Arguments for Religious Belief Based on Fear


Christians’ arguments to atheists are sometimes based on fear, which is only right. Fear is a great motivator, much greater than hope. When a child misbehaves, its mother says, “Just you wait until your father gets home,” inducing fear to influence the behavior.

But unlike the child who may have already experienced the father’s wrath, the unbeliever is appealed to on the basis of imagination. Since the Christian can only hint at the consequences of unbelief, the atheist is left to wonder, and the Christian hoping to make a convert can only hope that the candidate’s speculations will be as overheated and absurd as his own.

All the descriptions of Hell, which are necessarily fanciful, seeing as how no one has ever visited that realm and returned to tell about it, will strike the unprejudiced listener as either comical (an enormous pit of burning sulfur, with residents being herded by pitchfork-wielding imps) or uselessly vague (eternal separation from God, which sounds, in fact, like a good thing, to judge from His malicious nature).

The Christian who believes out of fear is like the little boy waiting for the first time for his father to come home. The God of fire and brimstone is a creation of puerile or infantile fantasies, and just a moment’s reflection will expose this specter as the boogeyman that it is.

What could be more threadbare a theology that one based on fear?

It presupposes a God of petulance and spite, a sadist and a torturer, and a hypocrite to boot. This God commands us to love and forbear and forgive but doesn’t require such conduct of Himself. The Christian God demands above all that we should love and worship Him, and is quite prepared to show his own love by casting us into a bonfire forever if we don’t.

Fear works best when it overwhelms reason.

A child may fear his father but know that a beating can’t go on forever. The Christian asks us to believe in a God that imposes punishment endlessly, and not just for murder, for example, but for disobedience or insufficient devotion.

We’re shocked when we hear of parents who beat their children, or lock them in the closet or tie them to the bed, and we call it cruel and unusual punishment. How much more outraged and repulsed would we be to know of a father throwing his child into a fire? Yet the Christian asks us to blithely accept this possible eventuality? Afraid not.

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