This past week's program on The Journey Home was about one Stephen Budd's conversion from the Baptist church to Roman Catholicism. He had been a bold Baptist, and believed then that it was his duty to convert Catholics from their ways. He went through a litany of bumper-sticker sized condemnations of Catholicism he had made as a Baptist.
One critique from his bygone does stood tall, and resonates with my emotions, even though my intellect sees it to be vacuous.
He described an anti-Catholic tract that he would give to Catholics he found in his home town (in Ireland, I believe). On it was a depiction of Pope John Paul II praying before a statue of Mary, and beside this image were the words "thou shall have no other gods before me..." These tracts have power in their simplicity. This one sets up a contrast, and draws you immediately into it.
The plain text of Sacred Scripture warns against creating likenesses and bowing down before idols. Its whole timbre is one that merits great caution and prudence. The plain text of scripture, what could be more plain?
Then I read an article/book review in the May, 2008 edition of First Things (with finals, I've been a month behind) which made me consider a different angle. Robert Louis Wilken wrote Jews as the Romans Saw Them (subscription required), discussing Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations by Martin Goodman. In it, he says "Romans were puzzled as to why Jews refused to eat pork (which the Romans loved) and why they circumcised infant boys. They could not understand that there was no image of their God in the Temple..."
Maybe you can follow where my mind went at this point.
"Thou shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3)"
"You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. (Genesis 17:11)"
[I can't depict an uncircumcised Christian here, but if I could, my intent would be to juxtapose that image with this verse to the Catholic image and the Bible verse given above it. I hope you can accept this picture of a Jewish briss in its place, though it's the opposite of what I mean to depict, in that it is in strict conformity with the commandment of the Sacred Scriptures.]
"And the pig, though it has a split hoof completely divided, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. (Leviticus 11:7)"
Now I know full well that New Testament passages address circumcision in the New Church and consuming unclean and ceremonial meats too. We have, then, either a contradiction within Scripture, or a new authority able to override the old. If the old can be overridden in its ceremonial aspects, surely it can be given more precision (vis-a-vis idols, images, and the like). At any rate, my point is simply that plain text is often a poor guide. The meaning beneath the text is a harder thing to depict in tracts...