Asking the Tough Question: Has Religion Failed?

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Asking the Tough Question

Has Religion Failed?

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Only a few months ago, religion was relegated to rarely read weekend segments of Western newspapers and the occasional television or magazine piece. When it was featured in the major press, it was usually in relation to enigmatic prophecies. Today, religion is front page news. During the Cold War, the world was divided between Christianity and atheism, although the confrontation was not typically defined in terms of religion. Now the lines have fallen in an older place, with the world's peoples increasingly defined as Christian or Muslim.

The Western nations are said to be "Christian," but that label is more a political than a moral descriptive. Only a minority actually pursues or practices Christianity, which is fragmented into a kaleidoscope of forms that little resemble the Christianity of the early New Testament Church of God.

Islam is as divided as Christianity

In contrast to the Western label of Christianity, increasing numbers of nations are said to be Islamic. They include most Arab nations, Iran and Indonesia. But that label, too, is a political descriptive, for Islam is as divided as Christianity. Long-time Middle East journalist Judith Miller analyzes the militant Islamic movements within 10 Middle Eastern countries in God Has Ninety-Nine Names. Her title is a play on the fact that there are 99 different names for God in the Koran, as she explains that there is no singular cohesive Islam.

Muslim clerics and political leaders use the sayings of Muhammad as the basis of their religious rulings and government policies, emphasizing particular passages to their own advantage. The Koran is interpreted differently by whomever happens to be in authority at a given time, as is sharia (holy law). An action considered worthy of the death penalty in Islamic Sudan isn't necessarily even punishable in Islamic Iran. And Islamic governments that consider themselves fully compliant with Islamic law aren't considered "Islamic enough" for militant factions in their own countries.

Often sayings that are attributed to Muhammad are frauds. The first biography about him wasn't written until 125 years after his death. "Muslim historians and jurists admitted that many of the stories circulated about Muhammad-the so-called hadith, literally the 'narratives' or the Prophet's recorded deeds and sayings-were fabricated to support a particular political faction or opinion. Less than 200 years after Muhammad's death, one celebrated Muslim scholar is said to have discounted 596,725 hadith then in circulation" (Miller, 1996, p. 88).

There are obvious parallels with today's widely divergent Christian denominations, which compete for followers and financial support. On the other hand, Muslim countries that enforce sharia stand in stark contrast to countries that are considered Christian, where one's religion is his choice. Has either force or freedom brought people to God and nations to godliness?

Life and death power in the hands of human beings who claim the authority to act and speak for God-whether in Christian or Muslim nations-has resulted in the abuse, torment and wrongful death of uncounted millions of people. But the Christianity nominally embraced by hundreds of millions around the world has also hurt, rather than helped, mankind.

How Christianity has failed

How does the modern Western approach to religion hurt people? In contrast to the father-child relationship between God and humanity that the Bible reveals, the Western approach to religion is more aptly described as a partnership. The senior partner in the relationship is the human being; God is the junior partner. The senior partner has full authority to disregard the opinions of the junior one. That is, if people disagree with what God's Word says about how they should live, they interpret the biblical passages in the light of their own beliefs or simply ignore them.

Free from the fear that a state-controlled religion is going to impose its interpretation on him, the Westerner decides for himself what is right and wrong. He has chosen poorly.

Wealthy Western nations are like large families that have no authority figure as a parent. For the most part, their citizens cultivate the pursuit of their self-destructive appetites instead of advocating a moral culture of self-control. Spiritually, they're like spoiled children.

A burgeoning theme since the terrorist disasters of late 2001 has been "there is good in all faiths." It's a variation on the proverbial "many roads lead to heaven." U.S. President Bush has voiced this concept numerous times in the past few months, as he seeks to inspire harmony between the diverse religions of the United States.

In her 50th Christmas message, the British queen urged people of all faiths to set aside their differences that have led to global violence. She said we can all learn from each other, "whatever our faith-be it Christian or Jewish, Muslim, Buddhists, Hindu or Sikh" ("Faith Can Conquer Evil Says Queen" by Caroline Davies and Victoria Combe, The Telegraph, Dec. 26, 2001). Of course, she's trying to be all-inclusive and promote harmony. The pope attempted to strike a similar note in his Christmas message, saying, "May the gentle face of the Child of Bethlehem remind everyone that we all have one Father" (ibid.).

Christians are confused

Instead of leading the West to preserve and practice Christianity, this attempt to embrace all religions fosters a culture similar to that of Old Testament Israel. Confused about her religious identity, she incorporated and embraced customs of many other religions. Surprisingly, those ancient religions included practices that today masquerade as Christian, such as worship of the sun. (For more information about this startling fact, see our publications Sunset to Sunset-God's Sabbath Rest and Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Keep?) The result was a multicultural society, which was superficially desirable, but slowly and surely led to the moral corruption and collapse of the nation.

In Israel's formative years, God told its people to keep the unique religious code He had given them. Specifically, He warned them not to incorporate the religious practices of others. Paraphrasing His words: "Don't look at what others do in their religions and say, 'That's an interesting custom. Let's add that to how we worship.' It's Me that you are worshiping, so worship Me in the way that I ask you to. The consequences of dabbling in religious multiculturalism are far worse than you could imagine" (see Deuteronomy 12:29-32).

With the passage of time, Israelites chose to make peace with their neighboring nations by doing exactly what God counseled them not to do-they mixed the neighbors' religions in with the code God gave to them. We learn from biblical history that the Israelites corrupted God's revealed way of life more than any people ever had (Ezekiel 5:7, 9).

Is this merely a subject for a History Channel special? Stephen, one of the leaders of an infant Christianity, recited the lesson to Jewish religious leaders as a warning to them (Acts 7:42-43). And the apostle Paul wrote that Christians have these Israelite histories so we will know what mistakes to avoid (1 Corinthians 10:6).

