made Scripture into an idol. 

Lifeway Research just did a survey in which they asked US Protestant pastors to identify modern day idols.  This was the question they were asked: What modern day idols have significant influence in US churches? These pastors named nine things in this order: comfort, control or security, money, approval, success, social influence, political power, sex and romance as idols. Those is all well and good. These certainly can be idols for people. But churches have much more obvious idols than these and Christians will not even recognize them as idols. 

I want to say to these pastors: what about the Bible? Hasn’t that become an idol, taking the place of God in Christians’ lives? Look at the words Christians use to describe scripture, words like divine, perfect, inerrant and infallible. That is idolatrous language! What about Jesus? Jesus has been made into a god by the church. Jesus has become an idol. Look at the divine language used to describe Jesus! When Jesus was addressed as “Good teacher” he scolded the man saying, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone!” Yet Christians still call him good and much more than that, and do not see anything wrong with it.

People turn gurus and spiritual teachers into idols. Religions turn spiritual leaders into gods. How about your religious tradition? How about creeds and doctrines. Those are all idols. Yet the pastors questioned do not even acknowledge these idols. That is how self-deceptive our religious traditions can be. 

Liberation requires us to be idol smashers, including smashing the idols that our spiritual traditions and our egos continually churn out. Churches – and temples and mosques - are idol-making factories, just like Abraham’s father’s workshop was an idol-making business. And this is big business in America. The true spiritual life is about smashing these idols.

It goes without saying that people will not like us for that idol-smashing, when they are their idols. Christians love it when you intellectually smash the idols of other religions. Call Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism idolatry and they will cheer. But keep your hands off Christian idols. Religious people love their idols. So-called spiritual people who say they do not like organized religion still love their idols. They will make an idol out of anyone and anything. 

Egos are natural idol makers. Egos love putting people and ideas on pedestals. The only way to be free is to smash our idols. The only way to free others is to smash their idols, not physically of course but with words by exposing their idols for what they are: false gods. The vast majority will not thank you for it. They crucified Jesus for doing it. But some will thank you in the long run. We are to be children of Abraham and smash the idols of our fathers. Only when all idols are seen as falsehoods, will we be free.