“Ask a Priest: Are All Non-Religious Images Banned?”

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Q: Does my being Catholic mean that I must get rid of all the little statues and figurines that I have — for example, Greek statues or animal figurines? Even if their sole purpose is to be decorations, and I don’t think they are gods? What about family pictures or pictures of oneself? God says, “Do not create any images.” Does that mean that I as a graphic designer am only allowed to do graphics about God? Because in that job you are certainly glorifying people or brands. Is listening to non-religious music bad? This would be music that doesn’t mention anything against God. Reading non-religious books and also watching non-religious TV – is that bad? – J.A.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The commandment against graven images is understood as images that are worshipped. This isn’t meant to include the normal images we produce or have around us.

Still, given that images can express our beliefs and priorities, it is good and wholesome for Catholics to display religious images around their home. We certainly do it in our churches.

As for music and books and TV: We are called to give glory to God in that we do. It is OK to use media for relaxation, formation and enrichment, but it requires prudence and temperance.

We need to be careful about exposing ourselves to things that will cause us to have a secular, non-religious take on things, or worse. Our minds are like sponges, and they will absorb what we soak them in.

It would be good to step back and review the range of things you listen to and watch. Would a visitor to your home, for instance, guess that you are a Catholic by the media you use?

Perhaps it is worth taking stock of your media and ask yourself whether the Holy Spirit is asking you to change something.

For more reading, you might want to look at a U.S. bishops’ conference document on social media guidelines. Also worth a look is a three-part posting [1st,, 2nd, 3rd] by my colleague Father Bartunek. Consider them postings for a higher cause.

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  1. If working as graphic artist, creating advertising for toothpaste, mouthwash, soaps, shampoo or other products that help people towards better health of mind, body, spirit; while not OVERTLY speaking God, one is COVERTLY acknowledging Go(o)d. As graphic art communicator, you are assisting free enterprise that produces such products; and in a way… helping others to work is what Jesus was about who assisted the fisherman in how to fish better. Whether the public buys the product advertised is their free will, but by graphic communication; you bring the message of a product to the awareness of others.

    Father McIllmail is correct, as Catholic Christians we need to be careful in setting the example of what we
    ‘buy.’ We would not freely support the books and magazines of an ‘adult’ book shop, nor patronize movies rated ‘R’ for its sexual or excessive violence or promotion of certain lifestyles which would be sinful. Classical music that relaxes or Popular Music tunes of the 40s and 50s or maybe some 60s tunes that lifted the spirit would be to make a joyful noise unto the Lord. (with consideration to neighbor, not to play it too loudly)

    Catholics are ‘in’ but NOT OF ‘the world.’ Just as Jesus came down to earth to meld in with we who were human… BUT never did he partake of the ACTIONS that would offend His Father in heaven. (SIN) No speaking in foul language as ‘conversation,’ no BUSTING on the words of another but ‘listening for the Spirit
    of the words,’ in any occupation we get to do, we stay humble about it, not boasting of wage and benefits but accepting a fair wage and giving . . . well, giving more than what the paycheck says in dollars and cents would be the understanding a CHRISTian works for what is ‘above’ not below. We serve others and give of ourselves (100 percent best we can do….which does have to be understood with respect to wages) If entry level, we work BEST our experience can give… and we gain that elusive ‘brass ring’ of experience. (the real
    benefit of working)

  2. While the U.S. Flag is not specifically a religious symbol, it is representative of UNITY of a nation as all fly same Red, White, Blue flag. THE SPIRIT of the flag of the United States reminds that we are individual states, represented by 50 stars, the red stripes representative of the strength and courage, as in those who serve their nation in wars, to protect God given freedom, and the white symbolic of purity and innocence of a nation that honors the ways of Go(o)d: life, liberty, to those who do objective good for others, and justice; which means ‘law and order’ reigns. Order is not ‘control.’ While man is free, there is a responsibility to them ‘right’ to freedom that good law enumerates (order). One can drive a car but law and order sets the speed limit on roads.

    A JUST GOD gave persons the expectations (two stone tablets) and in the spirit of that one GOD, justice is served by objective common good law and order. One cannot just do ‘anything’ the mind wants to do. The GOOD CITIZENS ARE SUPPORTED by common good law. Those who disobey, will justly get as deserved as well… after a trial by peers and with lawyer provided if one cannot afford one, and with right to appeal decisions to higher courts. (guilt or innocence determined by peers, sentencing by a judge taking all facts to consideration, including the age, prior convictions, mental capacity of defendant to understand the law…indeed such is as God will one day judge all, by one’s ability to understand Faith, with maturity (age) present to understand, and the effort one put to thinking of His ways in daily actions.)

    America… one nation UNDER GOD…

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