Clearly, Israelite history should have a strong impact on Christians. People whose minds are spiritually alert will listen to and heed the lesson.

The Christian Western world is as confused about true values as it is about true worship. After suffering attacks by Muslim fundamentalists, U.S. political, business and religious leaders urged its citizenry to "return to the way of life that makes America a great nation." Included in that definition were recommendations that people travel, continue to buy new pleasure vehicles and return to normal shopping patterns for Christmas. True values have been obscured by commercialism and a religious holiday that has nothing to do with the Christianity of the Bible-Old or New Testament.

Many religious people in the West spoke of the terrorist attacks on the United States as "a wake-up call from God." If it was, people have gone back to sleep. Religious talk has abounded, as everyone from heads of state to the man on the street invoked God's name for comfort in the wake of fear and death. Religious information has flourished, as countless articles on Islam appeared in the Western press in an effort to understand the faith in whose name a fist of terror hammered the United States. But religious action-apart from funerals and memorial services-has been minimal. George Barna reports that church attendance in the United States is the only religious practice to have increased after Sept. 11, and that it was gradually returning to pre-attack levels (The Barna Update, Nov. 26, 2001).

Returning to corrupted religion

Not that it would necessarily have been better if people had gone to church. I noted above that few people actually practice Christianity in so-called "Christian" nations. Fewer still of the people who consider themselves Christian practice the Christianity of the early New Testament Church of God. Instead, they have unwittingly embraced a counterfeit Christianity. Biblical history records the inception of this impostor faith, which eventually became accepted over the true one.

Consequently, many sincere "defenders of the [Christian] faith" are defending a fraud. Content with having their religion interpreted for them by others, few Christians have taken the time to compare their church with the Church of God described in the Bible.

You can read about the beginning of this counterfeit Christianity and its evolution throughout history in our booklet, The Church Jesus Built. The booklet also shows the doctrines and way of life of the early New Testament Church of God from the Scriptures. If you've never made the comparison between today's Christianity and the Christianity of Christ's disciples, you're in for a surprise.

Violent terrorist acts committed in the name of religion should cause people to reevaluate religion's contribution to the present world. Has religion helped individuals and ethnic groups in this present world draw close to God? What does it mean to be near to God?

The Bible reveals that God is indeed our Father, and that He wants us to choose to have a relationship with Him. It is His will that human beings pattern the way they think and live after His nature and His ways. It is His will that the nations learn to live together in peace.

Has religion succeeded in helping individual human beings live more like God? Has religion succeeded in helping the community of nations live together in a godly way? Many will argue that their religion has helped them as individuals or that it has helped promote their political cause, but the record of history argues that religion has failed miserably in accomplishing what it ought to achieve. Religion has been the key to war, not the way to peace.

Religion will spawn war, not peace

True religion will indeed bring about lasting peace within individuals and between ethnic groups when the Kingdom of God is established on earth after Christ returns. But much human suffering is prophesied to occur before genuine peace is established. And religion will play a major role in that suffering. The so-called Christian nations of this present world will again live under governments that sponsor and cooperate with religion, lending full judicial and military authority to religious leaders.

These words sound preposterous in today's world, where they are fulfilled only in governments under the control of religious extremists. Of course, centuries ago the Christian religion was imposed and enforced in the Holy Roman Empire, which was a marriage of church and state. Bible prophecy shows that history will repeat itself. (Request our booklet, The Book of Revelation Unveiled, for a study of the prophecies that foretell this incredible development.)

Recent events have shown how violent Muslim extremists can be, which may give us a window on future forces that will trigger the realignment of nations along religious lines. Setting aside for a moment the more radical Muslim states like Libya, Sudan or Algeria, consider developments in the more stable countries of Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Judith Miller quoted a friend on whether Saudis would choose Islamic fundamentalism: "If the average Saudi is given a choice between revolution and a bonus, he'll take the bonus" (Miller, p. 126). You have to be over 40 to remember anything but wealth in the Saudi kingdom. In 1992, 68 percent of Saudis were less than 25 years old (ibid., p. 106), meaning their only memory is of the wealthy royals generously sharing with all Saudis.

The 1990s saw a dramatic economic shift. "Years of massive spending on national infrastructure and extravagant industrial projects as well as widespread corruption had finally caught up with the Saudis, whose population had risen since the 1970s from an estimated 6 million to 12 million. After a decade of stable oil prices and a 100 percent increase in population, Saudi per capita income had dropped to half of what it was in the 1970s" (ibid., p. 86). There are no more bonuses-and Saudis are choosing revolution. Of the 19 suicide terrorists in the Sept. 11 attack on the United States, 15 were Saudis. They were educated men and the sons of educated men, in contrast to the stereotypical terrorist of the recent past.

Until recent years, young Egyptian men relied heavily on income from jobs in the Saudi oil fields. Not only did the money they sent home help their families, having such a job often meant the difference between staying single and being able to be married at all. Now, those jobs have largely dried up. As of 1994, 54 percent of Egyptians live below the poverty line (ibid., p. 68). People historically turn to fundamentalism when democracy and capitalism have failed them. Militant Islamic fundamentalism has fertile soil in which to grow in these two major Middle Eastern countries-and in many more countries.

Nothing in the foreseeable future indicates a reversal of this ominous trend. Will we see a violent upsurge in Muslim fundamentalism worldwide? Will worldwide religious terrorism motivate people in the West to forgo their religious freedom and seek a return to the "protection" that a state religion would provide?

Regardless of how the details play out, there can be no doubt that religion will redefine the alignment of nations in the next few years. And until God steps in, religion will spawn war, not peace. WNP