Idolatry originally referred to the worship of idols, images or other figures made of various physical materials, as if these were deities or entirely accurate and reliable representations of such, but the meaning has expanded to often include the embrace of false notions as true ones, the taking of something for that which it is not, or the deliberate promotion of such errors.
- Alphabetized by author or source:
- You are fifty years old and would worship a day old statue!
- The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the law of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If "Thou shall not covet," and "Thou shall not steal," are not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society, before it can be civilized or made free.
- John Adams, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government (1787), The Works of John Adams (1851), vol. 6, p. 9
- To glorify man in his natural and unmodified self is no less surely, even if less obviously, idolatry than actually to bow down before a graven image.
- Irving Babbitt, "English and the Discipline of Ideas" (1920), Irving Babbitt: Representative Writings (1981), p. 67
- There is a great difference between the Idols of the human mind and the Ideas of the divine. That is to say, between certain empty dogmas, and the true signatures and marks set upon the works of creation as they are found in nature.
- Francis Bacon, in Novum Organum (The New Organon) (1620), Book I, Aphorism 23
- There are four classes of Idols which beset men's minds. To these for distinction's sake I have assigned names — calling the first class, Idols of the Tribe ; the second, Idols of the Cave; the third, Idols of the Market-Place; the fourth, Idols of the Theater.
- Francis Bacon, in Novum Organum (The New Organon) (1620), Book I, Aphorism 39
- The Idols of Tribe have their foundation in human nature itself, and in the tribe or race of men. For it is a false assertion that the sense of man is the measure of things. On the contrary, all perceptions as well of the sense as of the mind are according to the measure of the individual and not according to the measure of the universe. And the human understanding is like a false mirror, which, receiving rays irregularly, distorts and discolors the nature of things by mingling its own nature with it.
- Francis Bacon, in Novum Organum (The New Organon) (1620), Book I, Aphorism 41
- The Idols of the Cave are the idols of the individual man. For everyone (besides the errors common to human nature in general) has a cave or den of his own, which refracts and discolors the light of nature, owing either to his own proper and peculiar nature; or to his education and conversation with others; or to the reading of books, and the authority of those whom he esteems and admires; or to the differences of impressions, accordingly as they take place in a mind preoccupied and predisposed or in a mind indifferent and settled; or the like. So that the spirit of man (according as it is meted out to different individuals) is in fact a thing variable and full of perturbation, and governed as it were by chance. Whence it was well observed by Heraclitus that men look for sciences in their own lesser worlds, and not in the greater or common world.
- Francis Bacon, in Novum Organum (The New Organon) (1620), Book I, Aphorism 42
- There are also Idols formed by the intercourse and association of men with each other, which I call Idols of the Market Place, on account of the commerce and consort of men there. For it is by discourse that men associate, and words are imposed according to the apprehension of the vulgar. And therefore the ill and unfit choice of words wonderfully obstructs the understanding. Nor do the definitions or explanations wherewith in some things learned men are wont to guard and defend themselves, by any means set the matter right. But words plainly force and overrule the understanding, and throw all into confusion, and lead men away into numberless empty controversies and idle fancies.
- Francis Bacon, in Novum Organum (The New Organon) (1620), Book I, Aphorism 43
- Lastly, there are Idols which have immigrated into men's minds from the various dogmas of philosophies, and also from wrong laws of demonstration. These I call Idols of the Theater, because in my judgment all the received systems are but so many stage plays, representing worlds of their own creation after an unreal and scenic fashion.
- Francis Bacon, in Novum Organum (The New Organon) (1620), Book I, Aphorism 44
- Let men learn (as we have said above) the difference that exists between the idols of the human mind, and the ideas of the Divine mind. The former are mere arbitrary abstractions; the latter the true marks of the Creator on his creatures, as they are imprinted on, and defined in matter, by true and exquisite touches. Truth, therefore, and utility are here perfectly identical.
- Francis Bacon, in Novum Organum (The New Organon) (1620), Book I, Aphorism 124
- Seeing that this brutish stupidity has overspread the globe, men longing after visible forms of God, and so forming deities of wood and stone, silver and gold, or of any other dead and corruptible matter, we must hold it as a first principle, that as often as any form is assigned to God, his glory is corrupted by an impious lie.
