I read a quote today about iconoclasm that intrigued me. The author was looking back at his atheist teenage years and how he enjoyed his atheism because it was intellectually daring. To which he then said that “iconoclasm is fun.” What is difficult is to supply an adequate alternative.
What is iconoclasm?
Iconoclasts were originally people who hated icons. Back in the 8th and 9th centuries, people began rebelling against the Orthodox church by smashing their icons, the statues in the churches.
Over the years, the term iconoclast has taken on a more general meaning and is now defined as “One who attacks cherished beliefs.”
It is my opinion that everyone should go through an iconoclast stage in life. Many teenagers do already. It’s OK. Let them sprout their wings and test out their ability to fly. When they hit the ground, they will begin to learn.
Unfortunately, many people never achieve a point of iconoclasm in their lives. They go on believing what other people have told them without one scrutinizing glimpse into those beliefs. I find this to be very sad. If you still and only believe everything you learned in Sunday School, you have work to do.
Being an iconoclast can be fun, but it can also be pointless if you don’t arrive at an alternative. Once your idols are smashed, you’re left with nothing.
So, which should come first–smashing idols or having a better alternative? It depends.
Certainly it’s good to have a better alternative than unexamined beliefs that may or may not be true. But sometimes it takes the breaking of idols to be at a point where you begin to search for the truth.
Iconoclasm should never be the end though. Simply destroying stuff is no answer. The true point, the actual benefit of iconoclasm, is to get on the right path. This was the author’s disillusionment with atheism: Although it did a fine job bashing and eliminating religion, it provided zero answers to life’s big questions.
Destruction is easy (see: professional wrestling). Anyone can tear apart. The difficult work comes in building up.
Sometimes when you break stuff you were surrounded by all your life, you find you really shouldn’t have broken it. Testing beliefs is fine. Your test will prove the purity of your beliefs. Be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, however (throwing out everything simply because of the association with a person, group, object, etc).
In some cases, you don’t even have to smash idols: false ones tend to crack on their own. This can be devastating. Seeing your teachers, your heroes, your beliefs and cherished opinions come crashing down of their own accord, is iconoclasm without the middleman! You have no alternative but to seek truth.
In the end, don’t just be against stuff. Be for something. Being for something will inevitably put you in a position to be against things. But, make sure you’re for something, or else you’re just wasting everyone’s time, and, in the end, no one will take you seriously.