The Power of Fear and Christianity

228- The Stoning of  Stephen_TIFThere was my name, handwritten in a sloppy cursive script across the front of a crisp white envelope with scotch tape sealing the back flap. Even though excitement and curiosity drove my six-year-old mind to tear it open, I wanted to feel it first. There was something hard and flat on the inside. It had to be money. Unlike other kids, who might have ripped through the paper to get to the prize inside, I carefully peeled the tape off the back and pulled out the typed letter with a nickel taped to the bottom. I do not remember the specifics, but the gist was, if I mailed similar letters (each must have a nickel taped to the page) to five of my friends, I would encounter luck, fame, and fortune all the days of my life. If, however, I failed to follow the directions, doom, despair, and tragedy would follow me to my death. My father explained to me this was a chain letter sent by a superstitious person, but we didn’t believe in that sort of thing. However, the good news was, I could still keep the nickel and buy something from the ice-cream truck that afternoon.

Four decades later, I still see manipulation tactics and peer pressure on a daily basis. A sick feeling wells up in me every time I see a post on Facebook shaming me to share a meme if I love my kids, country, or Jesus. I don’t like to be coerced. I try not to be angry toward the person promoting this silliness, but sometimes I do get angry. Maybe things like this letter contributed to my skepticism. I was challenged last week to quote a scripture a day for seven days, and then challenge two people per day to do the same. I have no problem sharing some of my favorite verses from the Bible, but rather than challenge fourteen random people, I think I would rather engage people about what the text means, instead of just spitting out random scriptures. On a regular basis, Jesus warned religious leaders that not only were they pointing people in the wrong direction, but they also were headed in the wrong direction.

It is good advice in all relationships to avoid pressuring people into conformity. And like the vulnerable person that sent the chain letter I received as a child, insecure and manipulative adults continue to use fear and manipulation to bully nonconformists into compliance. Sadly, this is temporary. Unless you actually inspire an individual to do the right thing, just because it is the right thing, you have failed. I love to read literature, and as far as I am concerned the King James Bible is one of the most beautifully crafted works ever produced. However, that does not mean I agree with the context in which many Christians view it. In fact, quite often I see the stories, principles, and concepts quite damning of fundamentalism. So here is my verse for today; it is found in the gospel of St. Matthew 23:13  “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.


  1. Much of the fundamentalist/conservative Christian worldview consists of cowing the world into observing their moral code through fear, guilt, and shame. Just look at the two main talking points of the conservative Christian right wing—abortion, and same sex marriage. The church (which we must always remember is just people) seeks to use the power of government to solve the abortion problem and maintain the exclusivity of traditional marriage. But the bible and Jesus clearly tell us that, as believers, we must be salt and light to the world. We must demonstrate the principles that we purport to believe and model Christ-like love to everyone, even our enemies. If we do this, we build relationships based on truth and trust. It is only then that we get to “preach” and work in partnership with the Holy Spirit to change a person’s heart.

    Without the heart change, no behavior change is possible. But if the heart changes, then the need to legislate morality goes way. This is what so many of our fellow Christians seem to have missed in their study of scripture.

    • admin says:


      You bring up some excellent points. One of my biggest challenges is being critical of the “church” (I use the term loosely). Sometimes I find myself so frustrated and disgusted with fundamentalists that I want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It is these times I have to back up, take a breath and realize just because there are some outspoken loudmouths, they do not represent the “the church.”

      Thank you for commenting.

  2. Wade Browne says:

    This pressure you speak of is what has turned me off to proselytism and the religions that practice it. I see only the need to be a person of integrity and to love God and your neighbors (everyone). If someone needs to change; this is what will change them. I submit that it is mostly egos that feel the need to openly convert someone. Why, if God is at the head of all things, and we are like him, and his representative displayed humility as a way of life, would he feel the need for this outward display? We are not to be egomaniacs. Christ was not a narcissist by any stretch. And he said he was like his father in heaven. So why does God require all this fawning and posturing? I don’t think he does. I’m Wade, you’re Paule, and he’s God. I think he’s good with honest conversation without all the fanfare. If I as the created can stand on my own without a bunch of props–I’m sure God can too.
    Sorry, I kind of ranted. Love ya brother.

    • admin says:


      What a cool thought. I think you are saying, if God (the ultimate leader) is willing to take a risk and give mankind freewill, then why can’t we humans (minimal leaders) be willing to give our fellow humans the opportunity to make choices for themselves.

      I appreciate you sharing your thoughts!