- John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Chapter 11
- To me, therefore, that Thracian Orpheus, that Theban, and that Methymnaean,--men, and yet unworthy of the name,--seem to have been deceivers, who, under the pretence of poetry corrupting human life, possessed by a spirit of artful sorcery for purposes of destruction, celebrating crimes in their orgies, and making human woes the materials of religious worship, were the first to entice men to idols; nay, to build up the stupidity of the nations with blocks of wood and stone,--that is, statues and images,--subjecting to the yoke of extremest bondage the truly noble freedom of those who lived as free citizens under heaven by their songs and incantations. But not such is my song, which has come to loose, and that speedily, the bitter bondage of tyrannizing demons; and leading us back to the mild and loving yoke of piety, recalls to heaven those that had been cast prostrate to the earth. It alone has tamed men, the most intractable of animals; the frivolous among them answering to the fowls of the air, deceivers to reptiles, the irascible to lions, the voluptuous to swine, the rapacious to wolves. The silly are stocks and stones, and still more senseless than stones is a man who is steeped in ignorance. As our witness, let us adduce the voice of prophecy accordant with truth, and bewailing those who are crushed in ignorance and folly: "For God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham;" and He, commiserating their great ignorance and hardness of heart who are petrified against the truth, has raised up a seed of piety, sensitive to virtue, of those stones--of the nations, that is, who trusted in stones. Again, therefore, some venomous and false hypocrites, who plotted against righteousness, He once called "a brood of vipers." But if one of those serpents even is willing to repent, and follows the Word, he becomes a man of God.
- And He said unto me: 'Go in, and see the wicked abominations that they do here.' 10 So I went in and saw; and behold every detestable form of creeping things and beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, portrayed upon the wall round about. 11 And there stood before them seventy men of the elders of the house of Israel, and in the midst of them stood Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan, every man with his censer in his hand; and a thick cloud of incense went up. 12 Then said He unto me: 'Son of man, hast thou seen what the elders of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in his chambers of imagery? for they say: The LORD seeth us not, the LORD hath forsaken the land.' 13 He said also unto me: 'Thou shalt again see yet greater abominations which they do.' 14 Then He brought me to the door of the gate of the LORD'S house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat the women weeping for Tammuz. 15 Then said He unto me: 'Hast thou seen this, O son of man? thou shalt again see yet greater abominations than these.' 16 And He brought me into the inner court of the LORD'S house, and, behold, at the door of the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the LORD, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east.
- Ezekiel 8 9-16, JPS translation
- Nationalism is our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity. "Patriotism” is its cult. It should hardly be necessary to say, that by "patriotism” I mean that attitude which puts the own nation above humanity, above the principles of truth and justice; not the loving interest in one’s own nation, which is the concern with the nation’s spiritual as much as with its material welfare — never with its power over other nations. Just as love for one individual which excludes the love for others is not love, love for one’s country which is not part of one’s love for humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship.
- It is time to cease to argue about God, and instead to unite in the unmasking of contemporary forms of idolatry.
- Oh ! what a frightful business is this modern society; the race for wealth — wealth. I am ashamed to write the word. Wealth means well-being, weal, the opposite of woe. And is that money? or can money buy it? We boast much of the purity of our faith, of the sins of idolatry among the Romanists, and we send missionaries to the poor unenlightened heathens, to bring them out of their darkness into our light, our glorious light; but oh! if you may measure the fearfulness of an idol by the blood which stains its sacrifice, by the multitude of its victims, where in all the world, in the fetish of the poor negro, in the hideous car of Indian Juggernaut, can you find a monster whose worship is polluted by such enormity as this English one of money!
- Every concept that comes from some comprehensible image, by an approximate understanding and by guessing at the Divine nature, constitutes a idol of God and does not proclaim God.
- Gregory of Nyssa The life of Moses; translation, introd. and notes by Abraham J. Malherbe and Everett Ferguson ; pref. by John Meyendorff Page 81
- He retreats like a General and attacks like a Hero. If there are spots in his character, they are like the spots in the Sun; only discernable by the magnifying powers of a telescope. Had he lived in the days of idolatry he had been worshipped as a God. One age cannot do justice to his merit; but the united voices of a grateful posterity shall pay a chearful tribute of undissembled praise to the great assertor of their country's freedom.
- Francis Hopkinson, about George Washington, in "A Political Catechism" (1777)
- Paraphrased variant: Had Washington been born in the days of idolatry, he would be worshiped as a god. If there are spots on his character, they are like spots on the sun, only discernible by the magnifying powers of a telescope.
- As quoted in Pennsylvania Journal, 1777-1776 by David McCullough, p. 290
- What avails, then, the folly of the painter, who from sinful love of gain depicts that which should not be depicted—that is, with his polluted hands he tries to fashion that which should only be believed in the heart and confessed with the mouth? He makes an image and calls it Christ.
- Iconoclastic Conciliabulum, 754 AD, § 16, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Second Series, Volume XIV, P. Schaff, ed. (1900), p. 543
- If anyone shall endeavor to represent the forms of the Saints in lifeless pictures with material colors which are of no value (for this notion is vain and introduced by the devil), and does not rather represent their virtues as living images in himself, let him be anathema!
