Religion Founded on Fear

Fear is one of our most base emotional responses that expose the core of our evolutionary survivalist instincts, which is why it is unsurprising to me that it is often one of the most easily manipulated emotions when evangelism occurs or when we try to seek out the things that we will be devoted to in any major way.

It seems to me that fear is indeed the most commonly used method of deception then trying to convert someone into a faith system, most especially Christianity and Islam as their holy books are full of references to their respective deity’s wrath and vengeance. I’d go so far to say that I believe the reason these two religions have been so successful at overtaking the world is due to their innate ability to produce the fear response in those seeking to determine whether or not they are true. Fear, in cases like this, seems to almost immediately force one to forget about other methods of determining truth like rationality and the scientific method because it works here as a form of brinksmanship in a not so unfamiliar yet unscrupulous sales model:

Create a problem that must be dealt with quickly, then offer a convenient solution to the problem you created.

In the case of Christianity the problem is sin and the cure is salvation and all of mankind is on the brink of an eternity in hell. This sort of model forces one to make quick decisions based on that fear response rather than what one might normally be inclined to do; examine the evidence of the claim being made and make an informed thought out decision over a period of time.  Were this rational model used in evangelism the results  would be drastically different but the “no pressure” sales approach simply won’t help you meet your quota.

I believe that fear accounts for the majority of religious belief because it is it’s most convincing argument, this being the case one must wonder – is this the sort of faith you want?

I’m really directing these questions at theists rather than my typical atheist audience – but I want you to consider the origin of your own personal faith.  Is it the product of fear of hell? Disappointing god or your family? What drove you to believe what you believe and furthermore, do you think this is a good reason for you to hold on to belief?

At one point in my life I decided to evaluate the reasons behind the devotion I had to my god and ultimately decided that most of it was the result of some emotional fulfillment that it provided me. Whether that fulfillment was the joy I felt when I was serving the god I most loved and feared, or the way I felt when I could help someone going through spiritual crisis. I had to consider that, if my faith is one based on such base emotions perhaps there was a reason – I think that reason is because emotion clouds one’s ability to decipher truth….that’s not a faith worth having for me.



Edit:  Charles has a response to this post on his page – Don’t You Read It.

  • Wendy

    as a christian, i actually agree with you on this point. i think religion alone, will send many people to heal. especially the southern baptist "hell fire and brimstone". i went through years where i question my believes, and the faiths of … well everything. my conclusion to have the faith i do comes from personal experiences. i have actually seen miracles happen in front of me. i dont have that fear you speak of. i must say, when you get around that fear you are speaking of… its very humbling. my God is a God of love, mercy, grace, forgiveness…. i screw up. alot 🙂 i do the best i can, i try to show love, compassion, and charity to other people. i completely agree that you should never choose your faith based on fear!! ….. but i do hope that people see something…. well just a little different, in me. and say screw hell fire and brimstone… i want what she has… i love the way you make people "think" matt!!

  • moonstar

    I know I haven’t believed since I was in 6th grade, the hard part is knowing some of my closest family would disown me for it

    • Sorry to hear that, you aren't alone though.

  • Ben

    Hey Matt,

    There is a movement away from this style of evangelism because of the reasons you have mentioned. Our generation is overwhelmed with information from sources such as the internet. Pastors and evangelists could, in the past, get away with speaking their "truth" and maintaining a following without describing the evidence or the reasons to believe outside of fear of hell or fear of the consequences of sin. Such conventional strategies continue to occur, but the result is definitely negative with many "becoming a Christian" and then falling away from the faith quickly. Personally, I have had some friends do so early in college.

    I have since learned that belief can never be forced down someone's throat. This is part of the reason I never continue an argument or discussion if it becomes too hostile, people stop looking at the evidence, and/or people stop respecting the other person's viewpoint. I know that people have to come to their own conclusions, so I typically present evidence, possible routes of belief, and foundations of philosophy.

    During my last semester of undergrad, I led a small discussion group on my campus for people who were not Christian (typically atheist) or were not sure. We read through portions of the Bible, and when they had questions, I answered with the conclusions I came to, but also told them they needed to seek truth out themselves. I told them there is an aspect of faith in every belief system, so they will never have ALL the answers, but they should make a rational, intelligent choice that acknowledges the future they will be taking. Some continued in atheism (I am just glad they made a decision rather than taking faith in nothing), but a few became Christians who are now prepared to be intelligent in their approach rather than people who never read the Bible or think about the rationality of what they belief.

    I would recommend always revisiting the path you are taking. I chose a different one than you and I also continually revisit the foundations of why I am going this direction. I understand your aggravation with "Christian" America. I felt the same way. I also felt that all Christians were stupid, until I happened upon then Veritas Forum ( which connecting me with some of the greatest minds who also believe in a rational Christianity. Matt, I recommend checking it out. Possibly, rather than fighting the fight from atheism, you might find the fight better fought from Christianity. Or not. Who knows? It is up to you.

    Thanks for listening and I continue to enjoy catching up on your posts when I can. Keep seeking truth.

