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Faith or Fear: Love of God or saving you from hell?

I’ve written a lot lately about how mission boarding school and growing up on the mission field has influenced my faith and my journey to practicing Presence. Today – I want to dive into the darkness of the journey from a culture of fear, into learning to lead from faith and love.

A topic I have been ruminating on recently: How many of my choices and decisions in life are made based on faith? What decisions were fear-based?

Where does the fear come from? Unfortunately – indoctrination.

I recently read this description of “the church”, which could just as easily apply to New Tribes Missions:

This organization is created to prevent you from going to hell. It isn’t created to take you to heaven.     

Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.

When I have made choices about my career or finances – in particular – were these based on a faith in the abundance of the Source of all Good, or were they reactions based on avoiding pain or fear? What was the role of shame and guilt? And what does this type of decision-making say about my belief systems?

It’s my hope, that by sharing this poast, changes might begin to happen in the way we raise children within the Church. That we stop focussing on “scaring the hell out of them” and start introducing them much earlier on to “God is everywhere present”, “God is love” and “Love is God”.

As I think back to my childhood, and especially to my time in boarding school, I recall doubting salvation. Not just once – many times!
Had I said the words right?
Was it from the heart when I said it?
And I would repeat “the sinners prayer”, just in case.

For starters, I couldn’t actually remember “getting saved” or even getting baptised — although my missionary parents quite proudly touted that I had “accepted Jesus as my saviour” at the tender age of four and insisted on getting baptised with everyone else!

That – like many other moments of my childhood- simply do not exist in the data stored within my conscious memory — one of the human mind’s amazing mechanisms for survival. Boarding school, however, had a particular kind of culture. In that culture, I learnt to simply be unseen: the unseen were never singled out or punished.

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I want to dive deeper into what I understood to be Christianity from those experiences — even though today my read on the Bible takes a totally different perspective!

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – rising up to faith:

Maslow's hierarchy of needs, physiological, safety, social, esteem, self-actualization, fear, guilt, love of God, beatings, physical abuse, threatening parents, using guilt to maintain order, manipulation

I want to begin by introducing our Hierarchy of Needs, because I’m going to be talking about what “motivates” us in life and faith. I particularly want to talk about how this was, consciously or unconsciously, used in the mission to coerce compliance. And yes, I use the word coerce intentionally.

The foundation of our needs (physiological) are very simple: air, water, shelter, food, sleep and clothing. I can say that these might have been occasionally rationed, but I was never in fear of not having them. I might have feared for my soul after death, but not for the most basic of human needs.

Nestled above our physiological needs are vital external needs – particularly safety, which includes our physical and personal security. This was put in jeopardy within the confines of the dorms and school environment (for example, you can see the Fanda Eagles site). I might even include here the fear of eternal damnation – the safety (or lack thereof) of my soul for eternity. Or perhaps that should be on the very foundation of the needs for survival.

In the social needs, are the needs of being loved, belonging and inclusion. Nonetheless, at boarding school – as well as in certain church settings – this hinges upon your good behaviour and meeting the standards of the group to which you belong. Guilt was a tool used to ensure that you “belonged” – as your actions or omissions were judged. While I felt loved by my parents, they kotowed to the rules and regulations of the mission (in order to not be expelled and sent home in humiliation). Belonging was certainly conditioned – not an expression of being loved.

Instead of esteem, there was shame and a lack of self-esteem or self-worth. Status, recognition, strength and freedom hung by a tenous thread of conformity. And for some, it was simply beaten out of them – as they tried to beat the devil out of those kids who had inner strength and failed to conform!

Self-actualization – something you hoped to achieve when you finally left and went off to college. And yet, achieving one’s full potential was most certainly limited to “doing God’s will” within the narrow definitions in which it was explained to us. For most, this meant: you finish high-school, and you go to Bible College, then Boot Camp – and then become a missionary “just like your mum & dad”.

I hope I haven’t drawn for you too negative a picture of the environment we grew up in. Don’t get me wrong — I have some, perhaps many, childhood memories – but I am still dealing with the unconscious beliefs that lie beneath the surface of my strength, independence and self-sufficiency.

What motivates you spiritually?

Eternal-Damnation & Fear as a Motivator:

As a child, I was terrified of coming home and finding no one there.
Had the rapture happened?
Was I left behind, not really a Christian?
There was much too much talk of the rapture and judgement day to provide any sense of security and safety to an overly imaginative child!

Especially when images, like the one below, were the common publications from New Tribes Mission. Consider how much easier it is to control a group of twenty six to 8-year-olds through fear than it is through love.

be a missionary, called, a tough way to live, new tribes mission, reaching all tribes, brown gold magazine, reaching all nations, unreached tribes, preaching the word of God

Fear works! And dorm parents and teachers worked it!

Through fear, we teach compliance – external, rather than internal. So, when Jesus says that adultery is not what you do with another person, but what happens in our mind – he was challenging these very rules and messages. Unfortunately for us, that message was not the one relayed to us!

Jesus loving us was all about death, blood and dying. It was never about living and loving! It was not about living in faith, but hoping that your begging prayers had been heard by a judging God. My prayers, for many years, were fearfully presenting a list of needs to God, in the hopes that perhaps God would deign to meet them.

using fear as a motivator, safety, security, self-preservation, sense of worth, punishment, hell, damnation, brain-washing

How do you teach your child to choose to be loving and kind – when there is no punishment for being selfish or mean? And yet, if you teach them that there is hell and so they simply acquiesce to the external behaviours, but in there heart no change has happened – does it really matter if they are outwardly compliant? So that you, as a parent, or as a church or a mission, can look good?

Warning #2 – beware that you lose your salvation! If you continue to misbehave and disobey the rules, you will lose your salvation and go to hell.

26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

Hebrews 10:26-27 (NIV)

This has nothing to do with truly understanding that God lives within us, but rather is simply avoidance of the “wages of sin” – well, because no one wants to die and get sent to that raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Especially not when you are eleven years old!

I wonder if they ever cared that fear is self-serving – it’s about focusing on your personal survival and safety.

There is nothing authentic about a life of faith that is based on fear!

We didn’t serve others from a love for others or love of God. We served others to avoid the immediate physical repercussions or eternal damnation.

Let’s be honest – this was not about knowing God or even fearing God.

What we feared was death and hell!

Those had become our idols and motivators! Fear may get external compliance, but it doesn’t really give you a change of heart. You choose to “believe in Jesus” because you want to avoid the devil and the demons. I’m pretty sure that if anyone had come along with another option of how to avoid death, demons and damnation – we would quite easily have been convinced to take that option and solution! Is that faith when you are merely trying to avoid unpleasant consequences?

In Part 2, I want to talk about the roles that Guilt & Shame played in manipulating us into “living the right way”, as well as challenging the idea that this somehow took us closer to God!

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Guilt & Shame – motivating you towards God?

I found this article on Faith or Fear? by Sarah Schroeder really helpful when I was making my initial notes to prepare this blog post.

3 comments

  1. I do not choose any faith over another but I certainly believe that guilitng people into doing the “right” things causes a lot of pain and fear for people that they shouldn’t have instead of true motivation to do good. Rather than lectures and finger-pointing we should lead each other by setting good examples, being patient, and open-minded. And being present. I really like how you mention this throughout your blog.

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