The Power of Religion
“No divisions among men … are as unbridgeable as the chasm between the faithful and those they call infidels, between Jew and gentile, or Christian and pagan” (The Great Ideas—A Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World, vol. ii).
Religion is highlighted as one of the great ideas of man, as perceived by the editors of The Great Ideas series of classics, Mortimer J. Adler and William Gorman. Yet, as they admit in the above statement, of all the ideas that man has generated in the evolution of civilization, religion is the most divisive.
In Western society, religion, which underpinned the development of its civilization for millennia, became increasingly unfashionable during the 20th century. Godless Marxist-Leninist thought swept like a huge wave over Anglo-American educational institutions, particularly in Britain, where church buildings by the score started to close down and convert into bingo parlors. Many students of the day began to quote Karl Marx’s dictum: “Religion … is the opium of the people.” The church went into general decline. Where it did remain fashionable, such as in the southern U.S., religion took on a corporate, commercialist flavor with the rise of the televangelists.
As time went on, liberalism penetrated the Roman Catholic Church, particularly in Latin America. It seemed that the seeds of German rationalism sown in the 19th century had germinated and, following the two great world wars, were producing a great harvest of skepticism, materializing into agnosticism and culminating, during the mid-20th century, in an outright rejection of religion in many circles.
“God is dead,” had declared Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th-century German philosopher. This became the campus catchcry of many a student from that time up to the 1970s. This pervasive, evolutionary godlessness produced fertile ground for the spread of communism, socialism and left-wing thought in the halls of academia, within the Anglo-American sphere in particular.
Religion often thrives in a time of great social, economic and political disruption. Such disruption occurred at the transition into the final decade of the 20th century.
Religion on the Rise
In the late 1970s the decline of religion was suddenly reversed. Islam, Christianity (Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Protestantism) commenced a resurgence that has continued to this day, and has accelerated, in particular, since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Many reasons have been advanced for this wave of religiosity sweeping the world. But one overwhelming factor contributed to it: the grand failure of secular atheism foisted onto the 20th century by 19th-century modernists who sought to accommodate religion to contemporary thought. As Samuel Huntington, one of the West’s most eminent political scientists, put it, “The most obvious, most salient, and most powerful cause of the global religious resurgence is precisely what was supposed to cause the death of religion: the processes of social, economic and cultural modernization that swept across the world in the second half of the 20th century” (The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order).
The assumption that intellectual elites made during the 19th and 20th centuries was that what they perceived as the rituals, superstitions, myths and the irrational practices of religion would be overridden, in time, by rationalism, pragmatism and scientific method. Their thought was that, in time, a society would arise which, as a result of their theories, would be tolerant, rational, pragmatic, progressive, humanistic and secular.
They were wrong. As globalism spread economically, industrially, corporately and socially, a strange thing happened: Religion commenced a global revival. The same technologies that accelerated economic, corporate and social globalism worked universally to spread the message of the more powerful religions, in particular Islam and Roman Catholicism.
Author Gilles Kepel observed, “A new religious approach took shape, aimed no longer at adapting to secular values but at recovering a sacred foundation for the organization of society—by changing society if necessary. Expressed in a multitude of ways, this approach advocated moving on from a modernism that had failed, attributing its setbacks and dead ends to separation from God” (Revenge of God).
Roman Catholicism’s revival into a mighty religio-political force was triggered by the ascent to the papal throne of perhaps its most political of all popes, John Paul ii, in 1978. He powerfully boosted the cause with his timely appeal to Eastern European nations to “return to your [Catholic] roots,” launching what Kepel called “a second evangelization of Europe” at the time of Soviet disintegration.
The hibernating power of Islam was unleashed by the rise of fundamentalist ayatollahs and imams (religious leaders), aided by the polarizing factor of the Palestinian cause, and helped in no small way by the collapse of Soviet rule in its western satellite states. Though the ayatollahs and imams taught differing versions of Islam throughout the Muslim nations, one message rang shrilly through their sermons. Rather than heed the goading of the West to modernize Islam from its many practices rooted in the Middle Ages (the time of its birth under its prophet, Muhammad), their call was to “Islamize modernity”—in a sense, a collective Muslim call to return to their roots.
