Excerpt from “Out of God’s Closet” Part 2 (Religion, Fear, and Greed)by Don Lacey on Apr. 25, 2012, under Atheism, Biblical Inerrancy, Christianity, Critical Thinking, Education, Ethics, Faith, Fundamentalism, God & Bible, History, Language, Logic, Power of Prayer, Reason, Religion, Sanity, Terrorism, Willful Ignorance
This is the second installment with permission of the author, Dr. Stephen Uhl.
RELIGION’S ADDICTIVE COMBINATION OF FEAR AND GREED
I remember well responding to such messages, so I readily understand how the credulous person now becomes terrified and feels very inadequate. Sympathize with his fear and insecurity as he says to himself: “What if the preacher is right? He seems so sure of his message! Tradition and my mom support him. Maybe I am inadequate to fight my own battles and repair my own mistakes. I sure don’t want to miss out on the great eternal deal the preacher is offering!” This circular or self-reinforcing system of terror and rewards (stick and carrot) has worked for centuries. Those two strong motivators, fear and greed, figure in here so strongly as to readily establish a self-sustaining cycle.
This self-sustaining stick and carrot cycle helps me understand why most people want to hold on to God or religion. From the days of pre-rational youth, nearly everyone can find reason for distrusting self; older family members, the culture, tradition, the minister, our own stupid mistakes and other authority figures repeatedly gave us reason to distrust our own judgment. For anyone lacking in self-confidence, it is easy to reach for the offered support of redemptive religion, becoming as a little child and believing another more than oneself. Christ is quoted as having said that unless you become as little children you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. The believer feels strong and confident while depending on this superhuman strength, which can motivate him to try to find yet more strength in religion.
The psychological and practical dynamic is very simple and effective. As in classical brainwashing, the first step is to shake the self-confidence that the potential convert may have. Humble him; get him to fear that he is inadequate in himself. For the young and ill-educated, this first stage is usually quite easy. It allows the hearer to become credulous and say “yes,” believing that the trainer, novice-master, or preacher is offering a deal that is superior to what this humbled or guilty one could achieve on his own. So now he jumps at the chance to invest his lowly self to get an eternal reward.
Greed now takes over as he sees he can get a lot for a little. Greed gets stronger as it feeds on itself; the new believer now trusts the salesman’s attractive presentation so completely that he, as a caring person and as an insecure and greedy person, wants to become a salesman or pitch-man himself. This helps him to believe more securely in the promised reward that he now, as the new generation preacher, promises to others. The more believers he can influence to join the righteous, the stronger becomes his own faith. There is, indeed, strength in numbers.
Then a wonderful thing happens on the way to perfection and higher knowledge: the new convert, now a preaching, promising representative of God, experiences a new feeling of superiority and power, a much better feeling than what he experienced as a lowly wretch unworthy of grace. “I was weak, but now I am strong.” The believer’s faith grows stronger the more he preaches it, and so he preaches more enthusiastically, as I myself did. Pretty soon no one can convince him that he might be addicted to the newly found cheap power of being a representative of God with supernatural power.
When Moses couldn’t get the Jews to listen to him as a merely human leader, what did he do? He greedily grabbed a power greater than himself and claimed to have almighty God on his side. The wayward Jews could readily disobey Moses as just a human leader, but when he assumed God’s power, Moses really took charge. “When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, ‘Everything the LORD has said we will do.’” (Exodus 24:3) Cheap power, but very effective!
Is this use of cheap power, using greed and fear as it does, much different from the televangelist collecting money from the ignorant and poor who are truly afraid to miss out on cheap help in solving their very real problems? “Send in just $x.00 to help my poor, and I will pray to Almighty God to bless you. He will bless you infinitely (greed on both parts). And if you ignore the needs of the poor and my great, blessed, divine mission, be careful; you may be ignoring God, and if you ignore him, he may just ignore you for all eternity. Now touch your television screen, and I will send a prayer for you.”
For the believing and insecure, this is powerful stuff; fear and greed work. This team of fear and greed drives a great deal of stock market investment activity; and it powers many more millions in their spiritual investment schemes. So they believe in God in great numbers.
Part 3 on Friday will be: RELIGIONS DO A LOT OF VERY GOOD THINGS