Springingtiger's Blog

Where Thieves Break In And Steal

Broken image of Siva from a destroyed temple.

Today as I read of King David’s preparations for constructing a temple in Jerusalem in Chronicles, having recently finished the two books of Kings, I found myself reflecting on the stupidity of temple building. Where now is the Temple in Jerusalem? It was destroyed and plundered repeatedly. Some would say it is because of the Jews’ utter inability to follow their God. Personally, having read of the sheer amount of precious metals, stones and other materials in the construction and treasury, I think it was a magnet to anyone with a sufficiently powerful army who wanted to boost his own coffers.

I recognise that there is a tendency of religious zealots to destroy and plunder the places of worship of their enemies, particularly if they have a different god (another one of the things in which the Jews tended to disobey their god). We saw it in the behaviour of first Muslim then Christian invaders in India. Throughout the former Roman Empire Christians destroyed and desecrated places of worship as well as the literature ans culture that accompanied them. Were it not for Muslim scholars most of Europe’s pre Medieval culture would have been lost. Sadly the tolerance and quest for knowledge of those scholars is not shared by the current Islamic militants who share the iconoclasm and barbarism that was a mark of Christianity until comparatively recently, and so temples continue to be destroyed.

Who are the temples, churches and mosques really for? For God? Surely God has no need of any place built by human hands when if God exists every place is his, he certainly has no need to live in a house. If every place is his then how can any be more sacred than another? The truth is that all these places, cathedrals, shrines, places of pilgrimage exist only to satisfy some need in the cultists of any religion. Every bit of gold and silver that goes into them they give only to reassure themselves of their devotion, bur surely were they truly devoted, they would need no convincing, and were they truly devoted then no quantity of material would ever be adequate to express that devotion. The person who is truly dedicated surrenders everything and that is as true of the politically committed as of the religious. The commitment cannot be measured in cash terms, but only in existential. It is easy to give money to charities without ever having to lift the fallen from the gutter or wash their sores.

If God exists, I suspect he would rather people showed their devotion in their lives rather than showing off their wealth either individually or communally. Its a point Jesus makes again and again, in the widow’s mite and the tale of the praying Pharisee and publican. Jesus’ imprecation, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal…” is as applicable to our public buildings as to our personal lives. A beautiful icon in a gold cover is a joy, but an unnecessary one and if displayed a temptation to those who would have it for themselves. Icons also breed iconoclasm. It doesn’t have to be a religious building nor idol anything people squander there wealth on to display their importance is equally futile and as equally dangerous whether a gold gross, a palace, a super car, or a nuclear deterrent, all are merely manifestations of human inadequacy and an inability to either have faith in their god or, worse still, themselves. If a negotiator dare not “go naked into the conference chamber’ they are not fit to negotiate, if they cannot overcome with the logic and morality of their arguments then even an apparent victory contains within it defeat. Any argument or doctrine that relies on material show for victory holds only until someone stronger comes along and strips it from you. The peace of God cannot be bought it is existential, and anyone who relies on material things for their preservation is, however ferocious or pious, nothing more than a coward.


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