FEAR IS THE TRAP
Come to Jesus, or go to Hell.
-- Bumper sticker
After the prospective Christian has been lured in by hope, they are
driven further in by fear. The refined effects of fear finally becomes a trap
in which that fear, of damnation, becomes part of the horrid result of
questioning one's new faith. Fear is the key that fits the lock on the
Christian's heart. The more orthodox, or fundamentalistic, the Christian's
faith the more this is true. But the fear is almost universally denied by
Christians. They cannot admit this fear to themselves for to admit it is to
be unsure of one's salvation, a sin. If it weren't for biblical fear the
fantastic and unreal hope would soon loose its ability to create an emotional
fix. Like any addiction, it's not so much that one feels better with the drug
than that one feels terrible without it. The grand promises made by the Bible
fail in this life and need reinterpretation. The next life is too distant and
and the expectations for it, while grandiose, are vague and murky. For the
faith fix to work continually it must work against and suppress a fear
inspired by the very same Bible. The Christians created a problem, sin and
damnation, and then they sold the cure.
The Bible tells the Christian that if you don't 'believe' you will be
destroyed (Acts 3:23), damned to hell, tortured and burned for the rest of
eternity. While those who do believe can make mountains jump into the water
on command. There is no escape for more humanistic Christians, Jesus
threatened people with Hell and no one who is truly humane can really believe
in everlasting punishment. His preaching about Hell comes in verse after
verse in which he goes on and on about the wailing and gnashing of teeth as if
he gets a certain pleasure from contemplating this horrid torture.
Christians do not wait for death like a child waits for Christmas, with
giddy excitement waiting to tear open presents. They fear death, deep inside
they fear it as much, or more, than anyone. No Christian funeral is a
celebration, it's a mournful occasion full of tears. Those that don't fear
death seem to be simply weary of life. Christians are unsure of their
salvation in most cases, and deep within themselves they doubt the reality of
The Bible, for a person who merely suspects there may be some truth in
it, is a horror trip. It threatens them with possible damnation if they don't
believe it is the truth. How does the reader, who doesn't know if the book is
honest and correct or not, judge this book? He can't, not if he wants to be a
Christian, for the Bible is suppose to be spiritual and impenetrable to all
but those given by Holy Ghost to know. The Bible offers few rational
arguments for its propositions. Instead the reader is told that it is God who
'elects' the chosen and we can do nothing by ourselves but pray (John 14:6).
Our reader is told that the truth is hidden from the wise. "For since, in the
wisdom of the God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God
through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe" (1 Corinthians
1:21). The Christians around him are reporting experiences he doesn't have,
experiences inaccessible to him and hidden from him by the Christian's
inability to communicate what was experienced. So he must distrust his own
wisdom, read his Bible, pray, and wait for God to do his thing.
We can imagine that our agnostic Bible reader accepts the promises made
by the New Testament, such as "ask and you shall receive," or those promises
made in John 15:5-8. But this faith, after all his asking, praying, and
studying, never comes. There is still something he hasn't done. In fact, his
doubts grow more sever and he thinks he sees psychological trickery in the
Bible's words. The fear remains however. And the fear will remain until our
agnostic Biblical explorer either sets out on a different, atheistic and
psychological, course of study, or his mind, weary of worry and fear, breaks
down and gives him the dreams and delusions he secretly desires. For the
secret thing which he is suppose to do to be a Christian is to pretend, to act
as if he is one. In the end 'belief' means 'obedience.' If he does give in
to the illusion and begins to act as a Christian, (for 'acting,' 'putting on
the new man' is that invisible and secret thing required of the believer), the
fear still remains, it is only covered over, and it will torture him when he
doubts. He will, for as long as he remains a Christian, need his fix of
Many Christians talk about having a personal relationship with God and
needing nothing more, but the truth is that many do need more. Their illusion
needs constant doses of acting out and putting on, demonstrations of faith, to
be maintained. If their belief is not maintained by this actin out the fear
comes rushing in. Being a Bible reading Christian is a nervous condition, one
in which the Christian is rarely content with keeping their faith to
themselves. Many gather in groups, meddle in politics, and demonstrate their
religiosity in public. Christians have a lot to fear from the end of
Christianity and a lot to gain from creating more converts. As their world
becomes more and more secular their illusions become more and more fragile.
