|Popular Patheos blogger Benjamin Corley recently published a book titled “Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.” Corley grew up in an ultra-conservative, hell fire and brimstone tradition where sin, judgment, and the wrath of God were pivotal parts of the theology. Years later, he suffered a mid-life spiritual awakening. He asked himself, “Why would God seek to punish and torture his creation? Why are so many Christians taught that we are undeserving, inadequate, unloved, and damned?” It no longer made sense in his mind. He was over it, and he’s not alone.
Many in our culture have had it with the concept of a judgmental God who has it out for his people. If you doubt that, check out the empty pews. It simply doesn’t square with the teachings and message of Jesus Christ. Corley finally decided, “We can hold a fear-based foundational understanding of God or a love-based understanding of God, but we cannot hold both: love doesn’t fear and fear doesn’t love.”
For the hard core biblical literalists, there is clearly a scriptural basis for this. “Let us love one another because love is from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God for God is love.” The passage continues, “There is no fear in love but perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4) So why is there still so much fear in religion? Corley’s answer, “I think our experience of Christianity, and religion in general, is usually rooted in fear because religions are designed to address the one fear we all hold in common: death.”
Fear has been the mechanism through which religion and many religious leaders have sought to control the people. But the evidence shows that people have grown weary of it. There is enough fear in this world without religion making it worse. What people are hungry for is what Jesus taught: hope, love, compassion, forgiveness, empathy, peace, and truth.
Religion that is to have a future needs to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Does that mean that anything goes? Of course not. Decisions have consequences. Humans have free will. Standards matter. But when faced with whether to live a life of fear or a life of love, love is the better choice. Love is what the world needs. Love is what Jesus taught.
People are tired of being afraid and consumed with anxiety. They are tired of worrying about what “could or might” happen tomorrow. Henri Nouwen says, “When we begin to understand at a deep, spiritual level that we live surrounded by love and in communion with God no matter what the external circumstances, we can let go of the fear that lurks on the outskirts of our minds.” Prayer is a big part of this process.
For Corley, it was an intentional decision to change but one that was long overdue. It opened up an entirely new world that he had never experienced. “Making the conscious decision to reject a fear-based God is the floodgate that leads us to experience not the loss of faith but freedom from fear-based faith in order to discover a truer and deeper faith.”
We must face the harsh reality that people in this culture are simply tired of living in fear and healthy religion helps us face it and move beyond it.