GM writes: “My mother and I got into a discussion about idolatry a few weeks ago. She seems to think that having pagan artwork in the home isn’t idolatry, and I can’t help but feel like it is, although the extent of it is a rendering of a buddha by my sister, and a couple buddha statues in opposite alcoves in our entryway. What is Church teaching regarding this?”
Church teaching regarding this artwork has to do with what the art is being used for and why your mother keeps it in the house. Is it just for decoration, does she collect this kind of art, or is she bringing it into the house for protection of some kind (which would be a superstition)?
There is certainly nothing wrong with collecting statues or artwork from other cultures, even those that are religious in nature, but there are a few caveats that should be taken into account. First, the artwork or statues should not be used for any non-Christian religious exercises. Second, it is highly recommended that the objects not be visible if the sight of them could cause scandal to others. For instance, visitors to your mother’s home may see the statues of Buddha and, not realizing they are just ornamental, may believe it’s okay for Catholics to worship Buddha or to hold him in high enough esteem that statues of him can be openly displayed in the home. This would cause scandal, which is defined in the Catechism as “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil” (No. 2884-2886). This potential evil could begin as something as seemingly harmless as awakening someone’s curiosity about Buddha which could ultimately lead them away from God.
Let’s face it, Catholics don’t normally display statues of pagan gods in their home unless they are collectors, are engaging in some kind of superstition, or hold a particular god in high enough esteem that they feel compelled to display statues of them around their home.