What Do We Fear and Why?
“Religion, since it has its source in terror, has dignified certain kinds of fear and made people think them not disgraceful. In this it has done mankind a great disservice: all fear is bad. I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive. I am not young, and I love life. But I should scorn to shiver with terror at the thought of annihilation. Happiness is nonetheless true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting.
…Even if the open windows of science at first make us shiver after the cosy indoor warmth of traditional humanizing myths, in the end the fresh air brings vigor, and great spaces have a splendor of their own.”
Bertrand Russell (1872 — 1970)
That great man, Bertrand Russell, was a philosopher, mathematician, teacher, essayist, Fellow of the Royal Society and winner of the 1950 Nobel Prize for Literature. His words on the dust jacket of Why I Am Not A Christian and other essays on religion stripped from my shoulders the weight of religious belief and led me first to agnosticism and then to atheism.
Since then, I have read a great deal on the subject of religion and probably know more about it and its history than most who believe in a god and attend church. I should add that because I grew up in a Christian family and environment, I know less about Judaism and still less about Islam than I do about Christianity which has historically been more open to inquiry since the Enlightenment than has, for example, Islam. As an aside, if you want to know more about Islam and its mythology, read Ibn Warraq’s Why I Am Not a Muslim.
I find it curious that the general population is more negative about agnostics and atheists than it is about any other minority group in American society. Though the United States Constitution contains no mention of God and states that religion or lack thereof shall not be a bar to holding public office, the view of former president George H.W. Bush is commonly accepted. When asked by a journalist about the equal citizenship and patriotism of American atheists, Bush reportedly answered, “No, I don’t know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God.” Moreover, several states explicitly require a belief in a supreme being in order to hold public office.
It is, I think, revealing that an amply qualified person who honestly states publicly that he/she does not believe in a supreme being will be considered by the majority to be unfit for holding a public office. It appears that other qualifications being equal, honesty about one’s skepticism about a supreme being fails to suggest to the average voter that such a person is more likely to be a good choice for trust.
That might be in the process of changing for the better. Recent reports in the mainstream media reveal that a number of former Christian ministers, male and female, seminary-educated or self-appointed, have left the church and embraced agnosticism or atheism. It seems logical that those presumably most familiar with the Bible would have noticed the inconsistencies in scripture and in the Gospels themselves. There comes a point for thinking individuals when they realize that what they have believed is the divine word of God is in fact the product of fallible and uneducated men.
Some of these are former ministers like Methodist Teresa MacBain in Florida and Bible-Belt pastor Jerry DeWitt in Louisiana who realized that what they once believed was a lie. They have arrived at the logical conclusion that their previous belief was not congruous with the evidence. Other former clergymen who have parted ways with religious belief include Gordon Douglas, Dan Barker, John Loftus, Joe Holman, G. Vincent Runyon, Anthony Pinn, Andrew Johnson and Charles Templeton.
Why did these ministers and others not in the pulpit believe in the first place? Over the years I have developed a theory as to why individuals believe in the existence of a supernatural being referred to as “God.” I call this the FIB Theory.
The FIB Theory—
Fear. Ignorance. Brainwashing. As I see it, these factors explain why people believe in God although many of them are intelligent individuals. Intelligent, true, but they have a blind spot when it comes to belief in a supernatural being who is supposed to be omniscient, omnipotent and good. This supernatural being is a bit like Santa Claus: “…he knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.”
Fear—This category includes several types of fear: fear of the unknown, primarily death, a primordial fear; fear of stepping away from the group to which the person has belonged since birth; fear of being rejected by friends and loved ones, in short, the fear of being alone; fear induced by pain or changed circumstances. There is even terror arising out of imagining one’s non-existence, nothingness.
Ignorance— This means lack of knowledge, not stupidity. Examples include lack of knowledge about the history of the Bible; lack of knowledge of religious beliefs before the Bible was written and of the inconsistencies to be found throughout the Bible and the Gospels; lack of knowledge about science and the origins of the universe and all within it; lack of knowledge about oneself and other human beings, our foibles and failings as well as our strengths.
Brainwashing—We are told from almost the day we are born that there is a God, that heaven exists as a reward for right living and Hell waits below as a punishment for serious misdeeds. People and organizations we trust such as parents, teachers, preachers and the media tell us that there is no doubt that God exists. Evidence that mankind created God rather than visa-versa is avoided.
That then is my FIB Theory. Weigh it based on your own experience and see if you agree or not. I will consider your views and alter my own if the proffered objections convince me that I have erred. That is why it is called a “theory.”
As an adjunct to this subject, I suggest reading my posting dated September 1 titled Religious Faith and Logic that can be located by clicking on the Category “Religion” on the right side of the Home page or by scrolling down through earlier pieces. In that piece, I ask several questions designed to reveal whether the reader’s beliefs are logical or not. If you’ve not read the piece and are willing to answer the questions posed, you might want to do so at your leisure.
I will add before closing that although I consider myself an “aggressive atheist” in the sense that I have no hesitation in declaring my disbelief and explaining why to those believers who are curious, I will not disturb the belief of those who are approaching death in the belief that they will soon be in heaven. These individuals may be suffering from what the evidence indicates is a delusion, but to them it is a comforting delusion. To threaten that delusion is to run the risk that their last days might be filled with doubt and discomfort. That would be unkind. To the rest, I will freely present the lack of evidence that God exists on the assumption that they have the intelligence to weigh the evidence fairly.