- Iconoclastic Conciliabulum, 754 AD, § 16, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Second Series, Volume XIV, P. Schaff, ed. (1900), p. 546
- You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.
- It is distinctly said in the Law that everything which idolaters consider as service to their gods, and a means of approaching them, is rejected and despised by God... Thus all precepts cautioning against idolatry, or against that which is connected therewith, leads to it, or is related to it, are evidently useful.
- The custom which was in those days general among all men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up, consisted in sacrificing animals in those temples which contained certain images to bow down to those images, and to burn incense before them; religious and ascetic persons were in those days the persons that were devoted to the service in the temples erected to the stars... It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God, as displayed in the whole Creation, that He did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service, for to obey such a commandment it would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used... By this Divine plan it was effected that the traces of idolatry were blotted out, and the truly great principle of our faith, the existence and Unity of God, was firmly established; this result was thus obtained without deterring or confusing the minds of the people by the abolition of the service to which they were accustomed and which alone was familiar to them.
- After a long time the great and awful Name was forgotten and the people, men, women and children, only recognized an image of wood or stone and the temple of wood or stone which they had been brought up from infancy to serve by bowing down. ... Abraham ... knew that all were mistaken and that what caused them to err was worship of the images which drove the Truth out of their minds.
- Maimonides, Mishneh Torah (c. 1180), Treatise 4: “Idolatry,” H. Russell, trans. (1983), pp. 72-73
- I am alone in my monotonous country,
While all those around me live in the idolatry
Of a mirror reflecting in its depths serene
Herodiade, whose gaze is diamond keen ...
O final enchantment! yes, I sense it, I am alone.
- Stéphane Mallarmé, in Hérodiade (1898)
- The idol depends on the gaze that it satisfies, since if the gaze did not desire to satisfy itself in the idol, the idol would have no dignity for it.
- Jean-Luc Marion, God Without Being (1982), p. 10
- The gaze strains itself to see the divine, to see it by taking it up into the field of the gazeable. The more powerfully the aim is deployed, the longer it sustains itself, the richer, more extensive and more sumptuous will appear the idol on which it will stop its gaze. ... In this stop, the gaze ceases to overshoot and transpierce itself, hence it ceases to transpierce visible things, in order to pause in the splendor of one of them.
- Jean-Luc Marion, God Without Being (1982), p. 11
- The state lieth in all languages of good and evil; and whatever it saith it lieth; and whatever it hath it hath stolen.
False is everything in it; with stolen teeth it biteth, the biting one. False are even its bowels.
Confusion of language of good and evil; this sign I give unto you as the sign of the state. Verily, the will to death, indicateth this sign! Verily, it beckoneth unto the preachers of death!
- Friedrich Nietzsche, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1885) Part I, Chapter 11, "Vom neuen Götzen"/"The New Idol", as translated by Thomas Common
- Variant translation: Everything the State says is a lie, and everything it has it has stolen.
- Watch them clamber, these swift monkeys! They clamber over one another and thus drag one another into the mud and the depth. They all want to get to the throne: that is their madness — as if happiness sat on the throne. Often, mud sits on the throne — and often the throne also on mud. Mad they all appear to me, clambering monkeys and overardent. Foul smells their idol, the cold monster: foul, they smell to me altogether, these idolators.
- There are more idols than realities in the world: that is my "evil eye" for this world, which is also my "evil ear"..
- Friedrich Nietzsche, in Twilight of the Idols : or How to Philosophize with a Hammer (1888) as translated by Daniel Fidel Ferrer (February 2013)
- All that philosophers have handled for millennia, were conceptual mummies; there was nothing real to life from their hands. They kill, they fill out that these gentlemen term, idolaters, when they worship — they are all dangerous when they worship.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, in Twilight of the Idols : or How to Philosophize with a Hammer (1888) as translated by Daniel Fidel Ferrer (February 2013)
- Sociology has up to the present almost always seen only one aspect of the historical State. It has only seen the State as the guardian of peace and justice. Indeed it is commonly assumed that peace and justice did not exist until the State came into being. This is a great error; the community which preceded the State defended its territory and the lives and property of its members to the utmost, and was exceedingly energetic in maintaining internal equality of rights. The State merely took over from the community these two tasks, which must be carried out if any kind of society is to exist at all. This misconception cherished by previous sociology is the cause of its idolatry of the State, taking the form of State-worship. Peace and justice are great benefits to society, and consequently it is assumed, that the State, which is regarded not merely as the guardian of peace and justice, but as the only possible means by which they can be created, must be the greatest of all benefits. In reality however the State is nothing but one community living as a parasite upon another.
