Friday, March 18, 2005

Looking for a miracle

I've just finished reading a book by Joe Nickell called "Looking for a Miracle". Basically it's an investigation into miracles with chapters on miraculous pictures, magical icons, mystical relics etc. There is also a really interesting chapter on what Nickell calls "Pentecostal Powers" - speaking in tongues, prophecy, taking up serpents and other immunities like taking poison.

It's a fascinating book that will appeal to most skeptics and Nickell is careful to point out that if you are interested in proving that miracles exist, you need to believe in them before you start examining proof. Which makes sense when you think about it.

Another thing he talks about is the difference between veneration and idolatry. He defines veneration as "paying reverence through an image - which itself is devoid of value or power - for that which it represents". Idolatry is defined as worship of an image which is regarded as the vehicle of the god. Idolatry is the result of animism - being derived from anima (breath) - or the belief that inanimate objects have life or souls.

This is quite relevant to many religions, not just Christianity (on which Nickell mainly focuses). Islam is so adverse to idolatry that no image of the Prophet (PBUH) is permitted. In most Islamic art the Prophet will be represent by a hand or a foot entering or leaving the side of the frame. Even documentaries made by Muslims will only show the hands, feet or even the shadow of the actor playing the Prophet. But I am interested in pursuing this idea within Buddhism. Most Buddhist art tends to have a picture or statue of Buddha and other gods, so maybe they don't even have a word for idolatry - maybe it is an idea exclusive to monotheism. I think I need to find out. Maybe I can write an essay about for my Buddhism class?


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