Above photo is copyright Patrick Potts, 2010, and may NOT be used in any form without explicit written permission.
How do you feel when someone suggests that there is no god? Most who have an active faith in a god react with a passive aggressive, if not fully aggressive, defensive attitude. Others will smile and say something along the lines of "I will pray for you." But why is this? What is it about simply suggesting the possibility that puts those of faith in a defensive stance? Of course, I'm not trying to suggest that every Christian I have ever met acts this way. That's simply not true. I have had the pleasure of knowing several religious people that are okay with other's beliefs, however different.
So what of the others? The people that react as if they are being personally attacked when someone questions their god? I have wondered for a long time now whether it's a fear of God and his great, overreacting punishment against the people he created, or if it's a fear of losing God himself. Or herself, itself, whatever. I thought about this when I saw a mother trying to convince her child to stop playing with toys at a store and to come along. The mother said, "I'm leaving, come on. I'm going to leave without you." The child looked with fear at her mother and then back at the toys, but eventually couldn't stand the thought of being without her mother and went along with her.
It's common, I know, and I'm sure you've either seen it or said it before. What is actually going on though? Is the child truly afraid of losing her mother, or has the child learned that the next level of punishment for not obeying is worse. Christianity describes God as a Father of all. In logical perspective, this would be an obvious choice for an early, male dominated human culture to develop. Christianity from the very beginning reinforces the image of God as a great father of all. A parental figure who is both loving and chastising.
A Christian may fear the ideas of one questioning God for the simple fact that this would mean swift punishment in some form or another. I have heard many clamoring over recent natural disasters, saying that it was the wrath of God, punishing mankind for all the detestable things we do. Like show cleavage. Or the words of a clearly senile man saying that Haiti was struck with a quake from God for some old pact with the devil. If we are to believe this, then by all means, let's bite our tongues! The mere questioning of God's existence may send us to our rooms for eternity.
Another idea is based around the fear of abandonment. If you leave a child alone long enough, they will become quite upset and likely want the presence of a parent. I see our time as the denial period for religion. It's at this point that the child is furious and upset, knowing full well that his or her parents will return and embrace them in love. When the suggestion is made that the parents will never return, or possibly never existed, the idea is unfathomable. But here is where the example of the child separates from the question of God.
The child has seen his or her parents. The child knows them by sight, smell, and sound. Christians have not seen their God. They have read all the stories (well, some have, most Christians don't even read the Bible), they have heard sermons all about their heavenly parent and his, at times, barbaric laws. The fear of punishment has been instilled for years. But the parent has never been seen. The children are all in a fuss about how great and important their parent is, but they've never met. It's like going to an orphanage and telling the children since birth that they DO have parents, and that they WILL come and pick them up some day, but don't do anything bad or they will know and they may abandon you completely!
It goes without saying that this is far beyond a simple answer. In my experience, the answer is a fear of losing God. A fear of losing a parent, regardless of whether or not that parent ever existed. Most Christians are brought up in Christianity from a young age and are indoctrinated with the idea of God being a father figure. I do believe that the fear of punishment is there, but not until later when the story of Jesus is introduced and the ramifications of denying God are made apparent. What better trick question than, "accept this or go to hell forever." Especially to a child. From that point on I believe it becomes more of a fear of punishment and abandonment. Fear drives humanity to extremes, it's no different for religion. So with that, ask yourself one question; feel free to answer it however you like. What scares you most, God never existing or God punishing you for a lack of faith? Feel free to comment with your answer or keep it to yourself, but please try to be honest with yourself.
Bonus question: What sort of "true love" comes with conditions such as "love me or go to hell forever" ? With this sort of thinking, would it not be okay with God to just put a gun to another person's head and tell him or her that he or she had better love you? I think we all know the answer here. :P