‘Your Hands Are Full of Blood’
“EVEN though you make many prayers, I am not listening; with bloodshed your very hands have become filled.” Thus said almighty God to those who professed to serve him but who were involved in shedding innocent blood.—Isaiah 1:15.
Are this world’s religions guilty of shedding innocent blood? Yes, they certainly are. In every war of our 20th century, the religions of this world and their clergy have supported the bloodshed. This has even led to members of the same religion killing one another on a mass scale.
Yet, Jesus taught his followers to ‘return their sword to its place.’ (Matthew 26:52) The apostle Paul stated: “The weapons of our warfare are not fleshly.” (2 Corinthians 10:4) The powerful message of God’s Word is that those who practice true religion must love one another and not shed blood: “The children of God and the children of the Devil are evident by this fact: Everyone who does not carry on righteousness does not originate with God, neither does he who does not love his brother. For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should have love for one another; not like Cain, who originated with the wicked one and slaughtered his brother.”—1 John 3:10-12.
If a religion does not practice this kind of love, its prayers will not be heard by God. The Bible says: “Whatever we ask we receive from him, because we are observing his commandments and are doing the things that are pleasing in his eyes.” (1 John 3:22) But this world’s religions have not observed God’s commandments. Instead, they have weakly gone along with the slaughtering of some one hundred million people in the wars of this century alone!
Will Leaders and People Listen?
In his concluding speech at Assisi, John Paul II said: “We invite the world leaders to take notice of our humble imploration to God for peace.” Will the political leaders and their people in general listen to this appeal? To find out let us look to history.
History reveals that treaties and prayers for peace are nothing new. In the Middle Ages, treaties for peace were often called God’s truces or holy truces. They were proclaimed at Christendom’s religious festivals, during which all conflicts were to cease. But not even the threat of excommunication for those who violated the truces was enough to make men respect them.
In the year 1915, Pope Benedict XV launched an appeal to the nations to put an end to the “horrendous slaughter” of the first world war. He prayed to God for “the cessation of the wicked scourge.” But neither the national leaders nor their people listened. And, logically, God did not listen because the combatants on both sides were made up of members of the same religion. Thus, Catholic killed Catholic, and Protestant killed Protestant, completely contrary to God’s commandments.
In the spring of 1939, when the storm clouds of the second world war were gathering, Pius XII organized “a crusade of public prayers for peace.” The following August, just before the war broke out, he launched an appeal to national leaders and their people to desist from “the accusations, the threats, the causes for mutual distrust” so as to avoid the worst.
But all those prayers and appeals did not halt the war machine of Catholic and Protestant Germany; nor did they indicate the way to peace for Catholic Italy or for Shintoist Japan. And no excommunication was threatened against members of any religion for killing others of the same religion. So the slaughter of brother by brother went on for six years, backed by the clergy of every nation.
In response to the pope’s appeal at Assisi, in some places fighting halted on October 27, 1986. But in other countries it continued. In many instances this was in lands the religion of which was represented at Assisi. For example, the Catholic guerrilla fighters of the IRA launched a bomb attack in Ireland. The Sikhs fought in India. In Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Iran, and Iraq, as well as other areas, the bloodshed also continued. And even where the truce was observed for that one day, death and terror were sown again the very next day. A strange peace indeed!
Could “the God of peace” bless such initiatives that indirectly approve of those who today stop killing only to begin again tomorrow? Did God approve of Cain after he killed Abel? Surely not!—Hebrews 13:20.
Not a Force for Peace
Recent surveys carried out in various nations indicate that a large number of people consider the religions of the world to be fomenters of war rather than promoters of peace. That is how 47 percent of the French people and 48 percent of Israelis feel.
John Taylor, secretary-general of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, said in the French Catholic monthly L’Actualité Religieuse dans le Monde: “We deceived ourselves into thinking that religion could and would bring light and charity to conflicts, and that we would greatly benefit from the uniting of forces against war, against armaments. But when examining these problems, we gradually realized that wars are not caused by armaments, but by hatreds and divisions among men . . . And here also religion has played its part.”
Historian Ernesto Galli Della Loggia, in the Catholic daily Avvenire, said even more pointedly: “Religion does not seem to have constructed a unifying framework among men and among peoples, rather the exact opposite. It has been that way for centuries. Not only have the greatest monotheistic religions fought against one another in a war without quarter but some of them—chiefly Christianity and Islam—have dedicated all their strength to exterminating the animist religions of the so-called primitive peoples. This has occurred because religion and political power are two sides of the same coin.”
For this and other reasons, governments either ignore religious leaders or tolerate them as if they were a necessary nuisance. And worldly religion itself is simply a veneer that has little or no beneficial effect on man or on world conditions.
At the conclusion of the day of prayer, the pope himself admitted Catholicism’s responsibility in all this bloodshed. He said: “I am ready to acknowledge that Catholics have not always been faithful to this affirmation of faith.” And then he added: “We have not always been ‘peacemakers.’ For us, therefore, but also perhaps, in a sense, for all, this encounter at Assisi is an act of penance.”
But has modern-day religion demonstrated by its actions that it has a changed attitude toward war? Is it really repentant of its dishonorable past? Speaking of present wars, Ernesto Galli Della Loggia pointed out: “Nine times out of ten these conflicts are also, if not above all, religious conflicts.”
The prayers for peace have thus been useless. Neither the political leaders nor the people are listening to them and acting in harmony with them; and neither is God, for he has said: “Even though you make many prayers, I am not listening; with bloodshed your very hands have become filled.” (Isaiah 1:15) That is why the 1986 International Year of Peace promoted by the United Nations and backed by the prayers of this world’s religions was such a failure.
[Box on page 10]
A Survey in Italy
Awake! magazine carried out a survey in various Italian cities, during which hundreds of people were interviewed, the majority Catholic. When asked whether initiatives such as the Assisi day of prayer for peace and cease-fires will help to eliminate wars and armaments, 70 percent said no, 17 percent said that it was just the first step, and only 10 percent thought it was a positive thing to do.
A priest from the northern Italian city of Bergamo said: “I think the initiative will be very useful as long as its message is carried forward. It’s a good start that must not be isolated.”
But a young Catholic woman from the same area said: “One cannot help being profoundly struck by the hypocrisy of people who have been fighting for years, also for religious reasons, and who then lay down their arms and pray for world peace, knowing full well that the next day they will carry on fighting.” And a youth from Brescia said: “Meetings like these do not help in combating religious indifference. The churches should be less interested in politics if they want God to listen to them.”
In answer to the question, “What should religion do to contribute more effectively to peace?” a Catholic from Turin said that “they should dissociate themselves from all temporal complicity and teach men to live without weapons.” A young Catholic woman from Cremona stated: “The church should have set a good example by not getting involved in wars and politics. But now it’s too late.”
On being asked, “What do you think of the pope’s peace initiative?” a lawyer from the province of Pesaro replied: “The church is using the problem of peace to its own advantage to propagandize Catholicism in the world.” An 84-year-old Catholic lady said: “It’s no use. If they want a war, they’re going to start one anyway.”
Speaking of religion’s “political designs,” the Milan publication Il Corriere della Sera made this significant comment: “The Church takes advantage of pacifism and promotes initiatives that allow her to control, rather than be subjected to, the debates of public opinion on the major political questions of the hour.”
[Pictures on page 8, 9]
Prayers were offered by people from all over the world
Many young people are interested in world peace