atheism · Bible · Christianity · church · faith · God · philosophy · religion

Is religion just a fear tactic used to control people?

screamThat is often the accusation used by unbelievers in their attempts to argue that Christianity is invalid. But is that argument itself a valid one? As any of us who have lived long enough knows, fear can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the situation. We have healthy fears that preserve our lives, such as the fear of walking into a busy roadway without looking in every direction first. We also have unhealthy fears, like being afraid of going to the doctor for checkups with the illogical assumption doctors only give bad news.

The truth is that the preaching of the genuine gospel can sometimes be a fear tactic. And that’s fine with God because the dangerous consequences of not heeding the gospel are real. God has given us license to use fear tactics when they are based on his truth in pointing people to the true and living God because God’s control of someone’s life is good control with positive end results. Since God has proven himself to be 100% righteous and trustworthy, the end justifies the means here.

According to Jude, we must depend on wisdom from the Holy Ghost with prayer, mercy, and love to know when fear tactics are necessary and when they should be avoided since God has two basic tactics of drawing people to him. Notice here what Jude says:

20 But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost,

21 Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

22 And of some have compassion, making a difference:

23 And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.

We are to go out of our way to show overwhelming compassion toward some of the unsaved people he mentions in the preceding verses (v. 15-19) because some unbelievers only require a very gentle nudge to get God’s message across. Then there are others who need to be scared straight with an urgent hellfire and brimstone message to be shown how serious their situation really is (even to the point of yanking them out of the fire) and how appalled God is at their behavior with a display of disgust at the very tools they use to promote their sin. This is what Jude refers to using the symbolic phrase at the end of v. 23 which also shows up in Zechariah 3:4.

Paul also said, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men…” 2 Corinthians 5:11. In other words, hell ain’t no joke. Proverbs 24:11-12 also makes this plain.

If we want to be frank about fear tactics, even Christianity’s critics use them for control. Fear is used to persuade people not to believe in Jesus by making them believe the lie their lives will be over if they do or that their lives will be boring and ruined if they have to give up their pet sin (despite the fact their pet sin has already ruined their lives). Fear is used by socialists to threaten, bully, and badger people with violence and/or surveillance if they choose not to comply. Fear is used by liberals for mind control to brainwash people into thinking those who don’t think like them are out to keep them from what they’re entitled to, therefore they should envy and become a scofflaw if necessary to get what they want. Environmentalists use it. Educators use it.

Fear tactics for control are in every segment of society. So the question we should really ask is “Is this controlling fear tactic for genuine good or genuine evil?”

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6 thoughts on “Is religion just a fear tactic used to control people?

  1. I understand using the element of fear to bring people into the fold (don’t be left out / excluded / left behind / miss out on heaven / go to the other place … be with us instead / with God instead / go to heaven) – I don’t understand the continued use of fear to keep people in the fold. Too often are people limited to a narrow set of pre-defined rules, anything beyond that and they should fear for their salvation. Some Christians are so afraid of committing sins, that each night they will ask for forgiveness in case they sin in their sleep and in their dreams. They live in fear because of their fear of not going to heaven because of the slightest mistake.

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  2. Not bad… I especially like that you make the point that fear isn’t the ONLY tool we can use to share the gospel. Gratitude for God’s love and mercy are also perfectly good reasons to believe the gospel, as opposed to just getting fire insurance.

    But I think you might have misunderstand this criticism… Most atheist I’ve talk to who have used this argument don’t focus on the the fear of the Hell itself. Rather they argue that Christianity is simply a laundry list of rules to get to out of Hell. The rules, they argue, is what controls people because failing them is punished with Hell…. The way of treating this criticism is to lovingly correct the error. The gospel isn’t about following rules, but simply believing Jesus is the Messiah who died to give you eternal life. Christianity isn’t about being good enough, but recognizing only Christ is sufficient…. Atheist generally aren’t scared of Hell, since they don’t believe it exist. However, they do have a false sense of fear because they believe the Church will burden them with controlling and invasive restrictions on life. To them, the Church isn’t “fun” because it does not allow premarital sex, rated R movies, short shorts, cursing, etc… We NEED to be clear. Each of those topics have importance and God has set certain boundaries to protect us, BUT those aren’t the issue. The only issue relevant for the atheist is whether they believe Jesus died a perfect atonement for sin. Nothing else will make sense unless they understand the gospel by grace alone.

    Also… I am not sure 2 Cor. 5:11 refers to Hell… In the context it makes better sense if the “terror of the Lord” refers to the judgment of Christians at the Bema.

    But not bad… I like what you have going here.

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