Fear is a powerful and primal emotion. In uncertain times a message that triggers our fears then offers protection against them can often win out over a message of love. It is not fair to say that all messages premised on fear are wrong or predatory but rarely is instilling fear ever necessary. And when irrational fears are stoked by a person or persons to achieve their own desired outcome, whether it is ensuring desired behavior, or achieving a certain result it is weaponizing fear.
The frequent example where irrational fears are often stoked is in the arena of electoral politics. The politics of fear and division is a well-traveled path there. But that does not make it just, especially when those fears appeal to our base instincts. An aspirational message can work to counter the fears but it must come from inspired leadership. Leadership with the credentials, wisdom, and empathy to refute the irrationality, instill hope, and appeal to our better angels.
But there is another arena where I believe fear is too often used as a weapon: the arena of religious doctrine and specifically the treatment of non-believers in the hereafter. The threat of eternal damnation for all those who do not believe in the same god, holy texts, and/or rituals a particular religion espouses.
The problem with such doctrine is that it segregates people based solely on their beliefs and then assigns punishment based upon such a separation. Labels such as “infidel” or “heretic” may also be assigned, further dehumanizing the non-believers. This is not love. Such segregation is as morally bankrupt in the heavens, as it is on Earth. When religions preach that non-believers or atheists are barred from the blessings of the heavens they are hiding behind their scripture to use fear as a weapon.
The use of fear is so widespread that the term “God-fearing” has become synonymous with devout. But I believe the time for this has passed. In this age of sacred love The Greatest Love does not want us to fear Them. They ask nothing from us other than our loving actions while on Earth. They are a god who looks for love, not fear, worship, or obedience. Love.
The problem with equating devotion to fear is that when a religion with such a god says non-believers are destined for eternal torment how are fearful members of that same religion supposed to treat those non-believers? With compassion, or contempt? I worry it is often the latter and this works to further divide people of different religious and non-religious beliefs in our society.
Now what if instead the message was that people’s actions are of greatest import regardless of their beliefs? That a lack of belief may have no bearing on the essence of their soul and it is these actions that reflect the true character of a person. A World where religions welcome opposing viewpoints so long as they are based on love. Not necessarily agree with them, but not condemn, nor affix labels to them either. For atheists can have a loving belief system just as much as theists can. For theists, it is not an atheists lack of belief in any god that should be of concern. Instead it is their belief in love that should be a common ground for dialog.
If I am to believe that The Greatest Love is first and foremost love then how would They treat caring, compassionate people who lived a loving life without believing in any god? Is their lack of belief an aberration that one must be sentenced to eternal damnation for? Surely when the truth is revealed to them upon their earthly death within the loving arms of The Greatest Love, and their lack of belief dispelled, for what reason would The Greatest Love then have for condemning them? A lack of belief while alive on Earth? What sort of god would sentence an otherwise loving soul to eternal damnation solely due to such a lack of belief while on Earth? It is not a loving god. No. It is a thin-skinned and vengeful god. And I do not believe in such a god.
And what if I am wrong?
Then give me this mythical Hell. I believe I have experienced it once before. It was terror beyond imagination. But I would accept it over an even worse Hell: instead of an eternity with no god, an eternity with a vengeful one. I would accept the lesser of these two tremendous evils. I would accept no god over one that eternally punishes otherwise loving souls. Such a god I do not want as part of my existence, either now or in the hereafter.
And I say that without fear. Because I believe that neither of these Hells exist. Using unfounded fear as a weapon is an aberration of love. Fear may have been a necessary and effective weapon in a less peaceful past to illicit unwavering devotion, but today in a relatively peaceful, multi-cultural, and multi-faith World a message of love for all is needed over a message of fear.
Yes a message of love will not win all the individual battles against fear. But over the long arc of history, I believe, love and it’s allies will win the war.