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Idols & Icons: The Misrepresentation of Hinduism in the press



             idols and Icons:
                     The Misrepresentation of Hinduism in the Press
                             By David Frawley (Vamadeva Shastri)

There are a number of terms that are applied to Hinduism in the Press,
not only in the West but in India itself, which foster a negative
image of it.  Hindus are routinely called worshippers of idols,
polytheists, and various other denigrating stereotypes, which do not
reflect any intelligent examination of the religion itself but what is
often an intentional campaign of misrepresentation and distortion.
            

 All the religions of the world - with the general exception of
Protestant Christians, Muslims and Jews - use some sort of images or
statues in their religious worship.  Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox
churches abound with statues, paintings and pictures of various types.
Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and Shinto groups use them as well.  Native
American, African and Asian religions abound with them.  The ancient
religions of the entire world from Mexico to Greece, Egypt, Babylonia,
Persia, India and China used images, as archeology so clearly reveals.
The use of images appear as an integral part of human religious
practices and no universal religion could be regarded as complete
without them.  Even many Protestant Christians have pictures of Jesus
in their house or church, and Muslims often have pictures of their
religious or political leaders, occasionally even depictions of
Mohammed.
 
 However, there is a strange dichotomy in how such religious imagesare
judged.  When they are part of the Christian tradition they are called
icons and classified as works of art and regarded as sacred in nature.
When they are part of non-Christian or pagan traditions they are
called "idols," which is a derogatory term that indicates not the
sacred but mere superstition. In the case of native American and
African images, even when done by a culture as advanced as the Mayas
of Central America - which built great pyramids and had many great
cities - they are lumped along with so-called primitive art.



 An image of Christ as the good shepherd is called an icon and viewed
with respect.  An image of Krishna as the good cow herder - which is a
similar image of the Divine as watching over the souls of men - is
called an idol, which encourages one to look down on it.  This is
prejudice and negative stereotyping in language of the worst order.
What Christian would accept calling a depiction of Christ an idol?
Would Christian religious leaders approve of it in the press
of Christian countries? What Christians in India would accept it?
And would not the govemment and news media of India change the
language in their favor?  Yet Hindus routinely accept that
depictions of their deities - who represent as high a standard in
consciousness and ethical behavior as Christ - are demeaned as idols.
The news media of India does this commonly, which encourages the
Western news media to continue in this practice, which is part of
their negative depiction of Hinduism.

   To call such images as idols implies that those who worship them
practice idolatry or take the image itself as a God.  This adds yet
more prejudice and error to this judgement.  The use of an image -
whether we call it an icon or an idol - does not imply belief in the
reality of the image.  That we keep a photograph of our wife and
children at our work desk does not mean that we think our wife and
children are the photograph.  It is a reminder, not a false reality.

  Moreover, the use of the term idol inflames the sentiments of
anti-idolatry religions like Christianity and Islam, as both the Bible
and the Koran, at least in places, instruct their followers to oppose
idolaters and smash their temples and images.  The use of the term
idol in the press, particularly in the Indian press, is thus careless,
insensitive, inflammatory, and communal.  It should be removed in an
effort to promote greater understanding and good will between
religious groups.  The use of such terms indicates that the news media
of India uncritically and unnecessarily uses terms that encourage
anti-Hindu attitudes.  It is a hold over from the British rule in the
intellectual sphere, even though the British have long left the
country.  What majority community in the world is so unaware of its
new media to allow such practices to continue? Yet this issue only
reflects many other prejudicial terms like Hindu chauvinism, Hindu
fundamentalism, and Hindu militancy which the often anti-Hindu Indian
news media frequently uses, while at the same time not using them in
regard to Islam and Christianity, even when they are much more
appropriate relative to the exclusivistic attitudes and greater
intolerance of these belief-oriented religions.

  Using such terms as idols, the news media is not fostering
communication but promoting discrimination and violence.  Such abuse
of language should be challenged and replaced wherever it is found,
whether relative to Hindus or anyone else.


[ Above article was given to Hindu Students Council (An International
Forum To Provide opportinity to learn Hindu Heritage) for publicity]



Chandan 
cbando@lynx.neu.edu  
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* "This life is short, the vanities of the world are transient, but they      *
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