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'No Graven Image:' Why religious iconography draws ire and inspiration




 A vendor displays satirical magazines showing Pope Benedict XVI, near the Sultanahmet district in Istanbul 29 November 2006.
A vendor displays satirical magazines showing Pope Benedict XVI, near the Sultanahmet district in Istanbul 29 November 2006.
DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images

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In the immediate aftermath of the Paris massacre, some people asked news organizations to show respect for religion by refraining from publishing "Charlie Hebdo" cartoons lampooning religious figures. While Islam does not explicitly prohibit images of Muhammad, Islamic tradition forbids worship of images of God and the prophets of God. And Muslims are not alone in this regard. In the Ten Commandments it's stated "Thou shalt not make any graven image,” and that aniconism is a tenet of Judaism, as well. Similarly, Protestantism views icons negatively.

Its founding theologian John Calvin believed God's transcendence not only rendered God unknowable, it also made God beyond human comprehension, therefore visual depictions could be nothing but a distortion. Other Christian denominations have significantly different views of religious idols. Catholics embrace and celebrate icons of Jesus, Mary, the saints and apostles. In the east, Hindu deities are incredibly colorful and dramatic figures symbolizing their powers and natural elements.

How does your religious practice view icons, idols and symbols?

Guest:

David Albertson, Assistant Professor of Religion, USC’s Dornsife College

Imam Mustafa Umar, Director of Education at the Islamic Institute of Orange County - an accredited school; M.A. in religious studies; previously adjunct professor with Claremont Lincoln University's school of theology