Is Religion at the Root of Mankind’s Problems?
“WHEN religion is not encouraging strife it is acting as a drug which numbs the human conscience and fills the human brain with escapist fantasies. . . . [It] causes human beings to be narrow, superstitious, full of hatred and fear.” The former Methodist missionary who wrote that added: “These charges are true. There is bad and good religion.”—Start Your Own Religion.
‘Surely that is unfair criticism,’ some may say. Yet, who can deny the facts of history? To a large extent, religion—defined as “the service and worship of God or the supernatural”—has a shocking record. It should enlighten and inspire us. More often than not, however, what it does is engender strife, intolerance, and hatred. Why is that?
A Misleading “Angel of Light”
According to the Bible, there is a very simple answer. Posing as “an angel of light,” Satan the Devil has misled millions into following his teachings rather than God’s. (2 Corinthians 11:14) The apostle John showed that Satan’s influence is so extensive that “the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19) John knew that Satan was “misleading the entire inhabited earth.”—Revelation 12:9.
What have been the consequences of this? Satan has promoted religious systems that on the surface appear to be holy. They have “a façade of ‘religion,’” but their true condition is exposed by the evil fruitage they produce. (2 Timothy 3:5, J. B. Phillips; Matthew 7:15-20) Instead of helping to solve mankind’s problems, religion actually becomes part of the problem.
Do not quickly dismiss that idea as being farfetched or unreasonable. Remember, the very nature of deception is that the one being deceived is unaware of it. The apostle Paul gave an example of this when he wrote: “The things which the nations sacrifice they sacrifice to demons, and not to God.” (1 Corinthians 10:20) Those people would likely have been shocked to think that they were worshiping demons. They thought that they were worshiping a good god, or gods, of some kind. Yet, in reality they had been deceived by “wicked spirit forces in the heavenly places,” who support Satan in his efforts to mislead mankind.—Ephesians 6:12.
Let us consider, for example, how Satan managed to deceive and mislead many professed Christians who chose to ignore the apostle John’s warning about that evil influence.—1 Corinthians 10:12.
What Jesus Taught Came From God
“What I teach,” said Jesus Christ, “is not mine, but belongs to him that sent me.” (John 7:16) Yes, what he taught was from Almighty God. So Jesus’ teachings had a powerful, uplifting effect on those who listened to him. They did not ‘numb the human conscience or fill the human brain with escapist fantasies.’ On the contrary, Jesus’ teachings set people free from religious error and human philosophies produced by a world that was “in darkness mentally” because of the Devil’s deception.—Ephesians 4:18; Matthew 15:14; John 8:31, 32.
True Christians were identified, not by a mere profession of piety, but by a faith that reflected the beautiful qualities produced by God’s holy spirit. (Galatians 5:22, 23; James 1:22; 2:26) Outstanding among these qualities—and the identifying mark of genuine Christianity—is the sublime quality of love.—John 13:34, 35.
Note this crucial point, however: Neither Jesus nor his apostles expected the Christian congregation to continue in the form in which it was originally established. They knew that apostasy would develop and that the true religion would be overshadowed for a time.
True Religion Hidden for a Time
In an illustration about wheat and weeds, Jesus foretold that true religion would be virtually obscured for a time. Read the account for yourself at Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. Jesus sowed a field with wheat, “the fine seed,” which pictured his faithful disciples who would make up the original Christian congregation. He warned that “an enemy,” Satan the Devil, would in time oversow the wheat field with “weeds”—people who professed to follow Jesus Christ but who in fact rejected his teachings.
Very soon after the death of Jesus’ apostles, individuals appeared who proved to be “weeds,” favoring twisted human teachings over “the very word of Jehovah.” (Jeremiah 8:8, 9; Acts 20:29, 30) As a consequence, a perverted, counterfeit Christianity appeared on the world stage. It was dominated by what the Bible calls “the lawless one”—a corrupt clergy class that was itself steeped in “every unrighteous deception.” (2 Thessalonians 2:6-10) Jesus foretold that this situation would change “in the conclusion of the system of things.” The wheatlike Christians would be collected together in unity and “the weeds” would eventually be destroyed.
