Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas Trees as Idols?: Silly So-Called "Arguments" From Holy Scripture

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_FOIrYyQawGI/TRTtkShBb8I/AAAAAAAADIY/0iGIGLWOIZ0/s1600/Asherah.gif
Idol of the goddess Asher'ah



These foolish "arguments" ostensibly drawn from Holy Scripture come up now and then. The Puritans and large sectors of the Protestant Reformed (Calvinist) tradition historically reasoned in this way (the same folks who would say that an organ in a church or even a bare cross or statue of Jesus Christ is an idol -- as John Calvin himself argued). Jehovah's Witnesses picked up the same reasoning in the 19th century (the founder, Charles Taze Russell having been raised as a Presbyterian). Here are two Bible passages enlisted for this opinion:

Jeremiah 10:1-6 (RSV)
Hear the word which the LORD speaks to you, O house of Israel.
[2] Thus says the LORD: "Learn not the way of the nations,
nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens
because the nations are dismayed at them,
[3] for the customs of the peoples are false.
A tree from the forest is cut down,
and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman.
[4] Men deck it with silver and gold;
they fasten it with hammer and nails
so that it cannot move.
[5] Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field,
and they cannot speak;
they have to be carried,
for they cannot walk.
Be not afraid of them,
for they cannot do evil,
neither is it in them to do good."
[6] There is none like thee, O LORD;
thou art great, and thy name is great in might.

I don't think I've ever met anyone who worships a Christmas tree and regards it as a god or a replacement for the true God. That is what is being discussed. It is thoroughly misguided thinking, and neglects the underlying idea that is being condemned. Idolatry comes from the heart. It is replacing God with some mere created thing.

Here's another the passage that is used:

Deuteronomy 16:21-22 You shall not plant any tree as an Ashe'rah beside the altar of the LORD your God which you shall make. [22] And you shall not set up a pillar, which the LORD your God hates.

Ashe'rah was a Canaanite mother-goddess, associated with Baal and worshiped as an idol, through an image of some sort (see many Old Testament references). The pillar is also almost certainly a reference to an idol. A reference to a pillar as an idol is seen, for example, in Deuteronomy 7:5:


    But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and hew down their Ashe'rim, and burn their graven images with fire. (cf. 12:3)


Unless someone is worshiping a Christmas tree as a god or goddess (and I highly doubt that anyone within any sort of Christian tradition is doing that), neither passage has any relevance to the harmless, delightful custom that I can see.

For a general exposition on idolatry according to the biblical worldview, see my paper: On the Nature of Idolatry and Whether it Resides Primarily in the Heart.

2 comments:

John Salmon said...

I am sure there was never a mother in law godess.

Paul said...

Thank you for sparing our tree. It's quite beautiful and it would have been a shame to have to take it down.