This need to witness and act out one's faith is because religious belief
is basically a conscious-attitude activity. For this acting out is the way
they believe, the obeying of their biblical instructions out of fear. It's
not at all like believing one and one equals two, or believing in the
existence of Black Holes, though many Christians claim it is like that. In
most cases those who need to act out their beliefs most energetically are
those that are the most insecure about their salvation status. They are
trying to prove their worthiness to God by playing the role the New Testament
has described. It's this same need to demonstrate one's faith that fills that
coffers of the churches and makes religion a billion dollar business.
For those who are indoctrinated from childhood, as I was, the situation
is even worse. When a child is young, and maybe even enjoying life, and not
very interested in 'religious' concepts, the indoctrination process begins.
We were required to commit to memory things like the Ten Commandments, the
Lord's Prayer, just like we were to remember our multiplication tables. We
learned religion just like we learned history and english, by rote. To the
child each of these subjects is either an arbitrary but enjoyable game that
they're good at, or a awful bore that they're bad at. We did our job, or
played our game, but most of us were waiting for recess and the real play.
When I was a child, going to church and Sunday school, I would never even
have dreamed that one day I would be an atheist. Atheists were characterized
as stupid, dangerous, and even evil. I didn't believe or disbelieve as a
child, I just failed to question authority for awhile. I didn't know what was
what, or whether God existed or not. I didn't care. Later in life all I had
to go on was my fear.
I grew into my early teens with a both fearful and hopeful expectation of
having some kind of subjective religious experience, as so many people reported
having, in which God, or the Holy Spirit did his weird and wonderful thing.
It was happening all around me. Something was suppose to happen to me too. I
began to suspect that it would happen, perhaps a dream or a vision or hearing
God's voice, and I feared it and hoped for it. I wanted to get it over with
so I could finally judge the experience for myself. Yet, it never happened.
I talked to God, but he never answered back. I don't know why it never
happened because I wasn't that different from the others. Perhaps they lied?
I recall one incident in my own religious upbringing that I think can
effectively illustrate the place of fear in the indoctrination process. When I
was about 5 or 6 years old I was taken to church to hear my first hell-fire and
brimstone sermon. The pastor literally screamed as he described all the
tortures of hell waiting for those who did not believe. A few days later I had
a nightmare about being damned.
I remember some of it still. There was a manhole in the middle of a dark
street, just like the one outside our old house, and fire, like a blow torch
flame, was shooting out of the little holes in the manhole cover. The preacher
was there telling me to do something impossible, something I couldn't do. He
was telling me to see Jesus, but there was no Jesus where he pointed. He told
me if I couldn't do that, I might as well be thrown away. The manhole cover
was removed, flames shot up and then subsided into a campfire like flame.
Suddenly I was struggling with the hands and arms that appeared out of nowhere
to grab me and the hands started dragging towards the flaming manhole, which I
knew was the doorway to hell. I saw down into the hole, through a transparent
fire and there were people thrashing and struggling about in some liquid
medium, packed in like sardines, they squirmed and clawed away at each other
trying to reach the surface so they could breathe, but the surfaces was
blocked by something like a layer of glass. They looked up at me with
I was about to be thrown in to Hell when I woke up screaming. My father
came in to see what was wrong. I told him how I was terrified because I
suddenly realized that I really didn't believe like the pastor told me I
should, and that I didn't know how to believe like that. I was afraid I'd be
damned because of it.
My father told me that I couldn't be afraid unless I believed. So, the
only explanation for my fear was my belief. No more belief than that was
necessary. I would be saved and no need to be afraid. Belief was equated
with being afraid of a story? As long as I knew I was afraid, I had nothing
to be afraid of? I guess he tried to explain this the best way he could. I
was too confused to be afraid after that and went back to sleep.
Later, when I was a little older, my father and I would talk again about
the nightmare. I objected to the hidden assumption that equated fear with
belief. I tried to make a case for knowledge and certainty as belief. My
father told me I didn't understand. I asked him to explain, but he couldn't.
