Religion and Politics—On a Collision Course?
THE policy of combining political and religious power in one man did not originate with Henry VIII. In his day it was already a well-tried political ploy designed to promote national unity.
For example, the ancient empire of Egypt had many gods. “Pharaoh himself was one of the gods, and a central figure in his subjects’ lives,” says The New Bible Dictionary. The Roman Empire likewise had a pantheon of gods, including the emperors. One historian describes emperor worship as “the most vital force in the religion of the Roman world.”
But in spite of the fact that Church-State unions are centuries old, Christendom’s modern-day excursions into politics have placed her on a collision course with the very ones whose favor she woos. Why so? To answer this question, let us now take a look at how Christendom became involved in politics in the first place.
True Christianity—A Contrast
Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity, rejected all political power. On at least one occasion, the people, enthused by his miracles, tried forcibly to make him king, but he “withdrew again into the mountain all alone.” (John 6:15) Asked by the Roman governor if he was a king, Jesus replied: “My kingdom is no part of this world. If my kingdom were part of this world, my attendants would have fought that I should not be delivered up to the Jews.”—John 18:36.
Christ further told his disciples: “Because you are no part of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, on this account the world hates you.” (John 15:19) So, early Christians did not become sidetracked by social or political problems. Slavery, for example, was then a major problem, but Christians did not campaign so as to abolish it. Instead, Christian slaves were commanded to be obedient to their masters.—Colossians 3:22.
Rather than dabbling in politics, these early Christians set about to accomplish the work of preaching “concerning the kingdom of God.” (Acts 28:23) In just a few decades their message reached the limits of the then-known world. (Colossians 1:23) And with what effects? Thousands responded and became spiritual ‘brothers and sisters.’ (Matthew 23:8, 9) Jews and Gentiles who became Christians ceased their hostilities. Between the Jews and the Samaritans even major differences disappeared because of the “intense love” Christians had for one another.—1 Peter 4:8.
Christian love, however, extended even to their enemies. (Matthew 5:44) They therefore refused to join Caesar’s armies. ‘But,’ some may object, ‘did not Jesus say, “Pay back . . . Caesar’s things to Caesar?”’ True. However, was Jesus talking about military service? No, he was merely discussing the issue of whether to ‘pay taxes to Caesar or not.’ (Matthew 22:15-21) So Christians paid their taxes. But they viewed their lives as being dedicated to God and refused to do harm to their fellowman.
Becoming a Friend of the World
‘But look at Christendom today,’ some may say. ‘It is hopelessly divided, its members often slaughter one another, its clergy are embroiled in politics. What happened to Christianity?’ Well, Jesus warned that false Christians would be ‘sown’ in among true Christians. (Matthew 13:24-30) Paul likewise prophesied: “I know that . . . oppressive wolves will enter in among you and . . . men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.”—Acts 20:29, 30.
Even in the first century this trend had begun. The disciple James found it necessary to write these graphic words: “You are as unfaithful as adulterous wives; don’t you realise that making the world your friend is making God your enemy?” (James 4:4, The Jerusalem Bible; italics ours.) Many chose to disregard this divine counsel—so much so that in the fourth century a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the Emperor Constantine, was able to compromise corrupt “Christianity” further by making it the official religion of the Roman Empire. But in becoming a ‘friend of the world,’ Christendom became God’s enemy. An eventual collision became inevitable.
By the 13th century the Church, ruled by its “pope,” or “father,” had reached “the summit of its power,” setting the stage for an even closer marriage of Church and State. Pope Innocent III became convinced that “the Lord gave Peter the rule not only of the Universal Church but also the rule of the whole world.” (Italics ours.) Continues professor of history T. F. Tout in The Empire and the Papacy: “Innocent’s work was that of an ecclesiastical statesman, . . . making and unmaking kings and emperors at his will.” But adds the same writer: “The more political the papal authority became, the more difficult it was to uphold its prestige as the source of law, of morality, of religion.”
Religion and War
War is politics on a more violent scale. Pope Innocent III, however, personally organized a military campaign against the Albigenses of southern France. This led to the ghastly massacre of thousands at Béziers in 1209 and the mass burning of victims by the Holy Inquisition. A crusade, originally intended for Palestine, was diverted by political intrigue to include Constantinople. There, “Christian” knights engaged in a “hideous three days of plunder, murder, lust, and sacrilege.” On whom? On fellow “Christians”! Says one historian: “The very churches were ruthlessly pillaged.”