It is this counterfeit Christianity that bears responsibility for the “centuries of unredeemed barbarism” and spiritual darkness that enveloped Christendom in the centuries that followed. Foreseeing this and all the other depraved and violent acts done since then in the name of religion, the apostle Peter rightly predicted that “on account of these [professed Christians] the way of the truth [would] be spoken of abusively.”—2 Peter 2:1, 2.
“A Theology of Rage and Hatred”
It certainly is not just Christendom that has given religion a poor reputation. Think of the fundamentalist versions of “militant piety,” for example, that former nun Karen Armstrong says have been spawned by “every major religious tradition.” According to Armstrong, one crucial test of any religion is that it should lead to “practical compassion.” What has been the record of fundamentalist religions in this regard? “Fundamentalist faith,” she writes, “be it Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, fails this crucial test if it becomes a theology of rage and hatred.” (The Battle for God—Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam) But is it only the “fundamentalist” brand of religion that has failed this test and become “a theology of rage and hatred”? History shows otherwise.
Satan has, in fact, built up a world empire of false religion, identified by rage, hatred, and almost endless bloodshed. The Bible calls this empire “Babylon the Great, the mother . . . of the disgusting things of the earth,” and it is pictured as a prostitute who rides on the back of a beastlike political system. It is noteworthy that she is held accountable for “the blood . . . of all those who have been slaughtered on the earth.”—Revelation 17:4-6; 18:24.
Not Everyone Has Been Deceived
History proves, however, that not everyone has been deceived. Even in the darkest of times, notes Melvyn Bragg, “many fine souls did good when most around them were evil.” Genuine Christians continued to “worship [God] with spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-24) They stood apart from a worldwide religious system that had prostituted itself as “a reinforcer of military power.” They refused to be drawn into a working relationship of Church and State that history reveals as “more a pact made by Satan than any Jesus of Nazareth.”—Two Thousand Years—The Second Millennium: From Medieval Christendom to Global Christianity.
In more recent times, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been noted for their influence for good. To keep free from any taint of false religion, they have based their beliefs and actions solely on God’s inspired Word, the Bible. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) And like first-century Christians, they have followed Jesus’ command to be “no part of the world.” (John 15:17-19; 17:14-16) In Nazi Germany, for example, they refused to compromise Christian principles and therefore were not acceptable according to Nazi ideology. Hitler hated them for it. Says one school textbook: “Jehovah’s Witnesses . . . followed the teaching of the Bible not to take up weapons in any cause. So they refused to serve in the army or to have anything to do with the Nazis. In retaliation, the SS imprisoned whole families of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” (Germany—1918-45) Indeed, hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany died as a result of the Nazi persecution.
Of course, other courageous individuals of various religions suffered for their beliefs. But Jehovah’s Witnesses did this as a united religious body. By far the majority held firm to the fundamental Scriptural principle: “Obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:29; Mark 12:17.
The Root of the Problem
So it is only partly true that religion lies at the root of all of mankind’s problems. False religion does. Yet, God intends to remove all false religion very soon now. (Revelation 17:16, 17; 18:21) His command to anyone who loves justice and righteousness is: “Get out of her [that is, Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion], my people, if you do not want to share with her in her sins, and if you do not want to receive part of her plagues. For her sins have massed together clear up to heaven, and God has called her acts of injustice to mind.” (Revelation 18:4, 5) Yes, God himself is deeply offended by religion that ‘encourages strife, numbs the human conscience, fills the brain with escapist fantasies, and causes people to be narrow-minded, superstitious, and full of hatred and fear’!
In the meantime, God is gathering into the pure religion those who love truth. It is the religion that adheres to the principles and teachings of a loving, just, and compassionate Creator. (Micah 4:1, 2; Zephaniah 3:8, 9; Matthew 13:30) You can be part of it. If you would like more information on how to identify pure religion, feel free to write to the publishers of this magazine, or ask any of Jehovah’s Witnesses for assistance.
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People of all backgrounds have found joy in the pure religion