Do You Choose—Or Let Others Choose for You?
UNTIL he was eight years old, Pedro worshiped Maleiwa, supposed creator of man and maker of the earth. He was afraid of Yolujá, said to be the harbinger of all evil and disease, and he sought to avoid the malevolent designs of Pulowi, alleged goddess of the underworld.
Pedro was a Guajiro, one of the many Indian tribes of Venezuela. He followed the traditional religion of his ancestors until one day the local schoolteacher arranged for him to be baptized—as a Catholic.
“Nobody consulted me, and I knew nothing about my new religion,” Pedro explained. “But I realized that it would not be difficult to adopt this new faith, which required no significant changes in my daily conduct. I was faithful to my new religion, as I always went to Mass sometime in December.”
Despite belonging to two different religions, Pedro had not made a conscious choice in either case. The choice was made for him by others. His experience has been repeated countless times over the centuries. In fact, relatively few of the five billion people alive today have made a deliberate choice in the matter of religion. Their religion is usually something that was inherited, much like their appearance, their traits, or the home where they live.
They Made Their Own Choice
But is what we inherit always the best? We may try to improve our appearance as best we can. We may strive to better the home that our parents may have left us. We may even fight hard to overcome undesirable traits that we have inherited.
For this reason, throughout the earth there are some who are taking a second look at the religion they have inherited from their forefathers. Instead of considering this a betrayal of a family tradition that must be cherished unquestioningly, their spiritual longing has moved them to search for something better. This was the case with Hiroko, whose father was a Buddhist priest at Myokyo Temple, Japan.
“When I was a child, during the coldest nights of winter, I used to trudge up and down the snowbound streets of our village carrying a lantern,” Hiroko explains. “Father would walk in front, beating a drum and chanting sutras. From an early age, self-mortification rites and Buddhist ritual were a part of my life.”
Nevertheless, Hiroko was unhappy with her inherited religion. “I could not find even one satisfying answer to the many questions I had. The posthumous changing of names of the dead, the tombstones that were treated as living beings as soon as sutras were chanted over them, the paper charms that were supposed to protect a believer magically, and many other temple ceremonies genuinely puzzled me.
“I was told that we belonged to Buddhism’s most enlightened sect. And yet, all my questions were still left unanswered. I was convinced that there must be something, somewhere. My hope was to examine freely a religion that would provide me with all the answers.” Hiroko wandered from one oriental religion to another without finding satisfaction. Finally, with the help of Jehovah’s Witnesses, she learned from the Bible about the almighty God, the One who created heaven and earth, and she also discovered the answers to her childhood questions.
In her case, the words of the prophet Jeremiah were literally fulfilled: “When you seek me, you shall find me; if you search with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the LORD.”—Jeremiah 29:13, 14, The New English Bible.
Hiroko felt that it was worthwhile to make her own choice, even though it differed from that of her parents. “I am overjoyed at finding enlightenment, and now I do not have the nagging questions and anxieties that plagued me for so many years,” she explains. But whether you are happy with your present religion or not, it still behooves you to make a choice.
Why a Choice Should Be Made
Most of us, if we stopped to think about it, would agree that religion is something that is too important to be left to chance. Why, even in everyday matters, we try to control our own lives as much as possible. Who wants to be just a victim of circumstances?
If you had a bad headache, would you quickly swallow a couple of pills found among a pile of assorted medicines without first looking carefully at the label?
If you were choosing new clothing, would you grab the first suit that came to hand in the store, blithely assuming that it would no doubt fit you exactly?
If you were purchasing a secondhand car, would you drive it away without even checking the engine?
‘Only the foolhardy would do that,’ you may think. Such matters should not be taken lightly. And yet, for many of us one of life’s most crucial decisions—which religion we should profess—has been decided for us by chance, by long-forgotten quirks of history, and by place of birth.
