Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Faith by Fear

We have all seen the images on television of the young man eating the bucket 'o grasshoppers and the attractive young lady who has a fear of heights cajoled to scurry across suspended trusses to the ticking of a time clock. But, with each fear presented there is a prize of green waiting at the end of a successful day on the stage of popular reality shows.

I find reality shows to be interesting for the sake of them being oxymoronical. How can something be so real if it is staged and scripted and exposed in any way with the participants knowing what is transpiring? Even the Truman Show could not claim complete reality because only Truman did not know that he was in the bubble. However, when it comes to faith we all know that we are in the bubble.

Being in the faith bubble is not a bad thing in and of itself. This is not bad because it is only God himself who is looking in with a piercing view of love upon his beloved. If all had this image of God then I am sure that the detractors of religion would either not be or they would be much less. In fact, one of the problems is when this loving God is replaced with the fear of death in the fiery scene of the eschaton.

I was watching a popular televangelist who was explaining once again how these are the times that are being described in the biblical accounts of the so called "end times" (even though many a person has done this in every age since the time of Christ until now) and I noticed that his formula was typical but I had never really thought about it very long until now. I noticed that as he preached with the fervor and technique of a well trained orator his message was simple and hackneyed. "Repent, the end is near." When I think of this I usually imagine a bum on the streets of New York who has too much Agent Orange in his system, not a well educated man with $250 ties and $150 shirts. At least with the bum in New York there is a level of honesty and ignorance that cannot be confused with a ministerial bottom line.

The end is near, the end is near, the sky is falling, the sky is falling yelled Chicken Little. At the end of the sermon of doom where nuclear holocaust in the Middle East was foretold there was the typical altar call. "Come to Jesus and you will be saved of all this." As an aside, I am always amazed that people are so desperate to believe in anything that they still fall for this line of preaching.

This type of ministry is very much like the fear based reality shows. You are presented with a particular grotesque event and if you survive then you will receive a reward. The difference is that with the reality show it is by ones own will but the televangelist states that the way to overcome is to come to Jesus and you will be saved. Of course in some sense this is true. Jesus is the salve that heals all wounds and will ward off sin and death. This I do not dispute, but I dispute the utilitarian use of Christ.

Faith based upon fear is not faith at all. If a person is a member of a religion to escape anything save sin then it is dishonest or merely an emotional response which is not a sufficient reason to believe in anything. For this I do not fault the church goers but rather the pastor who makes a buck off the fears of others. In my estimation this is no different than the snake oil salesmen of previous generations.

Faith in God is really a response to His love. The believer must ask himself this question. Does he believe because of what God can give him or does he simply believe because God is true? This question when answered and investigated honestly will be a good measure to the person’s faith. Does he love God because God will save him or does he love God because He is God? These questions can sift through the sandy ground upon which most religions base themselves and can help to bring strength and surety to the faith of the believer.

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