A wave of statue-smashing has stormed across the world lately. Riots over the killing of George Floyd toppled statues or caused those in authority to preemptively remove statues in the US, Britain, and other countries. Iconoclasm has a long history, infamous or hallowed depending on your perspective.
Of course, the Bible proscribes the making of “graven images,” if we then bow down to them in worship. Jews and Muslims avoid making pictures of God, and the Puritans smashed statues of Mary and Jesus during the Protestant Reformation. We get it. We are not to worship statues.
However, the statues toppled recently are not images of God but of humans. Most of them had something to do with the Civil War or the oppression of indigenous peoples. Father Serra, whom we were all taught was a benevolent man of God when we read about him in school, is now seen as a slave master. Of course, all the Confederate generals who fought to defend the slave-holding southern states, are doomed to fall. Even Abraham Lincoln somehow has been toppled from sainthood, and good old Columbus is just another white European oppressor. Am I outraged at the destruction or removal of these works? Not really.
Let’s get rid of all statues of humans. Putting any human on a pedestal aggrandizes him or her. Even if we don’t “bow down” to the statue in worship, we look up to it in respect and awe. Why? A person is a person, and our land was founded on the ideal that all are created equal. If we are equal, we all deserve a statue, or none of us does. Holding up a flawed human individual as an icon of human greatness is risky. Look at Thomas Jefferson who wrote so eloquently about equality but kept his own slaves and fathered numerous children on his black mistress, Sally Hemings.
But I want to take this discussion another step. When the Bible says not to make “graven images,” God implies that what we make images of we will worship. I propose that our secular world has substituted the human for God. Many of us are “humanists” these days. We worship ourselves and our accomplishments, taking full credit.
So, like the ancient iconoclasts or the Puritans, I support the taking down of statues. We are not God. We are not worthy of worship, whether we fought for the north or the south. You have a city park with an empty spot? Plant a tree there.