Would it not be wise to ask yourself: ‘To what do I owe my religion? Was it a hand-me-down that I have never questioned? Or did I make a deliberate, rational choice?’ Asking such questions is the very thing that the Bible urges us to do. The apostle Paul admonished the Corinthians to ‘keep testing whether they were in the faith, to keep proving what they themselves were.’—2 Corinthians 13:5.
On the other hand, some were moved to reconsider their religious upbringing. The Bible mentions a young man named Timothy whose mother and grandmother brought him up as a Jew in harmony with the Scriptures. At some point they adjusted their thinking to become Christians. Years later Paul reminded him of what he had ‘learned and been persuaded to believe.’ (2 Timothy 3:14) Thus Timothy was encouraged to remain in the Christian faith that he had accepted, after he himself had made a thorough examination.
Sergius Paulus was a Roman provincial governor in Cyprus who doubtless paid homage to some of the Roman gods. After listening to the preaching of Paul, however, “he became a believer, deeply impressed by what he learned about the Lord.”—Acts 13:12, NE.
In both cases a deliberate choice was made after a thorough examination based on God’s Word. Why not imitate the course of Sergius Paulus and Timothy? One changed his religion, the other did not; but both were rewarded by personally finding the truth. Nevertheless, because of tradition, fear, or prejudice, some may feel reticent about taking such a step.
The Challenge of Making a Choice
Religious traditions die hard, and many find comfort in age-old customs and creeds. “Once a Catholic, always a Catholic,” some may say. Perhaps you feel the same way about your faith, preferring the traditional to the unknown. Certainly, it would be unwise to discard any tradition outright before analyzing its worth. Paul told the Thessalonian Christians to ‘hold fast to the traditions which they had learned.’ (2 Thessalonians 2:15, NE) On the other hand, Jesus warned that religious traditions can alienate us from God, invalidating his Word, the Bible. (Matthew 15:6) Tradition cannot always be trusted.
As knowledge increases, traditional procedures are often modified or even replaced in fields such as medicine, science, and technology. In these areas most people have an open mind, which is conducive to betterment. Even though we may think that our religious tradition is of divine origin, the Bible warns us “not [to] believe every inspired expression” but, rather, to “test the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God.” (1 John 4:1) It recommends that we “make sure of all things; hold fast to what is fine.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) Worthwhile traditions will always hold up under such scrutiny.
Another obstacle to making a choice in matters of religion is fear. “I never discuss religion or politics!” is a common remark. Fear of discovering that we have been misled or fear of what others may think are powerful excuses for doing nothing. In Jesus’ day there were many who recognized the worth of his teaching but held back from acknowledging him as the Messiah “for fear of being banned from the synagogue. For they valued their reputation with men rather than the honour which comes from God.”—John 12:42, 43, NE.
Those people in Jesus’ day lost the unique opportunity of being disciples of Christ because they yielded to the pressures of that narrow-minded religious community. True, it takes courage to swim against the current. To be different is never easy. But if you defer making a choice, inevitably others will choose for you.
Prejudice against anything “foreign” can also hinder those who wish to make an impartial examination. In Jesus’ day the Messiah was looked down upon for being a Nazarene and scorned for being a Galilean. Twentieth-century prejudice is similar.—John 1:46; 7:52.
“That is just one of those newfangled American religions!” This was Ricardo’s first reaction when he was invited by one of Jehovah’s Witnesses to examine his beliefs. His Latin American background made him wary of anything that smacked of the United States. Nevertheless, his prejudice was broken down by the evidence presented to him. Above all, he was convinced by the practical demonstration of Christianity that he observed among the Witnesses. Their genuine love and faith appealed to him.—See box on page 10.
After putting aside his early prejudice, Ricardo agreed with another observer, who wrote that Jehovah’s Witnesses “in their organization and witnessing work . . . come as close as any group to approximating the primitive Christian community.” He now feels that an open mind is essential in making the best possible choice.
What Will You Choose?
