Tim Kreider – author, illustrator, and criminal mastermind behind The Pain Comics, brought up a very interesting point in “Contributions of the World’s Religions, Part 1“. (As a side note, even he admits that Christianity is certainly not any worse than any other religion, but our familiarity with it has bred a healthy – or perhaps damning – dose of contempt, depending on how you view the events of 2,000 years ago. I can certainly relate, as I recall with bitter resentment the countless Sunday mornings watching the same woman for 8 years go between crying her eyes out over the inspirational stories in the Bible and beating her daughter over the head with a well-worn King James for writing such altruistic missives as “Kill the Jews” and “Mohammed Sucks” in between recitations of the Corporal Works of Mercy. )
Anyway, he says:
Most religious people are neither fanatical nor cruel, and most of the world’s religions have produced great philosophers, scholars, humanitarians, and patrons of the arts. But I believe that well-brought-up people would behave decently without any metaphysical carrots or sticks to bribe or threaten them. And assholes, you may well argue, would find some other dogma to be homicidal fanatics about without religion (see, for persuasive illustration, the body counts of noted atheists Mao, Stalin, and Hitler as compiled in the June letters). I still maintain that nothing fills people with such dangerous (and annoying) certitude as the illusion that they have some inside knowledge of the Will of God.
This is something that’s always stuck with me, too. Most of us are generally good people. Sure, we might not always tell the store clerk that they gave us an extra dollar or two in our change back from the pair of pants we just bought, but I’m talking the important stuff. Many of the people I know – religious or not – are good people. Some have chosen to follow a particular path I may not philosophically agree with, but I’m not about to give them a hard time if they don’t want me to join them. The people I don’t understand are those who say that they need – and I mean can’t live without – the paralyzing fear of an omnipotent, omniscient being looking over our shoulder, threatening them with eternal damnation to keep them on the straight and narrow. If that threat did not exist, then they would (fear that they would, at least) revert to some sort of murderous, rampaging proto-human that should be locked away and forgotten. What surprises me the most about them is that they say they are devout Christians … one even claims to be a minister.
The only conclusion I can draw is that faith (or action) that results solely from fear is just self-interest masquerading as devotion. If the only reason a person doesn’t sin is because they’re afraid they’re going to get caught and punished, that does not make them good – nor does it demonstrate any love towards the authority they fear will deilver the retribution. That’s not a love for others or God … it’s a love for one’s self. It says … well, somewhere in the Bible, that faith without works is nothing … since you have to follow through on your beliefs with action. It also says works without faith is nothing … since going through the motions without meaning it doesn’t get you anywhere. Any combination of the two resulting from fear seems, to me, just as empty.