Persecution. Invasion. Forced conversions. Terrorism. Censorship.
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Study the history of war and you will discover that, to one degree or another, religion has played an influential role, even shaping the course of entire civilizations.
Religion was at the heart of the ancient world. It established socioeconomic epicenters in which grand temples were erected, pagan worshippers practiced their mystical arts under the influence of narcotics, temple prostitution thrived, and human sacrifices were common.
The religions of men have censored scientific discoveries. For example, opposing anything that contradicted the religious beliefs of the day, the 15th-century church at Rome ordered astronomer Galileo not to “hold or defend” the idea that the earth revolves around the sun.
Religions have sparked military and persecution campaigns that have brought terror, misery, destruction, poverty, torture, forced confessions, compulsory conversions and countless deaths.
Religion—after dangling before their eyes the promise of entering “paradise”—has deceived zealots into slaughtering throngs of unsuspecting victims.
Even those who profess to worship the same God have been at odds with each other, often to the point of spilling blood. Such has been the case between Northern Ireland’s Protestants and Catholics for generations.
And atheism—a godless “religion”—has influenced Marxist governments to persecute citizens for their beliefs.
On the surface, it appears the religions of men have been the catalyst for many of the world’s troubles. Why? Is religion the problem—or is it the solution?
In A.D. 554, the Roman Empire became known as the “Holy Roman Empire.” Historians universally acknowledge that the pope’s crowning of Justinian after he defeated the Ostrogoths signaled this change. Periodically, new rulers appeared: Charlemagne (A.D. 800), Otto the Great, (A.D. 962), Charles V (1520), which in turn was followed by Napoleon’s reign (1805).
During these years, the Vatican’s influence was the glue that held the Holy Roman Empire together. The popes held considerable power and gave their blessing to secular leaders.
Unity was forced upon subjects of the Roman Empire, with secret police and the military executing numbers of Muslims (as well as Jews and Protestants) during the Crusades. During the Inquisition, this powerful influence was responsible for widespread execution and torture, with millions of forced conversions.
Islamists took control of the Holy Land in A.D. 632. For a time, Christian leaders were allowed to retain the positions of power in Jerusalem, and some were even given titles by the Islamic rulers. For example, Charlemagne was given the title “protector of the Christians in Jerusalem” by the Muslim leader Harun al-Rashid.
However, Christendom did not tolerate Islam’s rule of the Holy Land for long. During the Middle Ages the Catholic Church made repeated attempts to reclaim Jerusalem—known as the Crusades. The pope’s call for all Christians to expel Islam from the Holy Land brought Europe more firmly under the power of the Vatican and deepened the roots of Catholicism in the continent. It also sowed the seeds of religious tensions that remain between Christianity and Islam to this day.
This is an example of war waged between peoples who supposedly believe in God, and believe He endorses converting others by the sword. This thinking has been responsible for the death of millions.
Yet, could a loving, merciful God be behind such religious confusion, violence and evil?
Many blame today’s organized religions for mankind’s problems. Others believe religion has failed to answer the vital questions regarding the purpose for human life: What is man, and why are we here on earth?
Modern civilization has achieved awesome advancements in technology, science and knowledge. Ironically, humanity is experiencing a rapid moral decline, and is ignorant of the answers that would solve this world’s multiplying evils.
With thousands of religious figures proclaiming that their brand of religion should be followed, which message is correct? Rank religious confusion is everywhere! Could this be part of God’s plan?
God says through His Word, the Bible, that He “is not the author of confusion, but of peace” (I Cor. 14:33). As a matter of fact, God teaches that where there is confusion, evil is involved: “For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work” (Jms. 3:16). This can apply to any family, team, business, government or religious organization.
This religious confusion, along with doctrinal disagreement, has been the central cause of numerous church splits throughout the ages. The end result is not surprising. Millions of believers are on the verge of giving up on religion altogether. Some go it alone as independents, thinking that traditional religion has failed them. Many believe professing Christianity has lost credibility.