Another religion given a boost back into prominence by the Soviet Union’s implosion was that of orthodoxy. The Russian, Eastern and Southeastern Orthodox churches, which split from Rome in the 12th century, went into decline for over 70 years under the Soviet Communist regime, as did Russian Jewry. Yet, within five years of the lifting of the Soviet boot off their neck, total active churches in Moscow alone grew from 50 in 1988 to 250 in 1993. By 1994, 30 percent of Russians under 25 years of age declared that they had swung from atheism to belief in God.
Meanwhile, at the same time that the Slavic nations were witnessing religious revival, Central Asia saw the crescent of Islamic resurgence sweep across that Third World region. At the time of the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, preceding the Soviet implosion, only one Islamic seminary and 160 functioning mosques were evident in Central Asia. Just four years later there were about 10,000 mosques and ten seminaries.
Religion, Politics and War
The most articulate historians, political scientists and analysts of current events are tending to agree on one significant phenomenon: During the current decade, most particularly this past year, we moved into unprecedented times. Never in history is there a precedent to match that of a nation of such overwhelming economic and military power as the United States being held to ransom, psychologically, by so few. Over the past ten years, weak, Third World countries such as Rwanda and Somalia have beaten off the power of the U.S. militarily. Two men in a rubber boat have immobilized a U.S. warship in broad daylight. Most recently, 19 men with a few flimsy pieces of steel in their possession changed the whole psychology of America in a matter of moments.
Religion, politics and war are indivisible in the minds of the extremists who populate the front-line shock troops of terrorist organizations. Be it the Irish Republican Army (ira), the Tamil Tigers, Hamas or Al-Qaeda, all use terror in the name of religion to pursue national or international political power.
Take al-Qaeda for instance. They see their mission as an international revolution to bring about a global government under Islamic rule. They call it the Khalifa, and its strength is gained via a new universal creed that fuses Leninist revolutionary tenets with the religion of Islam.
What is intriguing is that many of al-Qaeda’s operatives gained their education on the liberal-socialist campuses of the universities of the West. With middle-class backgrounds, these university-educated converts to militant Islam are the new wave of youthful, bored offspring of a generation which has matured within or under the structure of soft, corrupt elites. Ripe for the plucking, just as the turned-off Western youth of the 1960s and ’70s were to their Marxist-Leninist revolutionary mentors, these young people have been easy meat for brainwashing by fundamentalist mullahs intent on jihad against the West. Nurtured by the widespread Islamic resentment of the power and prosperity of the West, they rationalize the miserable political, social and economic record of Islamic countries by swallowing the neo-Marxist theories that explain Third World poverty as being the result of exploitation by the West.
The worrying thing is the level of popular support which their murderous actions have garnered, courtesy of their religious teachers. “All the perpetrators [of the September 11 attacks] believed themselves to be pious Muslims fighting in a holy war and headed directly to Paradise; they were given support in this belief by some Muslim clerics; a significant section of Islamic opinion has applauded what they did …” (National Review, Nov. 5).
One nation stands out, in particular, as employing a fusion of religion and politics to wage terrorist warfare on Western civilization: Iran.
Iran’s chief long-term foreign-policy goals are the eviction of the U.S. from the Persian Gulf and the marginalization, if not the obliteration, of Israel. Given that Israel and U.S. firepower greatly exceeds that of Iran, the Tehran administration has opted for terrorism as its weapon of choice.
It was religion in politics that created the terrorist group Hezbollah. Not long after their rise to power, Iran’s ayatollahs created Hezbollah as an instrument of terrorist warfare to menace Israel and to force the U.S. out of Lebanon. To say they enjoyed spectacular success in this effort is an understatement. By bombing the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon, Hezbollah put the world’s most powerful nation on the run. The U.S. military simply packed up and withdrew. Ultimately, Israel also abandoned Lebanon.
