Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The cult of fear

What strikes me most often talking with Christians is how deeply and thoroughly their outlook on life is permeated by fear. Fear of God and fear of death most obviously: all Christian love, charity, community, cooperation is founded explicitly on the fear of God and judgment after death. One need only look at the vapidity and superficiality of the Christian heaven versus the depth of imagination and sadistic detail of the Christian hell to see that fear, not hope, governs the Christian mind.

But not just the big fears, but the little fears too: fear of change, fear of sex, fear of women, fear of the foreigner and other races, fear of poverty, fear of ostracism; also the superstitious fears: fears of demons, curses and witches. (Many of my own family, well-educated scientifically literate middle-class white Americans all, talk about these superstitious fears in the same matter-of-fact voice that we talk about carpets and cantaloupes.)

The most notable fear is the fear of real freedom, of acknowledging that at the end of the day each person is accountable finally and only to his or her own conscience. To a Christian it is a trope that a person accountable only to his own conscience will necessarily and inevitably commit the most wildly immoral acts: break the sabbath, have sex for fun, fail to tithe, sass the priests, turn pedophile priests into the cops, eat meat on Friday*, eat pork, drink, masturbate and commit even that most heinous and unforgivable sin: denying the holy spirit**. It's inconceivable to a Christian that someone can feel actual empathy for another human being. To a Christian, that empathy is just an act put on in fear of a savage and vengeful God. He knows the falsity of his own feelings; it's inconceivable that another could be sincere.

*Yes, I know, it's no longer a matter of Catholic doctrine.
**Whatever the fuck that means.

I don't hate Christians, but I do pity them and hold them in contempt. How terrible it must be to live your life in fear. I have contempt and disdain too for those who live in fear, for the slave who has so internalized his shackles that he cannot escape even when the shackles of mere iron are cast off. But the admixture of pity keeps the contempt from turning into hatred. And, too, I know and face my fears, and hatred is just the expression of hidden fears.

I have contempt and disdain too because — besides the sword — contempt, not reason or tolerance, is in the end what effects social and personal change. It is only when the king or priest is held in contempt, as an object of ridicule, that he no longer commands the subservience of his subjects. It is only when the racist, the sexist, the bigot is pointed to and laughed at that he conceals his bigotry instead of teaching to his children and endorsing it in his community.

All the Christian — indeed any slave — gives me to work with is his fear. The most benign fear I can work with is the fear of ridicule, and ridicule seems more benign than the fears at the top of the Christian toolbox: torture, death and eternal damnation.


  1. I'm pretty sure that the fear of death is the chain used to tie all religious people (not even just Christians) to their master. Truly comming to terms with one's mortality is a scary undertaking even for the most hardened of men. All religions of which I am aware offer a way around accepting this loudly proclaiming, "death is not the end." This is why, I think, that no matter how good of a job the atheist does at pointing out the problems in a belief in a creator, he will still face someone who can never accept the rational conclusion because the believer is scared shitless of the implications of that conclusion.

  2. One must, I suspect, first lose one's fear (or stop at least being dominated by one's fears) to even hear atheist and skeptical arguments. I think Jefferson said, "The fear of death is the beginning of slavery."

  3. Joseph Scaliger6/19/09, 7:55 AM

    "turn pedophile priests into the cops"

    Does the Catechism of the Catholic Church describe this as sinful?

    "*Yes, I know, it's no longer a matter of Catholic doctrine."

    I think the proper term is "discipline" not doctrine.

    I realize I may sound a bit pedantic, but it seems a bit disingenuous to destroy a stawman of religion. Why not attack the best/most sophisticated forms?

  4. I've been asking for "sophisticated" theism for 10 years. So far I've received only repackaged bullshit and mystical mumbo-jumbo. If you have something to contribute by way of this so-called "sophisticated" theology, I'd like to hear it. If your contribution is not completely stupid, I'll republish it on the front page of the blog.

  5. Joseph Scaliger6/19/09, 8:25 AM

    "So far I've received only repackaged bullshit and mystical mumbo-jumbo. If you have something to contribute by way of this so-called "sophisticated" theology, I'd like to hear it. If your contribution is not completely stupid, I'll republish it on the front page of the blog."

    Why not comment on one of Aquinas's Summae or on something by Augustine? If you could find anything by him, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange's works might be interesting to examine, being good examples of 20th century Neoscholasticism.

  6. Why not comment on one of Aquinas's Summae or on something by Augustine?

    Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

    Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange's works might be interesting...

    Summarize his arguments. Is he worth reading or just a waste of my time?

  7. According to Wikipedia, Garrigou-Lagrange looks like a theologian, i.e. someone who takes certain premises about God as granted and builds upon them. Since the premises themselves are the item of controversy here, theology is a waste of my time. I'm interested only in apologetics.

    Note that if the stated motivation for a belief is fallacious, I have an interest as a skeptic and scientist to propose alternative explanations for observed behavior.

  8. Joseph Scaliger6/19/09, 8:59 AM

    Garrigou-Lagrange's two-volume "God, His Existence and Nature: A Thomistic Solution of Certain Agnostic Antinomies" was what I had in mind. The first volume is a commentary on and development of Aquinas's "five ways." The second volume deals build on the first, arguing that God possesses attributes such as omnipotence, free will, etc. Unfortunately, this work is no longer in print, so you would have to go to a library or the internet to find it.

  9. Aquinas's "proofs" have been examined thoroughly and found wanting; examining further
    "developments" of these proofs is probably a waste of time.

    You have not summarized the arguments of the second volume; you have only stated Garrigou-Lagrange's position. You've given me no incentive to seek out this work.

  10. Ah, that Miguel Pro. What a coward he must have been. ;)

  11. <shrugs> It's a generalization. There are always outliers.

  12. And I don't see you setting yourself on fire on the White House steps.

  13. I'm afraid I'm too philosophically uneducated to even begin to discuss these issues but this gentleman seems to have a pretty fair grasp of things. He does not (in my experience) give tit for tat but if given an intelligent challenge will give an intelligent response.
    Just Thomism

    For my part, I can only answer that my religion has been a balm to my fears of death rather than inflaming them. Of course, wasn't that what John Lennon said, "Religion is the marijuana of the masses"?


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