All my father could do with me back then back then was point me to someone
else he believed could explain it better, a youth counselor at our church.
But they couldn't explain it either. The pastoral counseling I received
merely tried to reintroduce the fear, telling me I really was at risk of being
damned because of my attitude and my dream was a forewarning of that
possibility should I not change my ways.
I was told that "I must accept Jesus."
"Okay," I said, "I'll accept him. I don't know if it's true, but if he
wants to save me from Hell I'll let him."
"You don't understand. You have to believe." I felt stupid, everybody
was always telling me how much I didn't understand.
"But how can I believe it?"
"By reading the Bible." I was told. The world had to be designed by
God, I was told. History said Jesus existed, even his enemies admitted to
that. And so it went on. At that time I hadn't heard of Pascal's wager but
that was the essence of my concession, if God didn't exist and you behaved as
if he did, then you and the unbeliever both wind up in the same place,
nowhere. However, if God does exist then you wind up in Heaven and the
unbeliever one winds up in Hell. It made sense to me back then, but it was
the same equation, obey out of fear of what might happen if you don't. I
would not express my doubt openly again until I was in high school. I learned
to keep my doubts to myself because the arguments were such a nasty game.
I was afraid of Hell and belief finally meant obedience born out of fear.
My problem was I couldn't understand exactly what kind of rules I was suppose
to obey. Jesus didn't make too many rules I could understand because he was
always talking about internal and ambiguous things. I felt no love for God.
I hated him and I suspected he hated me. I was always knocking, but he never
answered. I was always asking, but he never gave. My doubts were suppose to
be the work of Satan. It wasn't Satan, it was me being me. It was my own
mental integrity that tortured me. My doubts were caused by the incredible
absurdity of Christianity itself.
Most people are revolted by the torture of the body, both of humans and
animals, and feel righteous indignation towards those who do it. But how many
people even understand this torture of a child's mind? All the conceptual
structures on the Christian reality map, damnation, sin, the immortal soul,
faith, and all its other absurd fictions are instruments of torture. It's a
cruel indoctrination process. The purpose of which is to set the priesthood
up in our culture as parasites. They'll be there when your born, when your
married, and when you die, and they charge for these unnecessary services.
The sorriest cases of biblical belief are the hell-fire preachers and
Bible-thumpers we see so often in the lower class, or poverty stricken,
corners of the Bible belt. Their illness is the result of deep biblical
study. These men are headed for psychological breakdowns. The theological
hypothesis that man is but a helpless creature dependent on God's love for
everything, and that prayer is the key to getting what man needs, is a
dramatically flawed hypothesis. Man has but to ask this loving God for peace,
health, and prosperity and they will be given to him. Then why don't these
men have these things if prayer and belief is the modest price? Prayer fails
and the excuse for its failure is our own lack of belief. It is we who are
blamed and theological mumbo jumbo attempts to explain away the failure of the
promises made. How do preachers, supposedly believers, remain authoritative
when they too obviously fail to believe? The mind is inherently too wise to
continue to fool itself for too long. The believer needs help to remain
within the illusion. The final source of religious authority in all these
churches must logically be a closet atheist, whether he knows the whole secret
or not. Only a liar, or a lunatic, could claim authority in a situation where
belief and study can only weaken the mind and its certitude.
Tell some Christians that their faith is nothing but an illusion and
they'll know you don't understand. They know there is more to their faith than
that! It is something they feel. To such a believer any attack on his faith,
any doubt, will begin to unleash the repressed emotion, especially his fears.
He experiences the benefits of his faith directly then, in the same way a
heroin addict experiences the benefits of heroin when on the verge of going
through the withdrawal symptoms. Faith doesn't end the fear of death, it makes
one afraid of life.
On some level the more liberal Christians sense these dark things in
their Bible and that's why we find the phenomena of Christians who do not even
read the book their faith is supposedly based on. They can perhaps quote, or
interpret into, passages about love, hope, or prayer something that seems
quite positive and uplifting and yet these Christians seem completely unaware
of the Bible's darker and more fearful passages. They too are victims of
'faith' and will feel it when it crumbles. I was told by my more liberal
teachers, who did see what I described to them about dreams and subjective
experiences as crazy. But I was then told that it was the ignorance, and even
the insanity, of those people that was distorting the biblical teachings.
