The largest standing statues of Buddha are being destroyed. Carved out by Greek artists in the fifth century, the statues are located in the Bamiyan region of Afghanistan. Their destruction is the result of an order by the Taliban regime that “all sculptures in Afghanistan, including the Bamiyan masterpieces be destroyed for contravening the Islamic injunction against false icons.”(Newsweek, March 12, 2001, 51)
How should Christians respond?
On one hand, the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhist icons seem to be a page taken out of the Old Testament. The second of the Ten Commandments specifically prohibits the making of idols. Indeed, in places like Judges 6, God actually commands the destruction of an altar to Baal. Should we not then applaud the actions of the Taliban?
Perhaps not. God’s injunctions against idols were specifically for God’s people. When I help new disciples of Jesus destroy their idols, it is with the permission of the new converts. It is one of the signs that they are turning away from false gods to worship the true God. (See Acts 19:18-20).
It is quite another matter for the government of a modern state to impose its religious views on a mixed populace. Creative alternatives should have been taken seriously. (For example there was a proposal to remove the statues and move them to another country.)
However, the zeal of the Taliban in destroying what they believe to be the statues of false gods should be noted. For the New Testament too talks about idols. In Colossians 3:5, Paul writes: “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed(which is idolatry)…” (NRSV)
And Jesus puts forth for us the same fundamental choice in Matthew 6:24 when He tells us that we “cannot serve God and wealth”. Greed. Now that is an idol that has been around for a long time. And it is an idol that is very much at home in the 21st Century. It is an idol that should and must be destroyed.
As Christians we should try to prevent the destruction of the historical statues at Bamiyan. But perhaps a more important question to be gleaned from this tragic incident is: Are we showing the same kind of zeal in destroying the spiritual idols that dwell within us?
Do we even know what they are?