Cleverly, the ayatollahs have nurtured terrorist cells in the gulf states and directed them against U.S. targets. The slaughter of 19 U.S. airmen at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia demonstrated how Tehran could avoid the inference of direct involvement by having the act carried out in another country. As one astute commentator has noted, “We should be under no illusions: Despite the fractious nature of Iran’s politics, its foreign-policy machinery is highly centralized, and all key decisions—including the selection of terrorist targets—are approved by the spiritual leader (currently Khamenei). This terrorism is not a rogue operation; it serves national-security interests and represents a cool, calculated state decision” (ibid.; emphasis mine).
But Iran is not alone in fusing religion, politics and war into an instrument of foreign policy.
A Case Study
The past decade witnessed a classic case study of the power of religion in politics within Europe.
As this magazine has consistently pointed out, the very first foreign-policy initiative enacted by the newly united Germany in 1991 was to recognize, against all global opinion, the Balkan countries of Slovenia and Croatia as nation-states separate from the Republic of Yugoslavia. This commenced the breakup of Yugoslavia, finally completed by the middle of this year with the imposition of an externally administered security force to maintain stability in Macedonia.
What is not generally highlighted in this scenario is the power and influence of Catholic Germany, under Vatican guidance, in the whole affair.
“The response of the West was defined by Germany, and the response of Germany was in large part defined by the Catholic connection. The Bonn government came under pressure to act from the German Catholic hierarchy, its coalition partner the Christian Social Union party in Bavaria” (Huntington, op. cit.).
As author Samuel Huntington observes, the Bavarian media were heavily leaned upon by the “strong, assertive Bavarian Catholic Church which had close connections with the Church in Croatia ….” This led to a very one-sided approach in television coverage of the war with the Serbs.
The German administration readily embraced former Nazi-sympathizer Franjo Tudjman as Croatia’s leader, considering him “something of a German foreign-policy protégé,” as one German scholar observed in 1995.
The Vatican laid its political cards clearly on the deck, with Pope John Paul declaring Croatia to be the “rampart of [Western] Christianity,” preceding the Catholic-dominated EU in extending diplomatic recognition to Slovenia and Croatia. In a public ceremony in Zagreb that would have been unthinkable half a century ago, the pope seemingly endorsed the murky World War ii politics of the Vatican by honoring Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, an associate of the fascist Croatian regime which persecuted and murdered Serbs, gypsies and Jews during the war.
Make no mistake about it: Ethnic and religious roots run deep—very deep. This is particularly the case when it comes to conflict between Muslims, Christians and Jews.
Revival in the Balkans
The power of religion, forced underground during the Cold War period, in the Soviet-dominated territories, has undergone a dramatic resurrection since the Soviet collapse. It has quickly penetrated the heart of politics. Witness the effect east of the Balkans: “The Yugoslav wars also produced a virtually unanimous rallying of the Orthodox world behind Serbia. Russian nationalists, military officers, parliamentarians and Orthodox Church leaders were outspoken in their support for Serbia, their disparaging of the Bosnian ‘Turks,’ and their criticism of Western and nato imperialism” (Huntington, op. cit.).
In the Islamic Balkan country of Bosnia, the resurrection of religious identity in politics has become very evident since the Balkan breakup. The Balkan Peninsula is replete with a cross-section of multiple identities in its population mix. But as Mr. Huntington eloquently points out in his masterful study of the current conflict of civilizations, during war multiple identities fade. The identity which is central to the conflict becomes dominant. Almost always that identity is defined by religion. “Psychologically, religion provides the most reassuring and supportive justification for struggle against ‘godless’ forces which are seen as threatening” (ibid.).
Communal identities in Bosnia had not been very strong, historically. Muslims, Croats and Serbs lived together in peace, and inter-faith marriages were quite common. Religious identifications prior to the Balkan wars were weak. However, as soon as the Vatican-German initiative began to split the Balkan Peninsula politically, the broader Yugoslav identity collapsed. Religion took on a renewed significance, particularly as fighting intensified in the resultant wars. Each group, Muslim, Croat and Serb, began to identify with its own cultural and ethnic community, defining itself in religious terms.