"You have to use some common sense when reading the Bible," they told me.
"Jesus said those things to people of a different time, different place, and
different culture. Interpreting what it means to us now is very difficult."
The Bible contained some important truth for these liberals, but what that
truth is exactly they can't say. It has to do with love is all they know.
What kind of nebulous and empty faith they must have who can't even understand
what it is they have faith in!
Some Christian fears are quite real. Can the great mass of mankind,
which has been indoctrinated by religious institutions for thousands of years,
who have not yet supplied much structure for their own lives and minds, take
on real freedom? Would they, as their preachers have been telling them all
along, just fall victim to all sorts of deceptions and temptations unless this
religious direction and structure is imposed on them? Yes! Many of them
would! They will be calling up those 9OO number telephone numbers, the
psychic hotlines they once thought were the work of Satan. They will get
suckered by mystical scams, they will get sexual diseases, they will commit
crimes, and there will be at least a temporary chaos.
Whatever else the church may have done to the Christian it has taken care
of him on some level. Like sheep who are protected from other predatory
animals by the men who will eventually fleece them. Christianity would not
have lasted 2,OOO years if it didn't take good care of most of its sheep.
Without faith the Christian, if not damned, is at least "stumbling through a
world of darkness, losing our way and our very selves," (Quote from 'Faith's
Freedom,' by Luke T. Johnson, published by Fortress Press). If we could take
a life long fundamentalist and turn him into an atheist with a snap of our
fingers would he be able to function adequately? No, he wouldn't, at least
not for some time.
Will he need a support group? May be. Will the ex-Christians be
victimized by some of these support groups? Of course some people will
continue to exploit them. We must be realistic. We can't turn people into
saints by destroying Christianity. Think of the unrealistic hopes that must
be given up, the life in heaven after death, the belief that everything will
turn out alright just because their is a God in heaven who loves them.
Churches, religions, and even ordinary social organizations impose a
certain direction and structure on our lives. One's role is clearly defined
by others or by tradition. The Christianity of the church is heavy with
defined roles and traditions that eliminate one's need to think about these
things. We can expect society to get even more chaotic, with more ideological
confusion and malaise, as Christianity dies.
Christians have a lot to fear from the end of Christianity.
At some level we all feel that we will lose ourselves if we change our
beliefs too radically. The Christian is in the same boat there, and they will
also have to contend with having their naked illusions exposed. This is part
of the price paid for one's illusory beliefs. The longer one lives without
rationalism and atheism the less competent one is at it. Christian belief
blocks mental capacities that would have otherwise helped one in getting past
the rhetorical trickery in the first place. Atheism, by itself, does not
provide any structure or answer questions about what is right and wrong
behavior. Humanism does this, but atheism is only a lack of belief in God
and tells us nothing about what is believed. Atheism is only the freedom from
theism and where you go from there is your own choice. You may even stumble
into something worse than Christianity. One of nature's cruel dictates is
that you cannot abandon reason and not fall victim to something irrational.
For me it's easy now to say "Well, if I'm damned, then at least I'll be
damned for being what I really am instead of pretending to be something I'm
not." I have no other rational choice but find out exactly what it is I am
and to create my own purposes, directions, and structures in life. Learning
as I go along. When I became an agnostic I got sucked into things like
Transcendental Meditation, a waste of time and money, as well as other forms of
mysticism. I was young and gullible, I was trying to confront and shape my
hopes, dreams, fears, and anxieties the only way I knew how.
Cliches like "If it sounds to good to be true, then it probably isn't
true," don't mean much when eternal paradise after death doesn't strike one as
sounding too good to be true. We all have to learn the hard way and we cannot
trust our priests, teachers, politicians, writers, or other authority figures
to be either honest or correct.
The essay above, 'Fear is the Trap,' is intended to be part of a larger
work that will also include 'Hope is the Bait.' The intended title is to be
"The Dark Secrets of Religious Psychotechnology." I will attempt to study
the psychological purposes and intentions of the Biblical authors in light
of Abelard Reuchlin's and John Duran's theory regarding Arrius Piso and his
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