Comparing two versions of the Holy Bible, New Kings James and New International Version, I find that the second commandment varies greatly in meaning. The former states:
“ You shall not make for yourself a carved image-any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” -Exodus 20:4-5
If this were the only version of this commandment and I believed it accurate, I would have to argue against the observance of this one. What better way to cultivate ignorance than to deny the study of the natural world and the communication of that knowledge through pictures. Graven images being the predecessor of drawing and painting
and reappearing when printmaking is used, all forms of non-abstract artwork become heretical. Worse still is the prejudice it engenders towards so many other religions. A commonality of most early civilizations is the use of carved or molded figures. Sadly “heathen idol worshiper” became a favorite excuse for treating a group of people inhumanely. (Ironic isn’t it that the symbol for Islam, a religion that historically outlawed all non-abstract artwork for centuries, has for its symbol a crescent moon and star?)
You do not have to look far to find reason to believe this commandment was mistranslated for just a few chapters later in Exodus 25 God gives instructions not only for decorating the ark of the covenant with cherubim but also for ornamenting lamp bowls with almond blossoms.
Fortunately the New International Version, in which hundreds of scholars used the best available Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts available worked from 1967- 1978 to fix this and other mistranslations. Its second commandment is:
“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them: for I the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those that hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.- Exodus 20: 4-6
The difference of that wording from carven image to idol changes the whole meaning. An idol is a representation of a God that was created with the intention of worshiping it. Thus images used to communicate or educate, to express feelings, wishes or thoughts are not by definition idols unless someone worships them.
Of course that still condemns a lot of religions and their practices, and I do not wish to offend the beliefs of others. In my personal quest though this is no barrier, my ancestors were Puritans who left Europe to get away from idol worship. I am a Unitarian, whose religious symbol is a flaming chalice. The flaming chalice is not meant to represent God, but is symbolic of our search for truth. I do not worship the chalice nor even the flame, they are merely tools used to light the darkness.
And I cannot believe that God ever desired that we should worship objects (not even books) above He that is in all things “in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below,” that which binds the three, and much much more.