When the shakeout occurred in Bosnia, it was the Muslims, though not in the majority, who rose to the surface under the devout Islamic leader Izetbegovic. The pressure of Muslim domination led to the flight of Bosnian Serbs and Croats to more friendly territory. Those who remained found themselves largely disenfranchised from employment in the new Islamic state. “Islam gained greater importance within the Muslim national community, and … a strong Muslim national identity became a part of politics and religion” (ibid.).
As Huntington declares, Bosnia was transformed, by the conjoining of religion, race and politics, from being the Switzerland of the Balkans to becoming the Iran of the Balkans.
The recent history of the Balkan Peninsula is a dramatic example of the power of religion, fused with politics, spiced with race (ethnicity), under the pressure of war, to change the whole face of nations.
A Religious War?
Many world leaders have gone out of their way to try and sway global opinion to their claim that the terrorist war declared on the U.S. and the West is not a religious war. But if this be the case, why are they trying so hard to convince us? Perhaps there is more to this than meets the electronic eye of TV. It is time we faced the facts that fly in the face of the pope’s declaration that “religion must never be used as a reason for conflict” (Agence France Presse, Sept. 23), the Archbishop of Canterbury’s statement that the war against terrorism is an “issue of justice” and not a confrontation between Christianity and Islam (Daily Telegraph, Nov. 3), the leaders of the ten asean countries’ endorsement of a declaration at their recent conference “rejecting an attempt to link terrorism with any religion or race” (Malaysian News Agency, Nov. 4), and the statements of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George Bush maintaining that the war against terror is not a war on Islam.
Islamic author Salman Rushdie bluntly declared in a November 3 Guardian article, “Let’s start calling a spade a spade. Of course this is ‘about Islam.’” Rushdie highlighted a fact that the Bush and Blair spin has tried to play down, that there have been “worldwide demonstrations in support of Osama bin Laden ….”
What Salman Rushdie says is right: This is a religious war! It has been declared, loud and strong, by one of its principle antagonists as such. In a videotaped message aired over Arabian television stations, Osama bin Laden said, “This war is primarily a religious war.” Appealing to Muslims worldwide, he said, “Rise in support of your religion. Islam is calling you” (Toronto Star, Nov. 4). This is the opposite message to the one President Bush is seeking to put across to those Muslim states he hopes to retain in the coalition against terrorism.
Salman Rushdie argued that “paranoid Islam” is the fastest-growing religion in the world today. He rightly maintained that to a vast number of Muslims, Islam stands “not only for the fear of God—the fear more than the love, one suspects—but also for a cluster of customs, opinions and prejudices that include their dietary practices, the sequestration or near-sequestration of ‘their’ women, the sermons delivered by their mullah of choice, a loathing of modern society in general, riddled as it is with [perverted] music, godlessness and sex …” (op. cit., Guardian).
Herein lies the problem for Anglo-America. While in the general sense it may be true to say that the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacks against all humanity and even civilization itself, as many have claimed, there is no doubt that the U.S. was singled out by representatives of Islam as the specific target.
Generalizing the target of these attacks, in the way that so many have, as being “Western civilization,” or “humanity,” or “the social order,” trivializes the extent to which sheer blind hatred of America is a real part of the equation.
The United States is a nation hated both for its successes and its excesses, and those who least understand this are U.S. citizens themselves. They have no mind to comprehend it. There is a false morality pervading the whole of American society which is embodied in the U.S. president’s statement in a recent speech: “I’m amazed that people would hate us …. I am like most Americans—I just can’t believe it, because I know how good we are.”
Is American society indeed “good”? Are American citizens on the whole “good”? Is American culture “good”? Is American music “good”? Is the output that the American entertainment industry, which reaps multiple billions in profit each year, exports to the world “good”?
What about its legal system? Is the American judiciary wholly just, or is it downright corrupt, open to the influence of financial incentive to win a case, despite the facts, despite the truth? Is not America one of the largest illegal drug-using cultures in the world? Are not its divorce, teenage pregnancy, sexual deviancy, homicide, rape, theft, arson, embezzlement and general crime statistics a great blot on its national character? Where is this goodness in the great United States today?
To be sure, the nation was founded on the best of human intentions and the best of constitutional principles: “one nation under God.” But that was over 200 years ago. American society today is a far cry from the American society of its Founding Fathers. In fact, an apt description of the state of America today is found in the prophecy of Hosea.
“Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel: for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood” (Hos. 4:1-2).
Simply put, Islam has a case. Even Hashemi Rafsanjani, former leader of Iran, had a point when he railed against the U.S. for “exporting perversion in the guise of entertainment all over the world.”
But does this justify the murderous terror tactics of extremist Muslims against the U.S.? Does this justify jihad? It seems so to the fundamentalist Muslims. For theirs is an intolerant religion that labels all unbelievers as infidels and has a history of converting people by force. Islam’s history is a history of war! It is not a pretty picture. Its history is anything but a history of peace!
Drugs, Guns and Religion
The terrorist cells of the world are drawn together by a web of religious intrigue woven through the drug- and gun-running cartels of the underground. Stretching from Albania to Algeria, Berlin to Bogotá, from Beijing to Bazra, the drug- and gun-running merchants peddle their wares for profit. In the process, the supply lines of armaments to the czars of terror remain open, oiled by huge profits from illegal drugs.
Paradoxically, one of the larger suppliers of heroin to the Western markets is the Northern Alliance of Afghanistan, ostensibly an ally of the West in the Afghan conflict. But then again, we should remember that the Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (kla), ally of the West in the conflict against Serbia, had as one of its chief goals in the Kosovo campaign the seizure and control of the drug- and gun-running corridor which runs from Mitteleuropa via the Balkans clear down to Colombia and points beyond.
It takes a lot of money to run a war. The ira-Sinn Fein alliance found this out quite early and have since largely funded their wicked enterprise through drug-running. Members of the provisional ira turned up recently in Colombia, a chief supplier to the illicit-drug market via its own terrorist cells.
Small wonder, then, that reports should start to emerge linking the ira, its offshoot the Real ira, the Basque terrorist group eta and al-Qaeda. The revered, Islamically religious bin Laden is known to control huge quantities of raw heroin and opium. It is reported that the Real ira has been laundering cash processed via bin Laden’s drug deals. The laundered cash then goes to purchase guns, bombs and other weaponry for use in the “holy” war.
“The overnight rise of heroin trafficking through Kosovo—now the most important Balkan route between Southeast Asia and Europe after Turkey—helped also to fund terrorist activity directly associated with al-Qaeda and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Opium poppies, which barely existed in the Balkans before 1995, have become the number-one drug cultivated in the Balkans after marijuana” (Wall Street Journal, Nov. 1).
This illegal drugs trade, lubricating the passage of illicit arms from as far afield as Iran, China and Russia, is flourishing under the ever-widening religious umbrella of Wahhabi Islam—the puritanical brand of the Muslim religion endorsed by bin Laden, fast becoming the dominant variety of Islam in the Balkan Peninsula.
Even in the Balkans, the seeds are being sown for the fulfillment of a dramatic biblical prophecy: “And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over” (Dan. 11:40). Students of biblical prophecy are aware that this “king of the south” is a powerful leader of the Islamic nations. The king of the north refers to a final resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire, even now in the advanced stages of reforming in Europe.
In the not-too-distant future, this European empire will feel the heat of Islam at its southern doors and will move in blitzkrieg fashion, “like a whirlwind,” to overthrow the Muslim nations. That will be some holy war!
But just as we see the drug- and gun-running activities of these nations being exploited in the interests of Islamic fundamentalist terror, it has its parallel in the Christian world.
In a clear breach of the arms embargo slapped on all former Yugoslav republics in 1991, under the eye of the Vatican, Catholic countries such as Germany, Poland, Hungary, Panama, Chile and Bolivia channeled arms into Croatia to give it the edge in the northern Balkan wars.
As the war heated up, Croatia gathered extra military strength from arms exported from Catholic Spain, that old haven of neo-Nazism, ostensibly in a scheme largely controlled by Opus Dei, the secretive and extremist right-wing Roman Catholic organization. (Opus Dei’s modus operandi in Europe is to seek placement of its members in positions of political power so they can progress the papal agenda for a united Catholic Europe.) These armaments were quickly dispersed not only to the Croatian Defense Forces but to the many Catholic volunteers who rallied to the Croatian cause.
