According to the pious Christian, the heathen has no claim to what is good. He is the favoured child of the Devil and all his acts are inspired by the old time-honoured enemy of the Hebrew God viz Satan. Acting under such a belief, the Christian Missionary thinks it to be a duty imposed on him by God to free the Hindu from all his religious practices and modes of worship. The average exponent of the Christian Gospel is no more philosophical than the Hebrew prophet Moses who revealed the wishes of Jehovah to his chosen people - the Israelites.
He has imbibed with his religion all the narrowness, rigidity of mind and want of sympathy for the views of others which characterised the old Hebrew nation. He believes that the stupid Hindu worshipper only requires to be sufficiently jeered at to be made to give up the worship of stocks and stones. But at times the Padre's ire is roused and then the poor pagan who is supposed to believe that the blocks of stones are the gods of heaven is threatened with the everlasting hell-fire.
Now this question of idolatry requires to be examined a little closely. The Hindu makes figures of men and women and other objects out of metal or stone and offers worship to them. One may be sure that even the most idiotic Hindu does not believe that the image in itself is actually a god. If he should honestly and really believe so, it only follows that his intellect is an abnormally low stage of development but no moral responsibility can attach to such a state of mind. It would appear that the course of action open to others is to leave him to such a form of worship until his experience should raise him above it or point out to him that the conception he entertains is wrong. But to revile and curse him is utter folly and stupidity. The case on hand is one that ought to excite pity but not hatred.
Whatever might have been the origin of idolatry and whatever might have been the views of the hypothetical savage as to the fetish he worshipped, it cannot be seriously contended that the Hindu at any time known to history regarded the image worshipped as being actually a god. He certainly believes that in some manner the figure used in worship is the image of a god or that the particular god who is invoked pervades the image. The Hindu though idolatrous is not a savage; but intellectually is as much advanced as his revilers. The most ignorant Hindu if questioned about his worship of idols, will readily answer that the idols are only the several images of God. The Hindu believes in millions of Devas or the bright ones, but these correspond only to the angels of the Christian heaven. It is mere ignorance on the part of the missionary if he should think that because of a belief in innumerable Devas, the Hindu believes that there are a number of Supreme Gods.
The Bible forbids idol-worship thus:-
3. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
4. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;
5. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them, for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
6. And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
23. Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold.
24. An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy sheep, and thine oxen in all the places where I record my name I will come unto thee and I will bless thee."
20. "He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the Lord only, he shall be utterly destroyed."
The verse last quoted and the one quoted first show that the Hebrew hatred for idols arose from their hatred of the gods of the other tribes. Jehovah's assertion that he is a jealous God, only brings light the extreme narrowness characteristic of the tribe as well as the fact that the Jews viewed every question of religion from the point of view of their tribe. It is indeed very amusing to see the Lord putting himself on a level with gods made of silver and gold and growing jealous of the worship offered to them. The worship of silver and gold gods is forbidden; but everything associated with the worship of idols and which is reprehensible is commendable to this strange God of the Jews. His appetite for oxen and sheep is as keen as that of Ball or Moloch.
Now idolatry is simply a worship of images. The common place objection of the missionary is that an image degrades the Supreme Being. But it may be observed that it is not only a material image that degrades the infinite God, but also a mental image. When a Christian speaks of God as the 'the Father in heaven' he does call up an image in his mind. It is impossible not to call up images in the mind, when God is spoken of as being kind, merciful, forgiving or jealous. Evidently, when one talks of God as being, an angry or jealous Being, images of jealous or angry men are pictured before the mind's eye. A conception of Jehovah according to the attributes ascribed to Him in the Bible must necessarily call up a most grotesque image in one's mind. The manufacture of such an idol is not different from the hewing of one out of stone or carving one of wood. Worship of the personal God is only a refined form of idolatry, and Christianity being purely a worship of the personal God, is merely an idolatry of a subtler form. If the grosser form of idolatry is held to be reprehensible, the mere refined form cannot escape condemnation altogether.
It may be said with reference to the worship of the Hindu, that there is in fact no worship of the image on hand, but only of the idea which the image symbolises. A certain image represents the infinity of the God-head and another the mercifulness of the Supreme Being. Now it is the ever-loving care of God for his creatures, that is sought to be represented in the figure of a mother suckling a child and at another time the fierce and retributive aspect in a image invoking fear. One image represents the lovely aspect of the Deity and another the aspect of peace and calm transcending all loveliness. And the Hindu passes on from a worship of God with attributes to the worship of the absolute Brahman of whom nothing can be predicated.
The genesis of the Christian hatred for idolatry is to be traced in the tribal jealously of the Hebrews. The Jews hated idols because they hated the god of the other tribes whose idolatry in all probability grew out of their love for art. When the modern missionary rages furiously against the idolatry or more correctly speaking of idea-worship of the Hindus, he only manifests the narrowness of mind and the want of sympathy for another's religion which is his inheritance from the Hebrews.