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Random Thought of the Day #1

I number it just in case I do have more random thoughts on other days, ya know. Not that it's guaranteed to happen.

Anyhow: What does it say about a religion that its devout followers are most usually described not as "God-loving," or even "God-respecting," but "God-fearing"?

Comments

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silmaril
Aug. 29th, 2005 06:56 pm (UTC)
Good question. One that I've asked a few times, too, both about Islam and about Christianity. It's probably not a coincidence that both religions have had their fringes who have struggled to define their relationship with God as being based on love. Note the word "fringes".
turnberryknkn
Aug. 29th, 2005 07:41 pm (UTC)
(nods) That's a fair question.

I know very little about Islam, but I know a little bit more about Christianity. And at least as most main-line Protestant theology from Martin Luther onwards goes, there's nothing contradictory between the identity of a Christian who loves God -- for his gifts and mercy -- and who fears God -- for his justice. In fact, the two go hand in hand, as part of the entire answer to the question as I commented below, of why if God loves us and is infinitely merciful of all sins, then why can't one sin as much as they want?

The answer ties, I think, right into the heart of what a Protestant sees as his relationship with God. A Protestant (and, for most of it, any other Christian) believes at heart the following ideas:

  • No matter how hard people try, they're bound to commit sin. Even if we manage not to murder, rape, or steal from anyone, we're still can't help but envy, lust, or be prideful. We're not strong enough on our own to be without sin. But...

  • That's okay, because God loves and forgives us, and doesn't condemn us to eternal punishment just because we sin. As long as we do our best not to sin and do our best to live good lives -- good being defined as selfless, merciful, humble, etc, see Sermon on the Mount and other teachings of Christ -- the fact that no matter how hard we try we're going to screw up anyway is okay. We try our best, we fail, that's inevitable because we're mortal. God understands and forgives that. But...

  • There's a big difference betweent trying and failing -- failing which is inevitable because we're weak people -- and failing because we don't even try. If we don't give a rat's ass about living a good life, but instead take pride in being the opposite of good -- where once again good is defined as mercy, selflessness, etc. -- then in doing so we by our actions essentially tell God to go shove it, we don't care what he thinks. Obviously someone who chooses to reject God in that way doesn't fear the consequences -- has no fear of God.

    A Christian, on the other hand, *does* fear the consequences of rejecting God's mercy. It's not necessarily a strictly "afraid we're going to burn in hell" thing -- it could very much be the same way we "fear" disappointing someone who we love every much who loves us very much. The Parable of the merciless servant ties right into that -- the one where the servant gets forgiven by his master, and then the forgiven servant in turn refuses to show mercy to a fellow servant, and finally the master says WTF? (Matthew 18:23-35).


In the Protestant tradition -- an this *is* where Protestant theology, as first outlined by Luther, begins to diverge from the other Christian theologies -- God doesn't actually ask for very much. "Salvation by faith alone" -- one doesn't need to go on pilgrimages or do X penannces or pay Y indulgences or whatnot -- one just needs to have faith in God, and live a life that shows one does. One doesn't have to be perfect -- one just has to do their best. Doing this out of love for God; out of fear of disappointing someone you love and who loves you in return; or out of fear of the consequences that a just God levels against those who deliberately refuse to live the selfless and merciful way that is defined as "good" -- its all kinda one big kit and caboodle, the way I think about it.

Gotta run to architect's meeting...
turnberryknkn
Aug. 29th, 2005 09:12 pm (UTC)
Per my further thoughts to Pokey below, after musing about it on the long walk to and fro the architect's meeting, I guess I never really stopped to think about whether the churches and fellowships I've been a part of were "fringe" or not, and upon careful thought, it's quite possible the church enviroment I've grown up in is not, in fact, representative of the typical Christian church in America. My whole Christian life has been spent in Blue states, and not very much in Red State Bible Belt type enviroments -- which, numerically, make up the majority of Christians. My Christian life has always been spent in the liberal/progressive Christian tradition, the Martin Luther Kings and the Jimmy Carters and the John Kerry's, not the Pat Robertsons or the Christian Coalitions. Come to think of it, it's quite possible the Christian tradition in which I was raised and evolved really isn't all that mainstream at all.

Unfortunately.

I feel a little sheepish for not realizing that earlier. I mean, I myself have ranted in my own diary about that fact now and again...
turnberryknkn
Aug. 29th, 2005 07:00 pm (UTC)
(smile)That's a good question. Like so many things in life, I think, depending on the specific case (religion), it depends.

To take a different example, consider fear of the police. There's lots of people who are afraid of the police -- but for very different reasons. Sometimes we would consider that fear a sign of a good police force -- like when a criminal or would-be criminal is afraid of the police because they will be caught and punished. Sometimes we would consider that fear a sign of a bad police force -- like if a racial or religious minority in a country is afraid of being beaten up by the police for being the "wrong" racial or religious group, or if the populace is afraid of the police because they are an arm of an oppressive totalitarian state. If we believe the police to be a fair instrument of justice, then I imagine being afraid of what the police will do to us if we commit *injustice* is not necessarily a bad thing. If on the other hand, we're afraid of the police because the police *themselves* are an instrument of injustice, then that's unquestionably a bad thing.

So when a group of folks describe themselves as "god-fearing", the question is *why*. At least in the case of Christianity, it ties into the fundamental question of "If God can forgive all sins, then why should I be afraid of sinning?" Or, as the apostle Paul puts it: Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? The answer to that forms the heart of the book of Romans, which is why it's considered one of the more important books Christians consider to be defining what it means to be a Christian.
pokeypenguin
Aug. 29th, 2005 07:18 pm (UTC)
Even if it makes sense that under certain circumstances, you could (and should!) imagine being afraid of the police, I think there is something wrong if that's the primary descriptor you use to describe your relationship with them.

Likewise...
turnberryknkn
Aug. 29th, 2005 07:43 pm (UTC)
(nods nods) See above reply to silmaril.
turnberryknkn
Aug. 29th, 2005 09:05 pm (UTC)
Actually, reflecting on it more on the walk to and from my blueprints review meeting (and it's a *long* walk from one end of the medical campus to the other) I think you hit upon a very, *very* important point which I had overlooked at first, because the churches I've spent my life in were never big "Repent or you'll burn!" churches. Which, as I realized, a *lot* of churches are. And yeah, I'd agree wholeheartedly that there's something very wrong -- and more than that, something dreadfully missing the point -- if the *primary* response is fear...
peglegpete
Aug. 29th, 2005 10:11 pm (UTC)
There's more than one definition of fear. From m-w:
verb: "3 : to have a reverential awe of"
noun: "3 : profound reverence and awe especially toward God"
ex_cerebrate131
Aug. 30th, 2005 09:10 am (UTC)
Ob Cynical Atheist, But Also Probably Accurate: Because a carrot and a stick are more productive than a carrot alone?
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