Depictions of Deities Outside Catholicism

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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You shouldn’t be allowed to worship false idols, stated directly by the First Commandment. Are you allowed to depict other religious deities for decoration? In 1656 AD, as a resolve to the Chinese Rites Controversy, it was decided that you were allowed to show statues of Confucius. On the same note, I agree that an individual shall be allowed to possess statues and icons of religious leaders, as long as you are not worshipping these deities. You are allowed to own statues of other religions idols.

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We are allowed to have tattoos that show depictions of other religions. Then lastly we should able to attend the religious ceremonies of other religions.

Others may say that is it wrong to depict the idols of other religions, however I believe that you may, as long as the idols aren’t for worship. Looking back at the Old Testament, we find the story of Moses and the Jews where the Jewish people create a golden calf. When Moses returns with the laws of God, known as the Ten Commandments, he is deeply outraged at the Jews’ creation of the god Baal. (Exodus 32) Therefore, it’s wrong to depict other religious idols, however this is not quite the case. The Jews had been making worship to the calf and dancing and singing to it. As stated by the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” (Exodus 20.) Therefore as long as you do not make the idols into gods and strictly have them for the sake of decorative adornment, there is nothing wrong with their depiction.

Although, what’s the difference between decoration and worship? When are you taking decorating too far? You may tell yourself, I’m not praying to the idol, therefore I am not worshiping it. However, this kind of thinking becomes highly problematic. You do not necessarily have to pray to the idols to worship them. Creating an alter for the idol is going too far, as well as making them the center of your life. You must make sure that when you depict another religions idol, you must not see them for more than a statue. Although, you can respect the culture which the idol comes from and be interested by the religion, you can not believe in their deity.

The Chinese Rites Controversy was started as a dispute from within the Catholic Church with the Jesuits and Dominicans. The issue was: Should the Chinese people be able to take part in Confucius and other traditional ceremonies? Pope, Clement XI in 1715 and Pope Benedict XIV in 1742. decreed that it was wrong to take part in these ceremonies because they went against the ideas of the Catholic Church. However, Pope Pius XII in 1939 declared that the ideas of Confucianism where allowed to be partaken in by Chinese Catholics. Although, you were not allowed to burn paper and if you wanted to bow there had to be a crucifix present.

Confucianism may be a religion to some, however you can have statues of Confucius as long as you do not believe in Confucianism. This is why Catholics can own statues of Confucius. While still being able to make proper worship to God and attend worship service on Sundays.

Therefore, you can own statues because it was concluded by Pope Pius XII that we were allowed to as long as you did not believe the idol to take the place of God. This defends the idea that idols can be displayed as long as you are not worshipping them, as well as following the teachings of the Church actively.

Then again, why stop there? If idols can be displayed as statues, would we be allowed to have tattoos that depict other religious symbols, like the taijitu symbol, otherwise known as the yin and yang symbol? Statues are something that can be a very minor decoration and you would not be actively displaying them with you. Although, there must be a very clear distinction that the tattoo does not represent your religious beliefs, because that will most likely be one of the first things people will see on you.

Although, tattoos and statues may seem the be the same argument, this is not the case. However, with tattoos, this may be highly problematic and a conundrum for some. Why should there be a difference between statues and tattoos? Although, I believe that you should not be allowed to have such tattoos, because the situation becomes slightly more difficult.

Although, some of the same rules apply to tattoos that applied to statues on the sense that they are not allowed to be worshiped, or lead your life. Though I think it would be more difficult to want to worship a tattoo than a statue, but in that regard a tattoo of other religions symbols still can not be justified. However, it becomes more prevalent in your life, which opens a bigger passage towards temptation. After all which sin is easier to commit? One that you come across everyday, or a sin that you do not even find yourself in the position to commit?

“often, we put ourselves into situations because we tell ourselves that we’re “beyond” certain sins. This can be true, but it’s more rare than we like to think. If I’ve noticed that I delight in certain temptations, I need to be honest about the situations that I place myself in that lead to them. It’s very simply a choice to cut the temptation off.” (Fr Clayton Thompson)

Therefore, if you were to have a tattoo of Another religion, you may be tempted to follow the teaching of that religion. However, I believe while the temptation may exist, it’s not very likely that your views will change because of a tattoo. Although I don’t have a tattoo, I’ve had a statue of Buddha next to my bed for over a year and never have I looked at it and be tempted to make any changes in my religious beliefs. Although, I also have a crucifix next to my bed as well, so may you just need Catholic imagery for every non-catholic image or statue you own?

Then lastly, should you be allowed to attend, other religions’ worship services. Now of course you can not attend them to worship because this goes directly against the Church and The First Commandment, however it is still possible to go to other religions churches as an observer. Simply put, yes, the Catholic Church believes you are allowed to observe other religions ceremonies because it puts our own religion in perspective. So to say, we can strengthen our own religious beliefs in God, through observing other religions.

Although when it comes to observing, how far can you truly go? All forms are worship are strictly prohibited, but if there is a ceremony during their worship service which does necessarily pertain to the religion itself, are you allowed to take part? Such as the act of shaking someone’s hand, or donating to the church?

If you go to another church, it is fair to donate because it is ok to give people what they need in order to survive. Although, are you allowed to participate in small activities such as shaking hands? “worship in common (communicatio in sacris) is not to be considered as a means to be used indiscriminately for the restoration of Christian unity.” (Pope Paul VI) Therefore, you can only attend a Catholic Church and not a Protestant Church, even for the restoration of Christian unity.

If a Catholic were to partake in another religions worship ceremony, they would be excommunicated from the church, because we are only allowed to worship and receive communion from the Roman Catholic Church. However if there are no Roman Catholic Churches in the area, Catholics may be aloud to worship in the Greek Orthodox denomination of the Catholic Church. This means that Catholics may not substitute any other Christian denomination churches for a Catholic Sunday mass. However, you may attend other Christian churches as long as you do not receive their communion and go to Catholic mass on Sunday. This is because Catholicism believes that communion must be unleavened wheat bread and wine made from grapes, which become Jesus’s body and blood. We are not allowed to visit other Christian churches because the Catholic Church is the only church to believe in the transubstantiation of the Eucharist.

It is also important for a theologian to study other religions so they can understand their view points and try to help them come to believe in God and the Catholic Church. Without the knowledge of other religions we would seem ignorant to the non-Catholics and this is the reason why Catholic priests were persecuted in Japan until the 19th century. We openly rejected their customs and traditions as sinful practices so we appeared to be a threat to the Japanese Government, which is one of the reasons why Christianity had been outlawed there. In order to avoid such tragedies, we must become well versed in the ways of the world.

In the end, Catholics should be allowed to own statues of other religious idols. However Catholics may not have tattoos of other icons, but can attending other churches as an observer. However, as Catholics, we must make sure that the Judeo-Christian God is always at the center of our lives as well as the practices of the Roman Catholic Church. Statues must only serve as decoration, as well as tattoos. Other churches must also only be visited for the sake of increasing your knowledge on the religion. Pope Pius XII trusted that these things would not make people stray from the path of God. Although, It is possible to be tempted through other religious idols and teaching but I believe as God leads our lives, we should never stray from the Catholic faith.

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Depictions of Deities Outside Catholicism. (2020, Mar 12). Retrieved from