Hypocritical religious leaders throughout the 20th century have contributed to this lack of credibility. The mere mention of certain televangelists brings to mind sex scandals, fiscal corruption, deceit, hypocrisy and false prophetic predictions. Even the Catholic Church is not without its scandals.
Such scandals have led to widespread distrust among believers, causing congregations and denominations to become divided and confused.
Nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ said that we would be able to identify true religious teachers not by their outward appearance, but by their “fruits,” or results (Matt. 7:16). Speaking of the scribes and Pharisees—and essentially all false religionists—Christ also said, “Even so you also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Matt. 23:28).
Witnessing mass hypocrisy and scandal, many conclude, “A government void of religion would stamp out all war and evil! Religion is the problem!”
Again, is religion the cause of this world’s woes?
In the last 20 years secularism has greatly influenced and shaped contemporary thinking. Great scientific and technological breakthroughs and greater reliance on human reasoning have replaced the influence religious orders once held. Many believe a secular world—void of any notion of God—is the answer.
But is it?
Webster’s Dictionary defines secularism as: (1) “A worldly spirit, a worldly view; a system of doctrine or practices that disregards or rejects any form of religious faith and worship”; (2) “The belief that god and/or religious affairs should not enter the functions of the state.”
Secularism means embracing the material rewards and the affairs of this world above faith in an unseen deity. Secularists advocate attention to the planet, with emphasis on individual rights. They generally believe that all of man’s worries, woes and wars are due to the “primitive superstitious religious thinking of our ancestors.”
Secularism is sweeping the nations, and has itself become a religion!
Lyrics to the popular song “Imagine,” written decades ago, offered an idealistic solution to the world’s problems. Essentially (according to the song), if people removed religion from their lives (“Imagine there’s no heaven, It’s easy if you try, No hell below us, Above us only sky…”), did away with national governments and borders (“Imagine there’s no countries, It isn’t hard to do, Nothing to kill or die for, No religion too…”), and gave up all personal possessions (“Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can, No need for greed or hunger, A brotherhood of man…”), a utopia would somehow emerge, with “all the people living life in peace…Sharing all the world…”
A secular-minded person may be sincere in his or her desire to do away with violence, ignorance, poverty and disease, but would a world without religion make this dream become reality? Can secular leaders, free of religious influences, usher in a world of lasting peace and harmony?
In 1949, Mao Zedong, an avowed atheist and communist, took control of China, ruling over the most populous nation on earth for 27 years. Critics blame Mao’s policies for causing severe damage to China’s culture, society and foreign relations.
The book Mao: The Untold Story asserts that Mao caused the death of more than 70 million Chinese during peacetime, and that he deliberately chose to starve to death almost 38 million during the Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s.
While his people suffered the worst famine in history, Mao exported food to the Soviet Union and its satellite nations in exchange for weapons and to expand his influence. The Cultural Revolution in the 1960s also killed millions and virtually destroyed China’s spirit.
“From the beginning,” the authors write, “Mao employed terror, torture, slave labor, humiliation, brainwashing, public executions and the destruction of trust so he could advance himself.”
Consider another example. Beginning in 1929, Joseph Stalin declared the “liquidation of the kulaks as a class.” The kulaks, a group of peasants who were singled out as the cause of problems in society, were taken from their farms and transported to remote regions. During this “liquidation” millions were executed or forced to work in labor camps, with some casualty estimates totaling well over 20 million lives.
The atheistic ideology of Mao and Stalin was presented as a new and better answer to vital questions pertaining to the meaning of human existence.
Yet the brutal practices of these men did not do away with—but rather resulted in—fear, misery and mass murder. Removing religion did not eliminate problems and evils in these nations.
So we come back to the question: Is religion the problem? History demonstrates that the religious teachings and traditions of men have contributed to, or in some cases even caused, humanity’s problems.
During His earthly ministry 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ said this of the scribes and Pharisees, self-righteous religious leaders who opposed Him at every turn: “Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men…Full well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition” (Mark 7:7-9).
The scribes and Pharisees needlessly added humanly devised ordinances to God’s laws—which, without aid from men, are already “perfect,” “sure,” “right,” “pure, “clean,” “true and righteous altogether” (Psa. 19:7-9). In effect, these religious teachers caused people to view God’s commandments, statutes and judgments as a burden instead of a delight (Psa. 1:1-2).
