Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fear and Religion

Talking with atheists you can feel a different mindset. They will tell you what they see as the difference. They are smarter or at least more effectively using their intelligence. Religious people are stupid, they use that word a lot, either because they don't have much of an intellect or because they refuse to use it. That is what they see as really sad. When religion prevents people from using their intellect for fear of offending God.

That lack of fear of offending God is what strikes me about them too. The bible says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. They don't have it. We should not be surprised. Liberal Christianity has been declaring the fear of the Lord to be evil for some time now. Catholic tradition has seen it as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit but many modern Catholic and protestant teachers have seen the fear of the Lord as something paralyzing. Something we don't want to instill in kids. They have succeeded. They have raised many children that lack a fear of the Lord.

So what happens? Do people that do not fear God become totally rational? Not exactly. They still have fears. The question is what are they afraid of. Consider Luke 12:4-7:
 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Jesus here does not describe the options as fear or no fear. He describes the options as fearing what we should fear or fearing something less. That is where it goes. We don't lose all fear. We start to fear lesser things. We fear looking stupid. We fear missing out on the superficial pleasures of life. We can become filled with many fears when we lose the one fear we should have and that is the fear of offending God. The fear of sin and the fear of hell.

I find it interesting that Jesus follows up with a word on self esteem and then the command "Do not be afraid." These are the two objections we have to suggestions we should instill the fear of the Lord in people. One is that it is bad for their self image. Such a negative concept is bad for someone's psyche. There is a Freudian overtone here as well. Often the fears are around sexual sins. Doesn't that end up being an unhealthy repression of sexual desires? But Jesus connects his endorsement of fear directly with an assurance of the love of God. Perfect love casts out fear. Not all fears. Love isn't going to cast out a fear of getting cancer. But the fear of offending God can be dealt with precisely because we know God loves us. This is why it makes sense for scripture to tells us not to be afraid. Most fears we have are rooted in a lack of trust in God. Will God provide? Will God forgive? Will God protect? We don't need to fear those things. What we need to fear is evil and our tendency to embrace it. But He who is in us is stronger than he who is in the world. That is what prevents the fear from becoming paralyzing.

So why do atheists and liberal Christians see so much paralyzing fear of God? Their perception is certainly worse than the reality. But there are Christians who do have a paralyzing fear of God. Why does that happen? A lot of it has to do with not trusting the Church. People fear that allowing themselves to think will lead them to become liberal. Mostly they are protestants fundamentalists who have decided they will not question the fundamentals of the faith. So reason shuts down. I can understand that. If it is up to me to defend my biblical faith then I am not going to want to expose that faith to unchristian people who might have stronger intellects and/or stronger debating skills. Pearls before swine and all.

But life changes when you see your church as the true church of Christ. Let them take their best shot. Everyone else does. The church cannot be destroyed. It will stand up to the best and even the worst attacks unbelievers or separated brethren throw at it. So let us reason together. I not only trust God but trust God's ability to instill His wisdom in my mind through His church. There will be an answer. It will not be one contrary to reason. It will not get lost in the mass of theological opinion that makes up protestant Christianity. Through the church, the manifold wisdom of God will be made known (Eph 3:10).

1 comment:

  1. I've had few interactions with atheists so I've always been hesitant to write articles on them.

    One thing that you've brought out in various places that I think is true is that the modern atheists are different from 'classical atheists' in that the modern atheists default to atheism on the grounds that it is the popular thing to do in "college" and that a lot of their exposure to Christianity comes from anti-intellectual types of people which gives the real impression Christianity is superstition. As a result, the Atheist is not only defaulted to their position, they become smug and even antiChristian and thus not open or even able to talk to an informed Christian.

    I know we have nothing to fear, but just being prepared is where I feel I'm not equipped as a should be.