Life is difficult. This is something almost everyone can agree on, believers and atheists alike.
But only religious people add to life's difficulties by imagining God inflicts pain and suffering on those who don't comply with whatever commandments their religion believes in.
I was a Catholic briefly as a child. I readily admit that I've never learned why confession is, or at least was, a big part of being a Catholic.
I simply remember that as part of my first communion, I had to confess my sins to a priest.
Being so young, I wasn't much of a sinner. So the best sin I could come up with was not going to mass regularly. The priest told me to recite some Our Father and Hail Mary prayers, which apparently absolved me of my sin and any retribution from God.
Fear of upsetting God is common in religions. When a guru or other holy person is considered to be God incarnate, or at least good friends with God, devotees fear upsetting them also.
Today I came across three separate references related to this notion of fearing God's wrath from very different sources.
This is part of Chapter 18 in Armin Navabi's book, "Why There is No God: Simple Responses to 20 Common Arguments for the Existence of God." That chapter is titled You'll become a believer when you are desperate for God's help.
Desperation often is born out of fear.
The idea behind this is that it's easy to be an atheist when your life is going well, but once you experience hard times, you'll believe in God or at least hope that he is real.
While this claim may be true for some people, it's certainly not a universal truth among atheists. Moreover, the existence of "deathbed conversions" and similar experiences does not prove the existence of God.
They only suggest that people are at their most irrational when frightened, in pain or delirious. The intense fear of death may drive some to accept illogical or irrational views out of desperation for comfort or a way to relieve or lessen their intense anxiety.
...Then, it's not that someone is desperate for God; they're desperate for some kind of comfort and emotional belief. The idea that fear could drive you toward the belief in God only goes to suggest that religious claims are commonly fear-based and not rooted in actual logic or evidence.
Here's a quote from a story in the February 28, 2022 issue of The New Yorker: After the Fall -- The Taliban fought for decades to retake Afghanistan. How will they rule? The Taliban are big on instilling fear, using the Muslim religion as justification for harsh measures.
He [Ibrahim Haqqani] spoke with the assurance of an all-knowing parent: "Severity is a global principle. Whenever there is chaos in a country, strict measures are put in place, and when things become normal again the strict measures can be relaxed."
He went on, "God is patient. If a tribe takes the wrong path, denying the Quran and such things, then God gives them severe punishment. This is God's way and the world's way."
Lastly, this is a passage from Johnjoe McFadden's book about William of Occam and the rise of modern science, "Life is Simple: How Occam's Razor Set Science Free and Shapes the Universe." This is how people looked upon things in medieval times when plague was ravaging Europe.
The first epidemic burned itself out within four or five years but, over the following decades, outbreaks of the plague continued to devastate Europe with grim regularity. Looking for someone to blame, frightened rulers and citizens targeted the Jews and thousands were murdered.
Many others believed that man's wickedness was the cause of the divinely inflicted suffering so, in a bid to appease an angry God, donned sackcloth and ashes to wander from town to town to gather and mutually scourge each other with iron-tipped whips.
Yet flagellating, penance, prayer or purges did nothing to placate the fierce God. None were spared.
...With death around every corner, the scholastics abandoned scientific speculation and took to their prayers. It would be more than a hundred and fifty years before anyone else in medieval Europe took any serious interest in science.