Fear and Guilt?

Green Genius Says:

I was raised an Atheist in Nor Cal. I would like to ask The Atheist if a feeling of fear and guilt can be conjured in his or herself by religious condemnations. It happens to me since I was a child stemming from the pervasive Christian culture I grew up in. Luckily it hasn’t stopped me from being rational.


11 Responses to Fear and Guilt?

  1. The Atheist says:

    I can conjure up religion-oriented fear and guilt if I try hard enough – but I can’t say that I come by it naturally. I automatically feel guilt if I know I’ve hurt someone on some way, or if I’ve disappointed or betrayed someone in some way. And I automatically feel fear of harm or loss. But I don’t believe that for me any of those feelings have a basis in religion or religious culture. It’s curious that you were raised an atheist and you do feel that sort of thing! I’m glad you don’t let it cloud your reasoning!

  2. Green Genius says:

    It is just a twinge, kinda like the fear of snakes. I have read about a part of the brain that helps its owner to be deluded by religions. So I am wondering if that is where it comes from. But I think it is from watching TV and having religious friends when I was young. I remember being ostracized for saying I didn’t believe in deities also. On another mote my daughter recently went to an atheist camp and it was featured in the local paper. In the article it stated that atheist are less than 2 percent of the US population. Do you agree? This seems small to me. What is the number of college aged atheists?

  3. The Atheist says:

    Perhaps its the other way around. Perhaps the feelings you are describing are not the result of your exposure to religion (at least not entirely). Perhaps instead they are by and large natural feelings that help humans as a social animal to cooperate better and to get along better in a group. Perhaps feelings like these predispose humans for developing a concept of the supernatural?

    Based on the particular feelings you describe, does this make sense, or do you think the feelings are strictly a product of your exposure to religion?

  4. Demodocos says:

    I was raised in a mix climate of both religious fanatics as well as loving orthodox Christians. I also found myself with being coerced with fear and guilt, in the name of God. That was until I was able to distinguish between those who where enacting a Christian theology from those who were enacting tactics of the nation-state (tactics such as coercion by use of fear, guilt, and shame). Thankfully, those religious fanatics who where posing as Christians, haven’t stopped me from being rational/Christian.

  5. Green Genius says:

    Dear Atheist, yes I do think these feelings are sort of innate and easily conjured. But a Pope once said give me the child the first seven years and I will give you the adult. So you see it is an argument of nature over nurture and those arguments are usually put in the 50/50 category I have learned. Demedocos, how do you become a Christian rationalist? Where you born or raised one?

  6. The Atheist says:

    Very astute, Green! The innate cause & religious causes really does boil down to nature vs. nurture.

    Demo, are you saying that you don’t think that the fanatics you mentioned are Christians? And also, are you saying that orthodox Christianity does not use guilt or fear as gambits for coercion in general? Or did you mean that those particular orthodox Christians that raised you didn’t use those gambits? Or am I reading way too much into your response? :))

  7. Green Genius says:

    So I guess it means a lot of us were born gullible, LOL.

  8. Demodocos says:

    Green asked how I became a Christian rationalist, if I was born or raised one? I have been very interested in that question myself (although my saying that I was a rational/Christian was a bit tongue-in-cheek).

    I did say “posing as Christians,” but I might have been a bit hyperbolic… but not by much. Whether or not they were Christians themselves I cannot say, but I can say that the theology they were articulating was definitely not.

    With regards to coercion – I would say that the act of coercion is inconsistent with and even diametrically opposed to orthodox Christianity. That is not to say that there are forms fear and guilt at work within Christian theology, but they find their meaning within a very specific framework where they are not used coercively. Guilt is something individuals must arrive to on their own, in order to right a wrong. And “fear of the Lord” is usually understood in terms of an awareness of power rather than being scared (a carpenter must have a reverent fear of the table saw). However, as many of us have experienced, these things can be used coercively rather than as principles to bring about either self-awareness or peace and wholeness. The whole story of Christ is that he did not coerce people into believing him – not by guilt, shame, fear, or even intimidation. In fact, many have argued that the first three temptations of Christ are temptations to use his power coercively or as a will to power rather than as signs and gifts.

    Of course there are numerous Christians who would disagree with me, but similar to good science, good theology is not determined by a democracy of the masses. I am also aware that this thread was begun by Green asking Atheist a personal question, but I wanted thought it would be helpful to distinguish between good and bad theology (as well as good and bad Christians).

  9. The Atheist says:


    I agree that the coercion of the various modern day orthodox churches is not nearly as overt or drastic as is has been throughout much of their history. However it does strike me a bit odd to call views that have changed significantly over time, “orthodox”.

    Regarding you comments about “good” and “bad” theology: one thing I appreciate about you (and some others as well) is your willingness to discuss the basis for judging a particular theology better than another, rather than simply making a pronouncement by some claimed authority that one is better. While we may not agree that a theological view is the most rational view to hold, we do I think agree that a theological view is better than another if it is more rational than the other, without respect to the number of adherence to either view.

  10. Demodocos says:

    I would rather narrate it this way: When the church has ever used coercion, they were not being consistent with their own theology. A theology, by the way that has been operable and in place from the beginning, as early church documents testifies. One quick example of this is the fact that the church would not let any soldier be baptized into the church until they waited one year. The reason being that they had participated in acts of violence (regardless of the reason). Another example would be the way early church commentators read into Jesus’ silencing of the demons in Mark – they read this act symbolically as Jesus not wanting anyone to confess his name out of fear. I mention these only to show that from the beginning this sort of non-coercive presupposition has been at work.

    Personally, what I think has changed significantly over time is the amount of attention devoted to Christians who have lived atrociously (the reason might be because it is entertaining). Because of this level of attention, people assume that what is being represented to the masses is a valid representation of the whole.

  11. The Atheist says:

    We know that there wasn’t a single theology even at the dawn of Christianity but several theologies, all competing for dominance. For example, we know from the earliest Christian manuscripts that many of the most basic tenets of Christian theology, the relationship between Jesus and the Father, the divinity of Jesus, the humanity of Jesus, etc., was in flux. Throughout the history of Christianity, the nature of God and his relationship to us, and the nature and meaning of the scriptures have been the subject of debate. To make matters more difficult, there are often contradictions within a given theology. This is not to say that any of these differing theologies directly give rise to doctrines of coercion or non-coercion. However it does illustrate that there is not an unchanging theology against which we can compare various doctrines of coercion. Instead, we have to look at the theology of the day to make such comparisons.

    I agree that the Church was not always excessively coercive throughout its history. However, in those extended periods where the Church was excessively coercive, I think it is difficult to argue that the doctrines of coercion were necessarily at odds with the theology of the day. Thomas Aquinas taught that “corruption” of another’s faith was a crime worthy of death (after a few warnings in keeping with Tit 3:10). This is consistent with a view that the worst possible offense is to cause another to suffer eternal torment. On the other hand, interpreting Jesus’s silencing of the demons as a symbolic gesture, as a basis for a doctrine of non-coercion, seems a bit strained.

    I agree that the attention to Christians and their effect on society has changed over time. But I don’t think that the trend has been to steadily pay more attention. I think that the attention has waxed and waned at different times for different societies and for different Christian sects. Also, what is atrocious to some may be acceptable to others. For example, I am far less offended by some street preacher shouting on the corner at passers by, or by TV and radio evangelists, than I am offended by organizations like “The Family” and their doctrines of dominionism.

    The most vociferous Christians seem to be fundamentalist Evangelicals. Sadly, just as you said, that gives many the impression that all, or at least most Christians, are buffoons at best or authoritarian dogmatists at worst.

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