Christ said of these false teachers, “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers…Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone. You blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel” (Matt. 23:4, 23-24).
Similarly, traditional Christianity has blurred the laws and truths of the Bible in the eyes of followers. For centuries, churches have initiated or endorsed wars, influenced civil governments and their laws, even forced people into religious compliance, unwittingly fulfilling the warning Jesus gave to His disciples: “Yes, the time comes, that whosoever kills you will think that he does God service” (John 16:2).
It was the “mother” of traditional Christianity that changed Sabbath observance from the seventh day of the week to the first—that attempted to add non-canonical, non-inspired books to Holy Scripture—that forbade commoners from owning or even reading a Bible—that wrongly emphasized works over grace, essentially using penance as a tool to “earn” salvation.
It was her “daughters” that ignored James 2:14-26 and emphasized grace over works, which degenerated into license to sin. The history of Protestantism serves as a lesson in never-ending division and splintering denominations, caused by watering down biblical doctrines. The result? Today, women are allowed in the clergy and homosexuality is seldom taught as being a sin—despite what the apostle Paul taught (see I Corinthians 14:34, I Timothy 2:11-12 and Romans 1:24-27).
Why do men add to God’s Law, making it seem strict and void of mercy? Why do others liberalize the Holy Scriptures, teaching people to take God’s grace and mercy for granted? Why do ministers selectively choose which doctrines they will teach—and which ones they will reject or ignore?
Why such religious confusion?
The traditions and doctrines of men spring from the carnal mind, whose nature God states “is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9), “is enmity [hostile] against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7) and is incapable of directing its own steps in life: “The way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walks to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23).
The theologians and religionists of this world—not just traditional Christianity, but all religions of men—do not understand this, and therefore they do not teach it! They cannot or will not accept that human nature is naturally deceptive—that, despite a minister’s best intentions, human reasoning will take him down the wrong path every time: “There is a way which seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12).
Because of this, wars, terrorist attacks, acts of “heavenly deception,” church-sanctioned campaigns of forced conversion, and mixing with secular governments are supposedly committed in the “name of God.” Regarding those who claim to do this with “divine authority,” God declares, “I have not sent these prophets [religious leaders], yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied [preached]. But if they had stood in My counsel, and had caused My people to hear My words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings” (Jer. 23:21-22).
Yes, religions of men are the problem. But true religion—which is not based on human reasoning or emotion, nor influenced by carnal greed or thirst for power—is the solution to humanity’s ills!
Jesus taught that a true Christian should live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4), and not trust in organizations of men or depend on men’s words or ideas.
The Bible is God’s “instruction book” to mankind and answers life’s greatest questions: Who are we? What is the ultimate purpose for our existence?
God’s Word states that the returning Jesus Christ will head both state and Church—a single world government and religion: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6).
All executive, legislative and judicial decisions will be rendered fairly, justly, without partiality. All laws, from the smallest to the greatest, will be founded on outgoing concern for others, first toward God, then toward neighbor. Notice the true Christian’s role in this government: “And has made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10).
This true religion will bring worldwide religious order and end all war, poverty and religious confusion. A new world of peace, radiant health and worldwide prosperity will burst forth on the scene!
Notice Isaiah 2: “It shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain [government] of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains [lesser governments], and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come all, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of HIS ways [His one true religion], and we will walk in HIS paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (vs. 2-3).
This soon-coming pure religious system will dispel chaos and confusion, replacing these with order, structure and peace. “And He shall judge [rule] among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (vs. 4).
Men cannot establish this kind of government. Only Jesus Christ is capable of doing so.
This is the gospel—literally “good news”—the returning Christ wants this dying world to hear and to heed! He announced the coming of this divine governmental religious order nearly 2,000 years ago (Mark 1:14-15). It will be this system that will re-educate a world that has been deceived since the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3; Rev. 12:9).
Your incredible human potential is part of this plan! (To learn more about this subject, read The Awesome Potential of Man.)