“The Truth Will Set You Free”
AT THE mention of freedom among many Latin Americans, names that invariably come to mind are those of “The Liberators,” Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín. They are memorialized throughout much of Latin America for their role as military commanders in liberating South America from Spanish rule in the early part of the nineteenth century.
However, in the affections of many, Bolívar and San Martín have been replaced by someone more worthy of the title “Liberator.” That someone is none other than the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who effected and is effecting a true emancipation, not by force of arms, but by means of the truth he spoke. He it is who said: “If you remain in my word, . . . you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”—John 8:31, 32.
While Latin Americans are known the world over for their gaiety, the fact remains that many of them are enslaved to a way of life that results in great unhappiness. They need freedom from beliefs and practices that have long held them captive. Let us consider some of such beliefs and practices and at the same time see how the truth of God’s Word is effecting its work of liberation in Latin America and elsewhere.
Truth About the Dead Liberates
Many of the beliefs and practices that enslave their adherents are related to death. For example, many live in fear of purgatory, where, according to official Roman Catholic teaching, the “punishment by fire is more severe than any punishment which comes to men in this life.”
Of course, such teaching is based on the supposition that the human soul does not die. For someone to suffer after death, obviously the conscious part of him and the nervous system, which transmits the sensation of pain to the brain, would have to live on.
But, do the Holy Scriptures support the teaching of the immortal soul and, hence, the idea of purgatory? To the contrary, they teach that, “as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all,” therefore, are unable to suffer; also, that “the soul that is sinning—it itself will die.”—Eccl. 9:5; Ezek. 18:4.
In connection with purgatory, the Catholic church asserts “that the souls therein detained are aided by the suffrages of the faithful.” But, since the dead, being unconscious, are not able to suffer, then of what value are costly prayers in their behalf? Rather than the hope of future life being dependent on money contributions, the Bible shows it is properly based on God’s power to give life by means of a resurrection.—John 5:28, 29.
At first, you may be surprised to see exactly what the Bible teaches in connection with the condition of the dead. That was the first reaction of a resident of Honduras who began to study his Catholic Bible. But then he became indignant toward the Catholic church for having hidden the truth of God’s Word. He immediately stopped going to mass, although he had previously attended every morning at six o’clock. Instead, he began taking his family to the meetings of Jehovah’s witnesses, where he knew the freedom-giving truth was taught.
Freedom from Worship of Images
Religious pictures and images are common sights in Latin American homes, business establishments and motor vehicles. Shedding light on the resultant enslavement is this comment in the book Fiesta Time in Latin America: “The Indians love the holy images, pray to them, believe in their miracles, and make them gifts . . . In the Andean countries Christian saints and pagan gods have become inextricably entangled.”
Although such adoration of images is fostered by the Catholic church, the Bible is unyielding in its denunciation of it. It is a direct violation of the second of the Ten Commandments, “You must not make for yourself a carved image . . . You must not bow down to them.” (Ex. 20:4, 5) In equally plain speech, the Christian apostle Paul exhorts: “Flee from idolatry.”—1 Cor. 10:14.
Taking those words to heart, many Latin Americans are doing just that. Thus from Maracay, Venezuela, comes the report of a man who had studied four years to become a priest, but who, after only a few studies in the Bible with Jehovah’s witnesses, made a bonfire and burned every image and ‘holy’ picture he owned. After he did that it could be said of him, just as it was said of first-century Christian converts: “You turned to God from your idols to slave for a living and true God.”—1 Thess. 1:9.
Freedom from Demon Influence
The Bible is the only book that explains the origin of the Devil and his demons and that exposes their deceptive designs. It shows how to resist them by ‘putting on the complete suit of armor from God,’ which includes “the sword of the spirit, that is, God’s word.”—Eph. 6:11, 17.
It is to be expected, then, that where there is an absence of Bible understanding, demonism would abound. The religious situation in Latin America bears this out. Commenting on the popularity of spiritism in Haiti, for example, the book Fiesta Time in Latin America says: “Most of the population are professed Catholics, yet many of those attending early mass in the churches have come there directly from all-night voodoo ceremonies. The voodoo rites themselves show the influence of Catholicism.”
And from Brazil comes the report that “more than 67 percent of Brazil’s Catholics attend macumba or voodoo sessions.” Such a condition was blamed by the Auxiliary Bishop of Rio de Janeiro on the “superficiality of Catholic instruction in Brazil.” While Catholic instruction is too shallow to prevent such a condition from developing, Bible truth, which is “powerful by God for overturning strongly entrenched things,” can and is doing so.—2 Cor. 10:4.
Testifying to this fact is the following experience from Venezuela. There a woman claimed she had power to communicate with the dead and foretell many things in the lives of her friends, even having the ‘voices’ of dead relatives speak through her. However, when the ‘voices’ told her to divorce her husband, she became curious to know the source of her power. So, when visited by Jehovah’s witnesses, she was told frankly and clearly about the origin of her power and that it was condemned in the Bible. (Acts 16:16; Lev. 19:31) After only a few weeks of Bible study, she had gained freedom from demon influence, a freedom that brought blessings to her entire family.
In the United States, in Montana, God’s Word has set a woman of Indian ancestry free from demonism. This woman’s family delved into demonism and she suffered many strange health problems. ‘Voices’ also told her to kill herself. After studying the Bible with the Witnesses, she was helped to get rid of objects related to false worship. She disposed of an image of a “thunder god” that she wore around her neck, and other items. After that her health immediately improved. Freed from demonism, she now says that Jehovah is stronger than her previous gods.
From our consideration of the foregoing experiences, there can be no doubt that Bible truth can unburden the mind of erroneous religious ideas and practices. But what can be said of its effect on the conduct of people? What can it do for the personality? Just how far-reaching is the freedom that Jesus indicated the truth could bring? You are invited to consider the answers to these questions in the succeeding article.