Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Give the People Hell!

The late scientist Isaac Asimov famously claimed:

  • I don't believe in an afterlife, so I don't have to spend my whole life fearing hell, or fearing heaven even more. For whatever the tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven would be even worse.
However, perhaps “fearing hell” and longing for heaven – the carrot and the stick – serve as necessary social and moral glue. Recently, in the wake of the Colorado shootings, evangelical author, Jerry Newcombe expressed these very sentiments:

  • "Tens of millions of young people in this culture seem to have no fear of God. It's becoming too commonplace that some frustrated person will go on a killing spree of random people. If they kill themselves, they think it's all over. But that's like going from the frying pan into the fire."
  • "Where's the fear of God in our society? I don't think people would do those sorts of things if they truly understood the reality of Hell."
  • "The founders gave us a system where voluntary God-fearing was the underpinning of civility in society. The more internal restraints people have, the less need they have for external restraints.
Although the Huffington Press had libelously and maliciously insinuated that Newcombe had insensitively made these statements in regards to the victims of the shooting, research supports his position:

  • Research shows that if religious thoughts are implicitly aroused in people’s unconscious, they will be less dishonest and more charitable…But why? Well, if supernatural punishment increases adherence to moral norms, and economic success rests on minimizing corruption and maximizing honest trade, then it makes sense that these types of religious beliefs could have a large scale impact. Indeed, we and others have argued that religious beliefs—and in particular those regarding omniscient, punitive supernatural agents that police our moral behavior—may have been instrumental in producing the level of cooperation required for early societies to grow beyond small groups where everybody knew each other.
Atheist turned Christian, Peter Hitchens - he's the brother of the late atheist Christopher Hitchens - wrote that the fear of eternal punishment had kept his immoral behavior in check and eventually led him to call upon the Lord. And he is not alone in this. One survey found that 26% admitted that the fear of hell had been at least somewhat responsible for their turning their back on sin.

Instead of criticizing religions’ teachings regarding ultimate rewards and punishments, perhaps secularism needs to acknowledge the wisdom behind such teachings.

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