In August, Seattle’s mayor called for the removal of two statues: one, a confederate monument, the other a statue of Lenin. This followed the decision of officials in Charlottesville, Virginia, to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee and the destruction of a confederate soldier statue in Durham, North Carolina. The latest fad has been defacing statues of Chris Columbus.
This isn’t the first time a society has stuck its finger down its throat to purge evil. In 1966, Mao Tse-tung inititated the Cultural Revolution in China. His aim was to destroy remnants of bourgeous capitalism and traditional chinese culture. Paintings, books, historic relics, written and recorded music–all destroyed. Religious sites were ransacked and razed. What happened to these treasures was nothing compared to what happened to those who valued them. Prison, torture, and death…
In 2001, the Taliban dynamited the Buddhas of Bamiyan, two enormous statues hewn out of sandstone cliffs. These monuments of ignorance and idolatry were decisively dealt with.
So Americans are joining the ranks of other great iconoclasts like Mao and the Taliban.
Some will protest I’m comparing apples and oranges. Statues of racist, murderous white guys are not the same as art and religious artifacts. Touche, touche. You got me. I certainly won’t miss a few confederate statues. Heck, I’ll help Seattle get rid of Lenin.
At the same time, I hope the rhetorial shock of my comparison shows we’re on a continuum with extremists we condemn; we’re imbibing the same spirit of self-righteousness. Perhaps this shock stalls brain-death long enough for us to think, “Wait a minute…”
As I take a minute to think, questions come to mind. Do we really think we can root out evil by pulling up some statues? Clearly, people believe it solves something. For me, it is the equivalent of thinking you can change a peach tree by yanking peaches off its branches.
Sin–whether racism or property damage–begins in the human heart. Only Jesus died to sin (Rom. 6:10). If we welcome Him, the Holy Spirit can make Jesus’s death to sin a reality in our hearts. Then, we can die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Peter 2:24).
Getting rid of statues and other activist bullying does nothing to change the heart. It’s just a variation of an age old lie: we think we can make ourselves good by doing the right things or changing outwardly. This misapprehension springs from a deeper root: the knowledge of good and evil. Eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is why people became sinful in the first place (see Genesis 3). Instead of listening to God we are guided by our individual perspectives of good and evil. When we’re most convinced we’re right there’s a chance we’re acting from our most sinful motivation. Instead of solving problems we try to beat each other into submission with our convictions. (I have written about this elsewhere).
Another question: Doesn’t focusing on the sins of others make us blind to our own? I fear there is a lack of humility and self-reflection among our iconoclasts. This is, again, a lack of knowing Jesus. When Isaiah saw the Lord, his first declaration was that *he* was a man of unclean lips. Only in tandem with acknowledging his own sin did he confess he lived among a people of unclean lips (Isaiah 6:5).
Maybe it’s time for each of us to think about our own failures instead of railing on others. Man’s anger doesn’t achieve God’s righteousness (James 1:20). Our current course only ends one way: some day, in a future not distant enough, people will tear down statues of us.