Religion—What Good Does It Do?
“I CAN be good without being religious!” That is a common sentiment. Many honest, compassionate, responsible people are not attracted to religion. For example, few Western Europeans are churchgoers, although most say that they believe in God.* Even in Latin America, a mere 15 to 20 percent of Catholics go to church regularly.
Like many others, perhaps you feel that religion is irrelevant to a better life. Possibly, though, you are also aware that decades ago, in your grandparents’ day, most people were much more religious than they are today. How did religion lose its widespread appeal? Can a person be good without being religious? Is there a religion that can benefit you?
Why Many Have Turned From Religion
For centuries, most people in Christendom believed that God requires obedience. They went to church to gain God’s favor, either through rites conducted by a priest or through guidance provided by a preacher. Of course, many were aware of the hypocrisy in religion. The role of religion in war was well-known, as was the abusive conduct of some clergymen. But most people felt that religion itself was good. Others liked the mystique, the tradition, and the music; some even saw value in the threat of eternal damnation in hell, which is a teaching not found in the Scriptures. Then, several developments changed the way that many people viewed the churches.
The theory of evolution became popular. Some became convinced that life originated by accident—without God. Most religions failed to provide convincing evidence that God is the Source of life. (Psalm 36:9) In addition, as technology advanced, dramatic achievements in medicine, transportation, and communications gave people the impression that any problem can be solved by science. Further, it was felt that social scientists and psychologists provided better guidance than did the churches. The churches, for their part, failed to demonstrate clearly that living by God’s law is the best way of life.—James 1:25.
In response, many churches changed their message. Priests and preachers gave up teaching that God requires obedience. Instead, many taught that each individual must decide for himself what is right and what is wrong. Trying to gain popularity, some religious leaders claimed that God accepts you no matter how you live. Such teaching calls to mind what the Bible foretold: “There will be a period of time when they will not put up with the healthful teaching, but, in accord with their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled.”—2 Timothy 4:3.
Rather than attracting people, such teaching turned them away. They naturally wondered: ‘If the churches doubt the power of God to create and the wisdom of God to make laws, how does going to church benefit me? Why should I bother teaching religion to my children?’ Individuals who were just trying to lead a decent life began to see religion as irrelevant. They left the churches, and religion was no longer important to them. Where did something that should be right go so wrong? The Bible provides a persuasive explanation.
Religion Used for Evil Ends
The apostle Paul warned the early Christians that some would use Christianity for evil ends. He said: “Oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:29, 30) One who spoke “twisted things” was the Roman Catholic theologian Augustine. Jesus had taught his followers to convince others by reasoning from the Scriptures. However, Augustine twisted the meaning of Jesus’ words recorded at Luke 14:23, “Compel them to come in,” to mean that it was all right to use force in the work of converting people. (Matthew 28:19, 20; Acts 28:23, 24) Augustine used religion to control people.
Satan, a rebellious angel, is behind the misuse and corruption of religion. He provoked religious men in the first century to try to corrupt Christian congregations. The Bible says of those men: “Such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself keeps transforming himself into an angel of light. It is therefore nothing great if his ministers also keep transforming themselves into ministers of righteousness.”—2 Corinthians 11:13-15.
Satan still uses religion that makes a pretense of being Christian, moral, and enlightening in order to make people live by his standards rather than God’s. (Luke 4:5-7) You have probably noticed that many clergymen today use religion to elevate themselves with high-sounding titles and to obtain money from their flocks. Governments have also used religion to persuade citizens to sacrifice themselves in war.
The Devil employs religion more extensively than most realize. You might imagine that only a few religious extremists are serving Satan’s interests. But according to the Bible, “the one called Devil and Satan . . . is misleading the entire inhabited earth.” The Bible also says: “The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (Revelation 12:9; 1 John 5:19) How does God feel about religion that is used by leaders who just want to draw people after themselves?
“What Do I Care?”
If you are shocked at the conduct of some churches of Christendom, know that Almighty God is greatly displeased with them. Christendom claims to have made a pact with God; ancient Israel made a similar claim. Both have proved unfaithful. Jehovah’s denunciation of Israel therefore applies with equal force to Christendom today. Jehovah said: “They have not listened to my words and have rejected my law. What do I care about incense from Sheba? . . . Your sacrifices do not please me.” (Jeremiah 6:19, 20, New International Version) God did not recognize acts of worship performed by hypocrites. He was not interested in their rituals and prayers. He told Israel: “Your festal seasons my soul has hated. To me they have become a burden; I have become tired of bearing them. And when you spread out your palms, I hide my eyes from you. Even though you make many prayers, I am not listening.”—Isaiah 1:14, 15.
Is Jehovah attracted to festivals that the churches present as Christian but that originally honored false gods? Does he listen to the prayers of clergymen who corrupt Christ’s teachings? Does God accept any religion that rejects his law? You can be sure that he reacts to church rituals today just as he reacted to the sacrifices of Israel of old, regarding which he said: “What do I care?”
Nevertheless, Jehovah does care deeply about worship rendered in truth by sincere people. God is pleased when individuals express appreciation for all that they receive from him. (Malachi 3:16, 17) So can you be good without worshipping God? A person who does nothing for his loving parents is hardly justified in considering himself good, is he? Can a person who does nothing for God be good? Reasonably, we should take an active interest in the true God, with whom life itself originated. In the following article, we will see how true worship not only honors God but also benefits us.
“The 1960s . . . marked the beginning in many countries of the collapse of religious culture as a whole.”—The Decline of Christendom in Western Europe, 1750-2000.
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Have the churches pointed to the evidence that God created all things?
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Does a representative of God belong in this setting?
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How does God view this kind of festival?
AP Photo/Georgy Abdaladze