Fear is the key to belief in god

As someone who was a very religious (but not fundamentalist) Christian before becoming an atheist, I am drawn to other similar conversion stories. Daniel C. Maguire, a professor of theology at the Jesuit Marquette University has written a book Christianity without God: Moving beyond the Dogmas and Retrieving the Epic Moral Narrative describing his own similar journey.

I have not read the book but did come across an interview where he describes what made him into an atheist and give up the priesthood. The process starts when you decide to reject one aspect of dogma because it is just too much and then the whole edifice starts to crumble because of the removal of just that brick.

I started out as the absolute true believer. I believed everything the Vatican taught. One of the things that helped me was working in a parish. I started to meet real people and to discover that some of the things I had just gotten good grades on were dead wrong.

When you do realize that something is wrong in a system that you thought was airtight, your first impulse is to say, “Well that was the only thing wrong. They were wrong on birth control, but the rest of the structure is fine. God, Jesus, everything else is fine.”

But you’ve been shaken at the foundations and you’re more open to finding more problems in the system. So it was a progressive thing that moved me toward atheism. I finally decided with this book to spell it out in detail.

He points to fear of life not having an external meaning as being a prime driver of belief in god.

I think the main passion of the conservative mind is fear and there’s no greater fear than that the universe is without meaning. That chaos is our destiny. So I think the God concept is very consoling.

I think he is right. I have spoken before of the fear of dying and facing the unknown as a major factor in keeping people religious. The fear of a lack of meaning to life is related to the fear of dying but is more general.


  1. Holms says

    I agree too. I remember being terrified at age four, having just discovered the concept of death due to the passing of the family dog. Upon finding out that I would never see him again, my response was to ask if you come back from death and start another life. My upbringing was not religious, that question didn’t come from anything I’d heard elsewhere; fear alone had caused a scared kid to invent the concept of reincarnation independantly.

  2. Mano Singham says

    I think that the idea of being reunited with a loved one or a pet is one of the major appeals of heaven, not hanging out with god.

  3. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    It would be interesting to compare this with the opposite process- the way intelligent agnostics or atheists like T.S. Eliot or C.S. Lewis moved to being Christians.
    Why should the meaning offered by religion console anyone? It turns life into an unjust obstacle-race and merely moves the question one stage further- if life has a meaning, why doesn’t the meaning have a meaning?

  4. busterggi says

    I’ve yet to get a satisfactory answer from any believer as to what god’s purpose supposedly was for creating death if he wants us to live eternally. Why not just create people in Heaven or Hell as he knows ahead of time where they will end-up.

  5. lorn says

    This is one of my first objections to religions. Long ago I understood that nothing motivated by negative emotions, by definition irrationality, would be good for humanity in the long run. Fear is the foremost of the negative emotions.

  6. kai says

    busterggi @4:
    In a discussion in high school I asked this very same question but immediately had a brainwave and realised that the truth is of course that we aren’t really people—we are the simulations God runs in order to decide if people, were they to be created, would end up in Heaven or Hell. Yet my opponent, the class Christian, did not look much pleased at my solution of the conundrum.

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