by Andrea Elizabeth
After reading the part in The Deerslayer, the first of The Leatherstocking Tales by James, Fenimore Cooper, where Deerslayer comes across an ornate chess piece in the image of an elephant, I am rethinking idolatry. Not understanding it’s use as a chess piece, Deerslayer at first thinks it’s a graven image and an idol and thus should be disposed of. Even after he understands that it is part of a game, and thus justified (not sure how that makes a difference with his logic) he does not believe it should be given to the Indians who would make an idol of it. Indeed, his faithful Indian companion, Chingachgook, is quite captivated and enraptured by it.
I understand that things are to come after God in our hearts. And I understand that the purest Saints were never attached to things, and in extremely pious cases, rejected even their mother’s milk for Communion. They were unusually attracted to God alone (setting aside the different context in which the Protestants put these two words). In most cases, however, people form attachments to things that either end up breaking their hearts, or they grow out of, or sadly don’t get past while their appetite for it increases.
My current inclination is that idol smashing can be too harshly done. Burning books, which is criticized in this story, though to me the scenario was similar; dynamiting statues; and defacing icons seem heartbreaking instead of relationship to God building. Protestants point to Old Testament examples, but like killing God’s enemies, this can be too easily and simplistically applied. I think people’s bonding to these things should be seen as immature attachments, like to a baby’s security blanket, and not so much as letting evil influences have their way, though I wont totally discount that. I believe these objects should be gently replaced, but in the case of icons, they are part of the replacement, given the proper context, which was needed and amended in the 8th Century.
Weaning too soon and too harshly wounds the person and can cause them to put up walls against the God they are supposed to believe loves them and has a better way. I believe this happened with the American Indians in the lower 48. Canada and Alaska have different stories, and in Alaska’s case, I believe that it is because their fragile hearts were more respected by the Orthodox missionaries.