The un-Christlike methods of the Church eventually led to Martin Luther’s nailing of his challenging theses to the castle church door at Wittenberg in 1517—and the Reformation was on. But, says H. A. L. Fisher, in History of Europe: “The new confession was . . . closely dependent upon princely and governmental favour.” Germany became divided along politico-religious lines. In France, Calvinists likewise mixed with political leaders. The ensuing wars of religion were therefore fought not only for religious liberty but also because of “rivalry between Protestants and Roman Catholic nobles for control of the Crown.” Thus, the history of religion in Europe is written in blood!
The 20th century dawned with Briton and Boer locked in combat in South Africa. Clergymen on both sides fanned the flames with “exhortations from the pulpit.” Says historian R. Kruger: “The volume of supplication addressed heavenward by either side in the course of the war was only matched by its variety of denominational inspiration.” White “Christians” slaughtered one another while asking God to help them do it!
This pattern was repeated on a colossal scale in 1914 when German troops marched into Belgium wearing belts inscribed with the words “Gott mit uns” (God with us). On both sides the Church was prolific in prayers for victory and vitriolic in abuse of the enemy.
Multitudes were disillusioned by religion’s role in World War I. Calling religion “the opium of the people,” atheists and communists multiplied. Nevertheless, the clergy continued their involvement in politics, supporting Fascist dictators such as Mussolini and Franco. In 1933 the Roman Catholic Church even concluded a concordat with the Nazis. Cardinal Faulhaber wrote to Hitler: “This handshake with the Papacy . . . is a feat of immeasurable blessing . . . May God preserve the Reich Chancellor [Hitler].”
Even the possibility of another world war has not swayed the clergy from politics. One recent trend has been for some churches to swerve toward a left-wing political stance. Says one writer: “The latest generation of theologians from Latin America . . . insists that Marxism is the unavoidable political expression of Christianity.” But the Bible warns: “They sow the wind, they will reap the whirlwind.”—Hosea 8:7, JB.
Reaping the Whirlwind
Yes, the Bible sounds a solemn warning: A terrible clash between religion and politics is coming. In Revelation chapter 17, the Bible depicts the world empire of false religion stained with blood as a “great harlot who sits on many waters.” These “waters” represent ‘peoples and nations.’ (Re 17 Verses 1, 15) The harlot is named “Babylon the Great, the mother of the harlots and of the disgusting things of the earth,” and she is “drunk with the blood of the holy ones.” (Re 17 Verses 5, 6) “Babylon” is a fitting name for organized false religion, inasmuch as many of her doctrines stem from the ancient city of Babylon.* She has earned her murderous reputation by her persecution of true Christians throughout the centuries.
The world empire of false religion is further pictured as riding a beast with “seven heads and ten horns . . . [which] mean ten kings.” (Re 17 Verses 3, 12) Previous articles in this journal have identified this “beast” as the instrument entrusted with maintaining world peace, the United Nations. The churches have gone on record as supporting this organization. In October 1965, Pope Paul VI described the UN as “the last hope of concord and peace.” In 1979, Pope John Paul II addressed the UN General Assembly. Without ever mentioning Christ or his Kingdom, he spoke of the UN as “the supreme forum of peace and justice.”
But why is this union of religion and the UN so dangerous? Because “the ten horns . . . and the wild beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her devastated and naked . . . and will completely burn her with fire.” (Re 17 Verse 16) False religion is therefore headed straight for a catastrophic collision with politics. Being denuded and her rank uncleanness revealed, she will be destroyed utterly.
That will spark the “great tribulation” that Jesus spoke of, culminating in the battle of Armageddon. Christ, backed by invincible heavenly hosts, will “crush and put an end to” Satan’s worldwide system, leaving only the ‘meek that will inherit the earth.’ These will be true Christians who have, among other things, steered clear of divisive politics.—Matthew 24:21; Daniel 2:44; Psalm 37:10, 11; Matthew 5:5; Revelation 6:2; 16:14-16.
If you are one who is distressed over the suffering and reproach that false religion has brought on God’s name, what should you now do? The Bible commands: “Get out of her [false religion], my people, if you do not want to share with her in her sins.” (Revelation 18:4) Only Jehovah’s Witnesses are urging people to heed this command. They, like the early Christians, keep out of war and politics and hence will not be in line for destruction when religion collides with politics. So contact them. They will gladly show you how to find the “narrow gate” that leads not to destruction but to everlasting life.—Matthew 7:13, 14; John 17:3.
For details, see the book “Babylon the Great Has Fallen!” God’s Kingdom Rules!, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
[Picture on page 6]
In 1914, at a drum altar on the steps of St. Paul’s, the Bishop of London stirred up patriotism in British troops