Religion’s Future in View of It’s Past
Part 21—1900 onward—Skirts Splattered With Blood
“There is no sure foundation set on blood.”—Shakespeare, English poet and dramatist (1564-1616)
DO YOU remember the Jonestown, Guyana, tragedy of 11 years ago this month? Over 900 members of the religious group known as People’s Temple committed mass suicide, most of them willingly, by drinking a cyanide-laced fruit drink.
Shocked, people asked: ‘What kind of religion is it that sacrifices the lives of its own members?’ Yet, innocent blood has been shed in the name of religion for almost 6,000 years. In the 20th century, however, blood has been shed more often and in more ways than at any other time in history. Consider just a fraction of the evidence.
Human Sacrifices to a False God
Since 1914, two world wars and over a hundred smaller conflicts have spilled an ocean of blood. A century ago, French writer Guy de Maupassant said that “the egg from which wars are hatched” is patriotism, which he called “a kind of religion.” In fact, The Encyclopedia of Religion says that patriotism’s cousin, nationalism, “has become a dominant form of religion in the modern world, preempting a void left by the deterioration of traditional religious values.” (Italics ours.) By failing to promote true worship, false religion created the spiritual vacuum into which nationalism was able to pour.
Nowhere was this better illustrated than in Nazi Germany, whose citizens at the beginning of World War II claimed to be 94.4 percent Christian. Of all places, Germany—birthplace of Protestantism and praised in 1914 by Pope Pius X as home of “the best Catholics in the world”—should have represented the very best that Christendom had to offer.
Significantly, Catholic Adolf Hitler found readier support among Protestants than among Catholics. Predominantly Protestant districts gave him 20 percent of their votes in the 1930 elections, Catholic districts only 14 percent. And the first absolute majority for the Nazi Party in state elections was in 1932 in Oldenburg, a district 75 percent Protestant.
Apparently, the “void left by the deterioration of traditional religious values” was greater in Protestantism than in Catholicism. Understandably so. Liberalized theology and higher criticism of the Bible were mainly the product of German-speaking Protestant theologians.
Equally significant is what finally solidified lagging Catholic support behind Hitler. German historian Klaus Scholder explains that “by tradition German Catholicism had especially close ties with Rome.” Seeing in Nazism a bulwark against Communism, the Vatican was not averse to using its influence to strengthen Hitler’s hand. “Fundamental decisions shifted more and more to the Curia,” says Scholder, “and in fact Catholicism’s status and future in the Third Reich was finally decided almost solely in Rome.”
The part Christendom played in both world wars led to a severe loss of prestige. As the Concise Dictionary of the Christian World Mission explains: “Non-Christians had before their eyes . . . the evident fact that nations with a thousand years of Christian teaching behind them had failed to control their passions and had set the whole world ablaze for the satisfaction of less than admirable ambitions.”
Of course, religiously motivated wars are nothing new. But in contrast with the past when nations of different religions warred with one another, the 20th century has increasingly found nations of the same religion locked in bitter conflict. The god of nationalism has clearly been able to manipulate the gods of religion. Thus, during World War II, while Catholics and Protestants in Great Britain and the United States were killing Catholics and Protestants in Italy and Germany, Buddhists in Japan were doing the same to their Buddhist brothers in southeast Asia.
Nevertheless, in view of its own bloodstained clothing, Christendom cannot self-righteously shake its finger at others. By advocating, supporting, and at times electing imperfect human governments, professed Christians and non-Christians alike must share responsibility for the blood these governments have shed.
But what kind of religion would put government above God and offer its own members as political sacrifices on the altar of the god of war?
“They Kept Spilling Innocent Blood”
Those words, said of apostate Israel centuries ago, apply to all false religions and to those of Christendom in particular. (Psalm 106:38) Do not forget the millions of lives snuffed out in the Holocaust, a tragedy in which Christendom’s churches were not guiltless.—See Awake! April 8, 1989.
German clergymen also remained silent on another issue, less known, but just as tragic. In 1927, two years after Hitler outlined his thoughts on race in Mein Kampf, Catholic editor and theologian Joseph Mayer published a book bearing the episcopal imprimatur that said: “Mental patients, moral lunatics, and other inferior persons have no more right to propagate than they do to set fires.” Lutheran pastor Friedrich von Bodelschwingh found sterilization of the handicapped compatible with Jesus’ will.
This religiously supported attitude helped pave the way for Hitler’s 1939 “euthanasia decree,” which led to the death of more than 100,000 mentally deranged citizens and to the forced sterilization of an estimated 400,000.*
Not until 1985, 40 years after the end of the war, did Lutheran Church officials in the Rhineland publicly admit: “Our church did not strongly enough oppose forced sterilization, the murder of sick and handicapped persons, and the performance of cruel medical experiments on humans. We beg forgiveness of the victims still alive and of their surviving relatives.”
It is true that the government’s euthanasia campaign slowed considerably after the Catholic bishop of Münster delivered a sharply worded attack on August 3, 1941, calling the policy murder. But why did it take 19 months and 60,000 deaths before a public condemnation was heard?
Most religions claim to respect life and to be interested in protecting people from harm. But do the clergy consistently warn their flocks of the physical dangers involved in smoking; in the abuse of drugs, including alcohol; in the taking of blood into the body; and in sexual promiscuity? More important, do they condemn these works of the flesh as the Bible does, explaining that they can rob us of God’s approval?—Acts 15:28, 29; Galatians 5:19-21.
Of course, some do. And the Catholic Church as well as many Fundamentalist churches show respect for life to the extent of denouncing abortion as the shedding of innocent blood. Yet, Catholic Italy’s abortion law is one of Europe’s most liberal.
Buddhism also condemns abortions. But in Japan in a single year, 618,000 were reportedly performed, even though 70 percent of the population adheres to Buddhism. This raises the question: On what basis should we judge a religion, by what its official organs and some of its clergymen say or by what a great number of its members in good standing do?
Another example of failing to warn the wicked one has to do with Bible chronology and the fulfillment of Bible prophecy. Both indicate that in 1914 God’s heavenly Kingdom was established in the hands of Jesus Christ.* Although Christendom celebrates Christ’s supposed birthday every December, the clergy no more proclaim him as ruling King than the leaders of Judaism accepted him as King-Designate 19 centuries ago.
Clergymen, of whatever persuasion, who fail to warn of the consequences of disobeying God’s laws on morality and of refusing to submit to God’s ruling Kingdom are, according to Ezekiel 33:8, heaping bloodguilt upon themselves. Their silence amounts to nothing less than standing idly by as millions of their flock become bloodguilty.
Thus, by splashing its skirts with innocent blood, false religion has negated the life-giving shed blood of Christ Jesus. (See Matthew 20:28 and Ephesians 1:7.) For that reason, the blood splattered on false religion’s skirts will soon—very soon—be its own!—Revelation 18:8.
“False Religion—Overtaken by Its Past!” will find no escape. Let our next issue explain.
This is somewhat reminiscent of the estimated 300,000 to 3,000,000 “witches” who, beginning in the 15th century, were murdered with papal blessing.
See You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, chapters 16-18, published in 1982 by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
[Box on page 21]
“Religion has, in many parts of the world today, become the handmaiden of revolution . . . It continues to inspire killing in Northern Ireland as much as on the Indian subcontinent and in the Philippines.”—The Encyclopedia of Religion
[Picture on page 20]
False religion’s bloodguilt of the past, as depicted in this 15th-century woodcut of the mass burnings of heretics, is far overshadowed by its record during the 20th century
[Pictures on page 21]
German church bells were melted down for war purposes during World War I