- If God should turn away from himself as the Source of infinite joy, he would cease to be God. He would deny the infinite worth of his own glory. He would imply that there is something more valuable outside himself. He would commit idolatry ... Where will we find a Rock of integrity in the universe when the heart of God has ceased to value supremely the supremely valuable?
- John Piper, in Desiring God : Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (1986)
- The unity of God is a doctrine on which the greatest stress is laid in the whole system of revelation. To guard this most important article was the principal object of the Jewish religion; and, notwithstanding the proneness of the Jews to idolatry, at length it fully answered its purpose in reclaiming them, and in impressing the minds of many persons of other nations in favour of the same fundamental truth.
- As the greatest things often take their rise from the smallest beginnings, so the worst things sometimes proceed from good intentions. This was certainly the case with respect to the origin of Christian Idolatry. All the early heresies arose from men who wished well to the gospel, and who meant to recommend it to the Heathens, and especially to philosophers among them, whose prejudices they found great difficulty in conquering.
- Joseph Priestley, in An History of the Corruptions of Christianity (1782), Part I : The History of Opinions Relating to Jesus Christ, Introduction
- The reason why I entered into a religious order is this: first, the great misery of the world, the wickedness of men, the rapes, the adulteries, the thefts, the pride, the idolatry, the vile curses, for the world has come to such a state that one can no longer find anyone who does good; so much so that many times every day I would sing this verse with tears in my eyes: Alas, flee from cruel lands, flee from the shores of the greedy. I did this because I could not stand the great wickedness of the blind people of Italy, especially when I saw that virtue had been completely cast down and vice raised up.
- Girolamo Savonarola, in a letter to his father (25 April 1475), as quoted in A Guide to Righteous Living and Other Works (2003) as translated by Konrad Eisenbichler, p. 17
- The art of government is the organization of idolatry.
- Revenge is the naked idol of the worship of a semi-barbarous age.
- Percy Bysshe Shelley, in A Defence of Poetry (1821)
- Tacitus says, that the Jews held God to be something eternal and supreme, neither subject to change nor to decay; therefore, they permit no statues in their cities or their temples. The universal Being can only be described or defined by negatives which deny his subjection to the laws of all inferior existences. Where indefiniteness ends, idolatry and anthropomorphism begin.
- Percy Bysshe Shelley, in Essay on Christianity (1859)
- Fame, power, and gold, are loved for their own sakes — are worshipped with a blind, habitual idolatry. The pageantry of empire, and the fame of irresistible might, are contemplated by the possessor with unmeaning complacency, without a retrospect to the properties which first made him consider them of value. It is from the cultivation of the most contemptible properties of human nature that discord and torpor and indifference, by which the moral universe is disordered, essentially depend. So long as these are the ties by which human society is connected, let it not be admitted that they are fragile.
- Percy Bysshe Shelley, in Essay on Christianity (1859)
- Wherever public worship has been established and regularly aintained, idolatry has vanished from the face of the earth. There is not now a temple to a heathen god where the word of God is read.
- Matthew Simpson reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 34.
- If you uproot the idol and fail to plant the love of Christ in its place, the idol will grow back.
- The principal crime of the human race, the highest guilt charged upon the world, the whole procuring cause of judgment, is idolatry.
- Tertullian, On Idolatry, Chapter 1
- You who make [idols], that they may be able to be worshipped, do worship; and you worship, not with the spirit of some worthless perfume, but with your own; nor at the expense of a beast's soul, but of your own. To them you immolate your ingenuity; to them you make your sweat a libation; to them you kindle the torch of your forethought. More are you to them than a priest, since it is by your means they have a priest; your diligence is their divinity.
- Tertullian, On Idolatry, Chapter 6
- Maurras, with perfect logic, is an atheist. The Cardinal [Richelieu], in postulating something whose whole reality is confined to this world as an absolute value, committed the sin of idolatry. ... The real sin of idolatry is always committed on behalf of something similar to the State.
- Simone Weil, in Prelude to Politics (1943), p. 199
- Our patriotism comes straight from the Romans. This is why French children are encouraged to seek inspiration for it in Corneille. It is a pagan virtue, if these two words are compatible. The word pagan, when applied to Rome, early possesses the significance charged with horror which the early Christian controversialists gave it. The Romans really were an atheistic and idolatrous people; not idolatrous with regard to images made of stone or bronze, but idolatrous with regard to themselves. It is this idolatry of self which they have bequeathed to us in the form of patriotism.
- Simone Weil, in Prelude to Politics (1943), p. 220, also in The Need for Roots : prelude towards a declaration of duties towards mankind (1952)
- The Hebrews took for their idol, not something made of metal or wood, but a race, a nation, something just as earthly. Their religion is essentially inseparable from such idolatry, because of the notion of the "chosen people."
- Simone Weil, in Letter to a Priest (1951), section 2