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Tearing Down Statues Isn’t Political Activism, It’s Religious Iconoclasm

I don’t have an ideological problem with iconoclasm, the idea that certain religious imagery is offensive and ought to be opposed. In fact, I am a proud iconoclast – as any good Reformed Protestant ought to be – and vehemently reject images of any member of the Holy Trinity (yes, even of Christ). And although my iconoclasm doesn’t require or condone the destruction of other peoples’ property, I tore a stained-glass Jesus out of the wall of my church house and had it plastered over.

Iconoclasm, after all, is Greek for “image breaking.”

I don’t feel the need here to defend my faith tradition’s interpretation of the Second Commandment, but mostly because I do that every year at Christmas time in regard to the display of nativity sets. I fully appreciate that mine is the minority view in Christendom, but it makes not one iota of difference. When the house of idols known as Notre Dame burned, I shrugged with indifference and wrote the post, Notre Dame: The Reformed View Does Not Weep at the Loss of Idols.

Religious iconoclasm doesn’t require disapproval of random art, mind you. Neither does iconoclasm necessarily require the breaking of other people’s images, but as John Calvin’s mentor, William Farel, demonstrated when he seized the Cathedral of St. Peter in Geneva and burned its icons, it can sometimes lead to that.

And so as a religious fundamentalist with a merit badge in iconoclasm, I watch the destruction of monuments dedicated to our nation’s founders, Confederate (and often Christian) leaders, and even international statesmen with a surreal familiarity.

It’s true that the destruction of such monuments in recent days are marked with embarrassing idiocy. Black Lives Matter protestors defaced a Boston memorial for the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, an all-black battalion of Civil War soldiers who fought for the emancipation of slaves. This is just one of many monuments of anti-slavery heroes whose images have been destroyed in recent days by protestors who can’t be bothered to read plaque descriptions, let alone history books.

But as I have explained in recent days, for example in the post Wokeness is a New Religion and Christians Are Converting En Masse, “woke” culture is not a political movement, but a religious one. As I explained in that post, social justice has all the marks of organized religion. I wrote…

[It has] sacred literature, [distinctive] doctrine…characterization of non-adherents as lost, damned, or evil, acts of worship that include singing, prostration (kneeling), or chanting, fervent proselyting and public demonstrations of worship, some form of confession and penance, and a Messiah figure or figures – usually martyrs – who are elevated as either saints or saviors.

But I left one out. Woke Religion also has a mark of religious fundamentalism, usually reserved for faithful hardliners (this is true in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam): iconoclasm.

Statues of city, state, or national founders have been demolished, torn down, removed, or vandalized in recent weeks in all 50 states. The men these monuments memorialize range from slave-holders and Confederate leaders to abolitionists and civil rights leaders. Most happen to have two things in common; they were white men and – if alive during the appropriate time period – were Democrats (although some Republican monuments, like that to Abraham Lincoln, have been destroyed).

The rationale for what monuments to destroy seems to be frivolous. Depicting either white men or being crafted by white men (even if they depict women or minorities) are being targeted for destruction. The destruction of these monuments is no rational act of political protest. This phenomenon is nothing short of religious iconoclasm, pure and simple.

A depiction of the barbarians sacking Rome. Their first act was to tear down Rome’s monuments.

As an iconoclast, I’ll be the first to admit that the more zealous among us can easily get carried away. The Papists destroyed many works of non-religious art in the crusades, which constitute a tragic loss of culture. The Islamic hordes likewise destroyed artwork in their own crusades that served as collateral damage in a war of religious fundamentalism. And even Reformed Protestants – the forbears of religious liberty – went too far when in response to Farel’s sermon against icons in 1535 developed into a mob acting in mass hysteria broke out in chaos throughout the city.

Sadly, many evangelical leaders – even and especially including Southern Baptist leadership – are giving nods of virtue-signaling approval to the destruction of America’s monuments. These evangelicals don’t seem to grasp that they aren’t showing sympathy with the oppressed and downtrodden but giving approval to the rise of radical fundamentalists in a new pagan religion.

When the barbarians sacked Rome, their first act was to tear down Rome’s monuments, religious and irreligious alike. Their goal was to remove from the empire its very culture. This is the goal of today’s Woke Religionists. Unfortunately for them, the notions of civil rights are an explicitly Western novelty. Civil rights are unique to the American experiment and its various replications around the world. As they tear down our monuments – good, bad, and ugly – they are tearing down the very foundations of liberty and justice they claim to promote.

[Editor’s Note: After this article was published, more news broke…now actual self-professed “pagans” are defacing Christian monuments in the name of “Pagan Justice”]