Can You Accidentally Worship the Devil?

Now that is an odd thing to say, and sounds silly, yet it is precisely what some of our critics claim members of the Church are doing, especially in the design and function of our temples.  This is the premise of a great new blog post by James Carroll at Amateur Scriptorians called “The Language of Symbolism.”

Carroll notes the common reaction of our critics to our temple symbols.  They usually say something like:

…you are actually worshiping the Devil, you don’t know it, but you are doing it on accident, if you only knew what your own symbols meant, then you would understand that you are worshiping the Devil. I know YOU don’t think that the symbols are about the Devil, but they are, and by using them you are actually accidentally worshiping the Devil.

Well, to them the symbols might mean that, and to someone in sometime and someplace, it might have.  But symbols don’t stand alone, isolated from the environment in which they are found.  They are not static figures which can only be interpreted in one way.  They are dynamic representations.

In Carroll’s article he addresses why you cannot say that a symbol means something to someone unless you ask that person.  Symbols are flexible, and change over time, and often mean different things to different people.  It is the meaning assigned to a symbol by a people that gives it significance, otherwise it remains an empty shape.  This is something that many people don’t seem to understand about symbols.

Click the link below to read the article:

The Language of Symbolism

Update: James Carroll has written a continuation of his post that complements nicely the first – The Language of Symbolism Continued


  1. Posted June 18, 2009 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    I think a great illustration of this is the rainbow. Originally the sign of a covenant between God and man that he would no longer flood the earth, this symbol is instantly recognizable as the banner for the Gay pride movement. Another example is the pentagram which was an ancient Christian symbol that was morphed into a satanic symbol in the 1840′s by a heretical Catholic deacon. How many other examples can you think of where good symbols have changed to represent evil? Even back in the garden of Eden you can see where Satan uses the symbol of the serpent which can be argued as another symbol of Christ, i.e: Moses and the brazen serpent, etc. My perspective is that Satan does not have any symbols, except those he has stolen from the Lord. All symbols belong to the Lord and have a righteous place. Satan is nothing but a great imitator.

    As members of the church we believe that there are many people who are worshiping the Lord in ways that are incorrect and may even be an abomination to him (self-mutilation and such). Yet we also believe that he looks upon the heart and will judge us according to our righteous desires. So we are not so quick to judge our brethren and proclaim damnation where we see fit, we leave that up to the one, true Judge. I don’t believe that anyone will find salvation or damnation by ‘accident’.

  2. Posted June 18, 2009 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    The swastika was a religious symbol in numerous cultures across the world long before the Nazis adopted it. It is still widely used in India (swastika comes from a Sanskrit word) but is now eschewed throughout the Western world. Symbols change in meaning over time. Words, which are symbols, change in meaning over time as well. That’s why criticizing the Church for using these symbols really is grasping at straws at best.

    As Steve said, Satan inspires people to take holy symbols and turn them into symbols of evil.

  3. Posted June 19, 2009 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Jared had a really good point with the swastika. The word “swastika” comes from the Sanskrit svastika – “su” meaning “good,” “asti” meaning “to be,” and “ka” as a suffix. So it originally meant “To be good” and was a token of life and good luck! That symbol is instantly recognizable as something of pure evil, probably even more so than the pentagram! Sad when you consider the swastika symbol is thousands of years old and may even predate the Egyptian ankh!

    Understanding this perspective really supports Jared’s comment about how attacking the church because of our symbols is truly ‘grasping at straws’. When you understand that Joseph Smith was a ‘restorer’ I think we can appreciate how symbols that have been profaned through time by wicked men have been given their true meaning and perspective back.

  4. Taylor
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    A few years back when we were living in Japan, a friend came to visit from the US and we all went to Kyoto together to see the gorgeous old temples there. The first time we showed her the local map of the area she about came unglued upon seeing all of the little “Nazi offices” all over the map.

    (Even in modern Japan, the swastika is still used quite regularly to indicate the location of a Buddhist temple on a map.)

  5. Posted June 21, 2009 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    This is common among people who automatically assume the worst when someone fails to agree with them. The classic example is someone telling me that I’m not Christian. In my conversations with co-workers, they often attempt to tell me what I believe. It is absurd to argue with me that I really do not believe what I think I believe. Obviously all religions should be free to define themselves rather than being defined by their antagonists, whether it be on basic beliefs or symbolic structure.

    Thanks for the link.

  6. Posted June 23, 2009 at 2:18 am | Permalink

    I like the comparison with language differences. “Language of symbols” is an usual and common and wide known phrase, and the Google finds more than 100 thousands instances of it easily. And any language in itself is expressed in writing by sets of different symbols we call letters or hieroglyphs. Short example:

    Letter (symbol) “A” will be heard as [a] in Russian and as [ei] in English. Symbol “P” means sound “R” in Russian and “P” in English. Same symbol can have either different phonation or meaning in different languages. And if somebody would tell me, that my use of symbol “P” as “R” (as in my native Ukrainian) is deadly wrong and devilish, I would rather don’t believe him/her.

    Interesting, that an absence of similar symbols (so familiar to us all) in old Egyptian or in modern Chinese doesn’t mean those people cannot speak at all. Right? :)

  7. Nicolas Anguiano
    Posted October 10, 2011 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    I love this kind of sites where most of the posts don’t get old, because they are about truths.

    I’m more than 2 years late for commenting on this post, but I just happen to have found this site quite recently, so anyways….

    The best and sweetest example I’ve seen of how symbols change depending on how you look at them was when my little sister showed my dad the middle finger (like ..l.. ) Ans said “look daddy, a temple =D!”, and then she did it with her other hand and said “now, two temples =D!”…

    There, she taught me that symbols are essentially free of meaning. For some people showing the middle finger is a perfect way of coursing (most commonly used while driving), but for my LDS little sister its a symbol of our most sacred buildings. Just beautiful.

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