    -Ben Bissell

    PS: I guess you can say the above is my style of evangelism. 😛 Of course, I never use that word since it is so tainted. Rather, I describe it as natural conversation about my beliefs.

    • Hey Ben, thanks for your comments.

      I'd love to have a group like that around here…I like to explore the Bible with people and help believers become more equipped but find it infinitely sad that so few are willing to even discuss the Bible or even know anything about it. If allowed I can help the church in a big way

      I do constantly revisit and question where I am…though I feel that my current methods of determining truth are far superior to those in my past I think it would be intensely difficult for me to go back to the faith…or any faith really because of those fundamental logical flaws I find in them….

      I am familiar with veritas – one of the members came to my house one day for a soccer match. I gave him my objections to some arguments he had printed out and never heard back…he might get back in touch with me though.

      If the church were more like people like yourself I think it'd be better off and perhaps the world would be a more sane place. Keep it up

  • Eddie

    Wendy says… "my God is a God of love, mercy, grace, forgiveness…. "

    I take it you haven't read your bible, or just hear what you want to when it comes to your god. If your god is the god of the bible, then you clearly don't have a clue as to what kind of a being it is.

    ALL GODS ARE IMAGINARY!! Man made god's, god's did not make men.

  • waynek

    It's a waste of time for everyone to argue with a religious person. It's like the Special Olympics: even if you win, you're still retarded.

  • Aamir Amin

    As a Muslim, my religious belief is based merely on rationality not at all fear. I wonder when you abide by these worldly laws, is that for merely for any fear? OR it is because you intellectually and morally feel obliged to do so. Does a person in the middle of the night, stopping on a red light, fears police?

    When, i for the first time, intellectually believe that there is a God and He is the one who has blessed me with everything in this world, and Who is a wise, all knowing God, and who loves me a lot. That is the moment when i decide that my life should be spent accordingly. That is the moment when i start fearing the thought that a loving God might get angry. The fear in itself originates from the feeling of love. Fear of God is like the fear you have when you think that your certain action might make your loved one angry. I dont see anything wrong in this 🙂 and i dont see Fear as the basis of my belief !

    • Aamir,

      I think it's important to note my preface here with words like "most" and "majority" rather than "all". I know that not everyone arrives at the conclusions they do for the same reasons that others do.

      As far as your analogy regarding red lights – yes I believe your response to a red light is ultimately a fear response – fear of the police, fear of getting killed in an accident, fear of killing someone else in an accident, etc that drive our response to the rule of law because a: the intent of the red light is to prevent accidents and b: because disobeying that law could potentially result in an accident or accident prevention (ticket from a cop). It is a learned behavior that is the result of those fears.

      Perhaps you do not have a primal fear response to your belief in a loving god, but I'd be willing to bet that somehow, somewhere you do.

      Thank you for commenting – I don't get very many Muslim readers.

  • When you say "Christianity" its important to recognize that the fear-based religion you are describing represents the mainstream approach to faith rather than all Christians period (though I dont know that you were intentionally implying that anyways). You accurately describe the mainstream view and their most common motivation for at least joining the faith, yet it doesnt describe the growing minority of liberal/universalist type christians such as myself. For me, the heart of christianity and evangelism is not bringing people in out of a fear of hell. Rather it is about self-transformation and connecting and exploring the "more" or deeper levels of our physical reality.

    • I think I've performed my duty of leaving that open Soto – and in general mainstream beliefs are the ones I talk about.

      I do think it is unbelievably frustrating that you want to connect and explore more/deeper levels of our physical reality yet really don't have much of an interest in science….you'd find much more success there.

  • KillBril

    Hi I stumbled on your blog through and I was immediately triggered. I'm not American, I am a anti-religionist, but I am also very much into the whole Jesus-thing.

    I totally agree that most part of christianity is build on fear and getting 'brownie-points' with god. But I think this attitude is based on a theological-error. It's the error that the apostle Paul writes about in his letter to the Galatians in which he says in Gal 3:1 'O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you'.

    The hypershortversion of this error:
    Most christians don't understand/don't want to understand the concept of Grace. They think they have to perform for God ('Hey, I got eternal life and this dude died for me, it's only logical that god gets some return on investment from me'). But that is totally the opposite of what grace means and wants.

    Grace is not interested in what you DO, but it interested in who you ARE. The story of the prodigal son tries to explain this, but christians made this story into a abolishment in which they focus on the behaviour of the prodigal son. But the author of the story wanted people to focus on the actions and attitude of the father.

    One final example of the big error that creeped into christianity. Romans 8 vers 1 in the KJV says: 'There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit'. That sounds reasonable to a fearfull christian right…
    But part 2 of this scripturetext (who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit) isn't there in the original Greek version. This line is copy-pasted from verse 4. Why? Because believers couldn't live with just: 'There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus'.
    Hey if you are never to be condembed anymore, then you don't have to be fearfull anymore. Christians don't feel comfy with this knowledge, it is just to good to be true, they prefera god which they can control with their do's and don'ts. So they ignore the true message of the gospel 'You are alright with God 4ever'.

    I hope I contributed something usefull to this discussion.

  • moonstar

    Sooooo much tl;dr