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?”
Although there is no specific Church teaching on Buddha statues per se, there is plenty of teaching in the Catechism that pertains to this subject. For example, is your mother displaying these images for decoration, because she collects this kind of art work, because she has a reverence for Buddha (violation of the First Commandment), or because she believes the images provide her with some kind of protection (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 as this would be in violation of the First Commandment which condemns idolatry and giving reverence to other divinities (No. 2112) .
Second, to display these statues with the belief that they will provide some kind of protection would be a superstitious practice because it involves assigning magical powers to an object, which is another form of idolatry that violates the First Commandment.
Third, 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.
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