Yesterday John, a commenter on my “Reality is the best religion” post, gave me some advice: “If you desire to become more wise than [sic] consider that wisdom begins with the fear of god.”
I must be a real dumb-ass, because I’ve never been able to muster up much of a fear of God. I’m afraid of a lot of things—death, disease, Bush appointing a Supreme Court justice, missing the final episode of “Survivor”—because I have either directly observed these fears or can reasonably imagine their occurrence.
But I’ve never seen God. And I bet John hasn’t either. So how does he know that it’s wise to fear God? Maybe God doesn’t even exist, in which case fearing God would make as much sense as fearing the boogeyman. I can understand why an impressionable child would believe that something unseen lives under his or her bed and threatens to get them. I can’t understand why a mature adult would believe in an unseen God who is similarly deserving of fear.
Strangely, John also said, “In this world there is nothing so real like the love of Jesus Christ.” Since Jesus is purported to be the son of God, this implies that God also is real. How could a son be more real than his father? I suppose a son’s love could be more real than his father’s love. Yet it seems to me that if God exists, it is much more likely that God’s love would surpass Jesus’ love rather than fall short of it.
Trying to understand why I should fear the loving Christian God, I perused scripture on a “Why Fear God?” web page. It didn’t make much sense. First I read that "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16 NIV). Ah, eternal life: that sounds good. Sign me up.
A bit further down the page, though, I came to "The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.” (Isaiah 8:13 NIV), and also, “But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” (Luke 12:5). Oh, hell: that isn’t appealing. Cancel my application.
The Christian God described in the Old and New Testaments isn’t somebody I want to spend any time with. Certainly not eternity. He’s a father who only loves children who fear him: As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him. (Psalms 103:13)
I also read, “To find balance between love and fear look to your childhood. As children, we all loved our earthly fathers, but we feared the times of discipline (which was for our own good). ‘The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous.’ (Psalms 19:9 NIV)"
Well, I grew up without a father. And my mother believed in maternal love, not fearful discipline. So I guess I didn’t experience the child abuse that apparently is needed to appreciate why I now need the fear of the Lord.
My wife is a psychotherapist. Frequently she counsels people who are being, or have been, harmed by a “good Christian” man who thinks that his woman and children should fear him just as God teaches that He should be feared.
If you find yourself in such a situation, flee it. Do something about it. Fight it. Don’t put up with it. Life is too short and too precious to be lived in fear. Don’t be afraid of a human father, and don’t be afraid of a heavenly father. All too often people put up with fear because they are more afraid of losing the security that an authoritarian father-figure provides.
Mussolini made the trains run on time and Saddam Hussein kept the electricity on. Well, I’d rather wait for a train and eat in the dark than live under a dictator. In the same fashion, I’d rather deal with the consequences of having an open mind than live confined in the dogmatism of a fundamentalist theology.
This page, “Reality versus God and the human illusion of fear” from Escape from Watchtower.com nicely encapsulates the choice between being (in the author’s words) a Mr./Ms. Fundamental, Theist, Formula, Religion person or a Mr./Ms. Mystic, Poet-Thinker, Existentialist, Agnostic, Nontheist person. The author added “science” in the first category, but I question whether it belongs there. For a religion based on fear, such as fundamentalist Christianity, is rooted in a primitive pre-scientific misunderstanding of how the world works.
Science knows that the cosmos is lawful, not arbitrary. The universe shows no evidence of a Zeus-like God who capriciously throws sinners into hell and elevates the faithful into heaven. Yet the religious faithful believe in old texts from a bygone age which were written by people who viewed the world in an unscientific fashion. Those people didn’t know any better; we do. So it is time—actually, long-past time—to embrace spiritual beliefs that are in tune with how reality is, rather than how it isn’t.
Buddhism isn’t immune from rituals and religiosity, but the core of this spiritual philosophy reflects a modern mindset. My Christian correspondent told me that wisdom begins with the fear of God. This excerpt from the second page of an essay called “Why Buddhism?” makes a lot more sense to me:
From the Buddhist point of view, wisdom is based on right understanding and right thought, the realisation of universal law and the development of insight. Insight means not only to see the truth, but to perceive the way of complete liberation from the state of unsatisfactoriness in life.
Therefore, real wisdom cannot be found in academic institutions or in the laboratories of scientific research, nor even in a place of religious worship where people go and pray or perform rites and rituals. Wisdom is within the mind itself. When experience, understanding, realisation and purification are complete, this wisdom, comprising of the highest perfection, will arise and be seen. The aim of life is the attainment of this wisdom. Instead of searching into outer space, man should make the effort to explore the space within. Then he could reach his final goal.
Buddhism advocates right action, or morality, but not out of a fear of God. Rather, “Evil is to be avoided for the welfare of all living beings, not for fear of god or his punishment.” I’ve been a vegetarian for over thirty-five years. The main reason I don’t kill animals for food is because it would seriously bother me to know that I’ve made them suffer. I also consider that karma and reincarnation are part of the fabric of reality, so I also don’t want to incur the consequences of unnecessary killing (which is immediately evident in the form of diseases related to meat-eating).
Believing in universal laws of natural consequences, causes and effects, is much different from believing in a whimsical personal authoritarian God who punishes sinners and rewards the faithful.
This choice of beliefs can be simply encapsulated in a T-shirt slogan.
I’ll take “No Fear,” please.