“The Croatian Defense Forces were joined by hundreds and perhaps thousands of volunteers ‘from Western Europe’ who were eager to fight in ‘a Christian crusade against both Serbian communism and Islamic fundamentalism’” (Huntington, op. cit.).
In the meantime, the Orthodox Church went to work to rally its troops behind Orthodox Serbia. Volunteers from Russia, Romania and Greece flocked to join their fellows of the Orthodox faith to fight what they declared were “Catholic fascists” and “Islamic militants.” As with the Catholics and Croatia, the Orthodox friends of Serbia ignored the arms embargo and opened up corridors of supply to send arms shipments to Serbia.
Romania, Bulgaria and the Ukraine were prime sources of supply. The Russians also artfully diverted UN supplies to the Serbs. Russian mafiosi aided with the drug deals to help finance the Orthodox war.
Drugs, guns and religion—the three combine to prosecute and perpetrate the ethnic, religious and terrorist aims of religio-political power groups globally.
Jihad and Crusade
President Bush was roundly condemned for his slip in using the word “crusade” to describe the West’s approach to the war on terrorism.
This war is not, and will not turn into, a “crusade” by Anglo-America against Islam. Anglo-America does not have the heart, the morale, the backbone or the will to crusade for any good that might remain in its decaying culture.
Millions of Muslims live in Anglo-American countries and practice their religion freely, even engaging in aggressive on-campus evangelizing at Western universities. Yet it was evangelizing for their brand of Christianity, not peddling pornography, that drafted Americans onto death row in Afghanistan.
Western democracies’ tolerance of Muslims is hardly reciprocated in Muslim nations. In reaction to this situation, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi declared, “We should be confident of the superiority of our civilization, which … guarantees respect for human rights and religion. This respect certainly does not exist in Islamic countries” (National Review, Nov. 5).
Parroting the pope’s own words, Berlusconi urged Europe to “reconstitute itself on the basis of its Christian [Catholic] roots.”
This response by the prime minister of a Catholic country, within which is domiciled the papal state that rules 1 billion Catholics, shows the clear division between the sides in this war. The initial attacks have been deliberately aimed at the U.S., but Bible prophecy indicates that they will broaden into a far wider theater.
Berlusconi’s reconstructed Europe, based on its traditional Catholic roots, is emerging rapidly. The push by Islam across European frontiers will only accelerate this trend. As European Commission President Romano Prodi mused, “These events have happened at a crucial point in the building of Europe. … The current crisis favors integration by highlighting the need for more intense action. The events of September 11 oblige us to act resolutely and rapidly …” (Daily Telegraph, Oct. 12).
A formidable force is gathering to the north. An ancient crusading empire is rising steadily to power into a position of global dominance economically, militarily and religiously. This power will not draw back as America has when it is challenged to jihad by the collective force of the Muslim nations in the future. That prophesied push by the king of the south will attract a retaliatory crusade that will thrust all previous crusades by the Holy Roman Empire into pallid insignificance.
And it will all consummate in Jerusalem—that troubled, strife-torn city over which Muslim, Orthodox, Christian and Jew have fought for so long.
As our editor in chief has written, “We can see that religion is shaping both the king of the south and the king of the north. …
“These prophecies are exploding on the world scene right now at a dizzying pace. This world is about to be plunged into its greatest suffering ever! … It will all begin in the Middle East. Still, there is great hope” (The King of the South).
In 1994, Pope John Paul ii expressed the hope that at the dawn of the 21st century, “Jerusalem will become the city of peace for the entire world and that all the people will be able to meet there, in particular the believers in the religions that find their birthright in the faith of Abraham” (Parade, April 3, 1994).
Gerald Flurry commented in The King of the South on that statement by the pontiff: “The pope was very accurate in this statement: ‘Jerusalem willbecome the city of peace for the entire world,’ but not the way he believes. … The Bible says we are about to see a religious clash that will stagger this world! This prophecy is yet to be fulfilled. … Jesus Christ will be here in the very near future. And He will bring peace to the entire world! … What a glorious future man has. And all of that glory is going to emanate from Jerusalem!”