Gaffar, who was born in Turkey, was disturbed by the idea of a vengeful God, as taught by his religion. His wife, Hediye, began to question her religion when she was just nine years old. “I was taught to believe in fate,” she said. “As an orphan, I wondered, ‘What have I done to deserve this?’ I often cried all night. By age 15, in my heart I had abandoned my religion.”
HAVE you given up on organized religion? If so, you are far from alone. In many countries the number of people who describe themselves as ‘not religious’ is growing—a trend that suggests an uncertain future for institutional religion. Some of those lands are shown here.
Why the Exodus?
People are becoming disillusioned with organized religion for a variety of reasons. These include religiously motivated or religiously sanctioned violence and terror, sex scandals involving religious leaders, and more subtle factors, which may be taking a bigger toll. The latter include the following:
Material prosperity: “The richer you get, the less religious you define yourself,” says the Global Index of Religion and Atheism. That observation is significant because in many lands, material prosperity has risen dramatically. In some places, people enjoy a “standard of living that would have made the greatest king of two hundred years ago turn green with envy,” says John V. C. Nye, a professor of economics.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS: The Bible foretold that in “the last days,” love of money and pleasures would supplant love of God and neighbor. (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Aware of the spiritual dangers associated with wealth, a Bible writer said to Jehovah God: “Give me neither poverty nor riches.” Why such a desire? “So that I do not become satisfied and deny you,” he continued.—Proverbs 30:8, 9.
Religious traditions and morality: Many people, especially the young, view organized religion as irrelevant and out of touch. Others have lost confidence in religion. “If you look at the way the churches have behaved over the centuries,” said Tim Maguire, media officer for Humanist Society Scotland, “people have turned away from them because they no longer believe in them as a moral arbiter.”
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS: Regarding false teachers, Jesus Christ warned: “By their fruits you will recognize them. . . . Every good tree produces fine fruit, but every rotten tree produces worthless fruit.” (Matthew 7:15-18) “Worthless fruit” includes political meddling and approving of practices that offend God, such as homosexuality. (John 15:19; Romans 1:25-27) It also includes substituting hollow rituals and empty traditions for the wholesome teachings found in the Scriptures. (Matthew 15:3, 9) “Feed my little sheep,” Jesus said. (John 21:17) Today, however, many people feel spiritually starved.
Religion and money: According to the Pew Research Center, a lot of people feel that religion puts too much emphasis on money. Adding to the problem, some religious dignitaries—unlike their flocks—enjoy lavish lifestyles. For example, in one German city where many churchgoers struggle to make ends meet, the bishop has been accused of living in great luxury. This lifestyle has offended many local Catholics. Also, a report in GEO magazine says that in Nigeria, “where 100 million people live on less than one euro per day, the flamboyant lifestyles of some pastors is beginning to become a problem.”
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS: The Bible writer Paul wrote: “We are not making profit from the word of God.” (2 Corinthians 2:17, footnote) Even though Paul was a prominent minister in the early Christian congregation, he often did manual work so as not to impose a financial burden on others. (Acts 20:34) His attitude reflected his obedience to Jesus’ command: “You received free, give free.”—Matthew 10:7, 8.
In harmony with those principles, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not charge for their literature or for Bible instruction. Nor do they tithe or take up collections at their meetings. Instead, needed funds are supplied through private voluntary donations.—Matthew 6:2, 3.
The Exodus From Organized Religion Foretold!
Not many decades ago, the present plight of organized religion would have been hard to imagine. God, however, foresaw this development and announced it in advance in the Bible. Using symbolic language, God likened all religion that is unfaithful to him to a flamboyant prostitute named “Babylon the Great.”—Revelation 17:1, 5.
That symbol is fitting because false religion, while claiming fidelity to God, has consorted with the rulers of the world to gain power and wealth. “The kings of the earth . . . committed sexual immorality with her,” says Revelation 18:9. The term “Babylon” is appropriate too, because many false religious teachings and practices, such as the immortality of the soul, triune gods, and occultism, have roots in ancient Babylon, a city steeped in false religion and superstition. *—Isaiah 47:1, 8-11.
Mighty Babylon fell when its protective waters—a moat fed by the Euphrates River—were “dried up,” opening the way for an army of Medes and Persians to conquer the city. (Jeremiah 50:1, 2, 38) In fact, Babylon was taken in one night!—Daniel 5:7, 28, 30.
Babylon the Great too “sits on many waters.” These, the Bible tells us, mean “peoples and crowds”—the millions who support false religion. (Revelation 17:1, 15) The Bible foretold that these symbolic waters would dry up—a development that portends the imminent and swift destruction of modern-day Babylon. (Revelation 16:12; 18:8) But at whose hands? Those of her political consorts, whose love for her will turn to hatred. They will also plunder her, or devour her figurative flesh.—Revelation 17:16, 17. *
“Get Out of Her”!
Because of what lies in store for Babylon the Great, God lovingly warns: “Get out of her, 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.” (Revelation 18:4) Notice the word “if,” mentioned twice. Yes, God’s warning is aimed at people who are disturbed by hurtful teachings and who want God’s favor—people like Gaffar and Hediye, mentioned earlier.
Before studying the Bible, Gaffar saw God as Someone to be obeyed mainly out of fear. “It was a relief to learn that Jehovah is a God of love,” he said, “and that he wants us to obey him primarily out of love.” (1 John 4:8; 5:3) Hediye found inner peace when she learned that God did not make her an orphan and that her situation was not the result of fate. She was comforted by such Bible texts as James 1:13, which says that God does not test people with evil. She and Gaffar embraced Bible truth and fled “Babylon.”—John 17:17.
When Babylon the Great is destroyed, no harm will come to those who have obediently fled from her in order to “worship the Father with spirit and truth.” (John 4:23) Their hope is to see the earth “filled with the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters cover the sea.”—Isaiah 11:9.
^ par. 16 For more information on Babylon the Great and on what the Bible says about the condition of the dead, the nature of God, and the occult, see the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? It is available online at www.jw.org.