The Bible’s answer
Babylon the Great, described in the book of Revelation, is the world’s collective body of false religions, which God rejects. * (Revelation 14:8; 17:5; 18:21) Although those religions differ in many respects, in one way or another they all lead people away from the worship of the true God, Jehovah.—Deuteronomy 4:35.
Keys to identifying Babylon the Great
Babylon the Great is a symbol. The Bible describes her as “a woman” and a “great prostitute,” having a name that is “a mystery: ‘Babylon the Great.’” (Revelation 17:1, 3, 5) The book of Revelation is presented “in signs,” so it is reasonable to conclude that Babylon the Great is a symbol, not a literal woman. (Revelation 1:1) In addition, she “sits on many waters,” which represent “peoples and crowds and nations and tongues.” (Revelation 17:1, 15) A literal woman could not do that.
Babylon the Great represents an international entity. She is called “the great city that has a kingdom over the kings of the earth.” (Revelation 17:18) Thus, she has international scope and influence.
Babylon the Great is a religious entity, not a political or commercial one. Ancient Babylon was a profoundly religious city, known for its use of spiritistic “spells” and “sorceries.” (Isaiah 47:1, 12, 13; Jeremiah 50:1, 2, 38) In fact, false religion in opposition to the true God, Jehovah, was practiced there. (Genesis 10:8, 9; 11:2-4, 8) The rulers of Babylon arrogantly exalted themselves above Jehovah and his worship. (Isaiah 14:4, 13, 14; Daniel 5:2-4, 23) Likewise, Babylon the Great is known for her “spiritistic practices.” That shows her to be a religious organization.—Revelation 18:23.
Babylon the Great cannot be a political entity, because “the kings of the earth” mourn her destruction. (Revelation 17:1, 2; 18:9) Neither is she a commercial power, because the Bible distinguishes her from “the merchants of the earth.”—Revelation 18:11, 15.
Babylon the Great fits the profile of false religion. Rather than teaching people how to draw closer to the true God, Jehovah, false religion actually leads them to worship other gods. The Bible calls this “spiritual prostitution.” (Leviticus 20:6; Exodus 34:15, 16) Beliefs such as the Trinity and the immortality of the soul and practices such as the use of images in worship date back to ancient Babylon and continue to permeate false religion. These religions also blend their worship with love for the world. The Bible refers to this form of unfaithfulness as spiritual adultery.—James 4:4.
False religion’s wealth and showy display of it match the picture that the Bible paints of Babylon the Great, who is “clothed in purple and scarlet” and “adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls.” (Revelation 17:4) Babylon the Great is the source of “the disgusting things of the earth,” or the teachings and actions that actually dishonor God. (Revelation 17:5) The members of false religion are the “peoples and crowds and nations and tongues” who support Babylon the Great.—Revelation 17:15.
Babylon the Great is responsible for the deaths “of all those who have been slaughtered on the earth.” (Revelation 18:24) Throughout history, false religion has not only fomented wars and fueled acts of terrorism but has also failed to teach people the truth about Jehovah, the God of love. (1 John 4:8) This failure has contributed to much bloodshed. For good reason, those who want to please God must “get out of her,” separating themselves from false religion.—Revelation 18:4; 2 Corinthians 6:14-17.