Pedro, referred to at the beginning of this article, overcame tradition, fear, and prejudice in order to study the Scriptures for himself. At first he had misgivings because of his disillusionment with religion in general. He explains: “Neither my belief in Maleiwa nor my belief in the god of the Catholics, whose name I didn’t even know, had brought me much happiness.” But finally he chose to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and was baptized as such at the age of 36. “The love and patience of those who helped me and the satisfying answers I received from the Bible were the deciding factors,” he said.
Will you have the courage to imitate Pedro’s example? Whatever your religion may be, do not leave it to chance. Prove to yourself, using God’s Word, what is the truth, the unique and precious truth that Jesus taught. Jehovah’s Witnesses will be happy to offer their assistance. They sincerely invite you to heed Joshua’s words: ‘Choose for yourself whom you will serve.’—Joshua 24:15.
[Box on page 10]
Jehovah’s Witnesses—An “American Religion”?
MANY nationalistic people have a suspicion or fear of anything considered foreign or alien. This even colors their view of other religions.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are often victims of this mentality, accused of being an American religion, “Made in U.S.A.,” and thus worthy of rejection on that basis. Is that a reasonable reaction?
What Are the Facts?
1. There are proportionately more Witnesses in Canada, Costa Rica, Finland, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and Zambia, as well as in other lands, than there are in the United States.
2. Jehovah’s Witnesses are more than international. They are supranational, that is, transcending narrow national boundaries or racial interests. Noteworthy is the great success Jehovah’s Witnesses have had in overcoming racial, tribal, and national prejudice. Such is the case in South Africa, Israel, Lebanon, Northern Ireland, and other countries troubled by religious unrest. Blacks and whites, Jews and Arabs, former Catholics and Protestants, all now Jehovah’s Witnesses, work and worship together at their conventions and Kingdom Halls.
3. They print their Bible literature in some 200 languages. For example, The Watchtower is published in 103 languages and Awake! in 54, with a total combined monthly printing of over 48 million copies.
4. Although Jehovah’s Witnesses have their world headquarters in New York, only 23 percent of their number are in the United States.
5. Just as Jerusalem was a convenient springboard for early Christianity, so in this age of world wars and conflicts, the United States has been the most convenient springboard for preaching the good news in all the world. Experience has shown that anywhere else the work would have been stifled by prejudice, prohibitions, or shortages of raw materials. But having their headquarters in New York does not mean that the Witnesses are an “American religion,” any more than the early Christians were a Jewish religion, although branded as such.
One fact that clearly demonstrates their supranational outlook is the way they have been labeled by different political regimes. In the past, they have been accused of being communists in the United States and CIA agents in communist countries!
In the 1950’s, for example, one U.S. newspaper article read: “Pole Reds Finance ‘Jehovah’ Agents.” Another report from a U.S. radio station said: “The Soviet satellite [Polish] government encourages and financially aids the Witnesses.” In Ireland, Witnesses faced taunts by violent mobs: “Communists!” “Get out of here!”
Meanwhile, the Witnesses were outlawed in Poland and other communist countries, and many were imprisoned for their beliefs. Some were even accused of belonging to a spy ring sponsored by the CIA. Their situation in the Soviet Union is described as follows by Vladimir Bukovsky, who immigrated to the West in 1976: “One evening in London, I happened to notice a plaque on a building that read: JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES. . . . I was stupefied, almost to the point of panic. How could that be? I said to myself. In the U.S.S.R., you meet flesh-and-blood ‘Witnesses’ only in prisons and concentration camps. Could anyone actually go in and have a cup of tea with them? My comparison may be a little out of place, but imagine for a moment that you come across a building bearing a plaque that says COSA NOSTRA LTD., MAFIA GENERAL STAFF. The ‘Witnesses’ are pursued in our country with as much fury as the Mafia in theirs.”
These brief examples demonstrate what many unbiased observers already recognize—namely, that Jehovah’s Witnesses dissociate themselves from any nationalistic or political leanings. Their faith is supranational because they wish to imitate their impartial God.—Acts 10:34.
[Picture on page 8]
Would you take the first medication you could reach, without reading the label?
[Pictures on page 9]
Were you born into your religion, or did you choose it?