Fear God

photo by TrevinC

“Life sucks and then you die.” Or so said my coworker when she heard about my break-up with my boyfriend yesterday. I laughed, and she promised she would pray for God to take away my troubles. Another acquaintance tried to comfort me by saying I shouldn’t be afraid about finding another man in the future. God would provide, and we have nothing to fear.

Well, sometimes life does suck, being lonely is no fun, and once in a while I wonder if I will find a mate for the long haul who will be an amazing match for me. But am I afraid? Does being an atheist have anything to do with my heartache? I don’t think so, no.

Fear and Humanity

Do atheists fear the world? Is fear a bad thing? Would believing in God protect us from trouble and remove fear from our lives?

(Read more after the cut…)

The Secret Atheist posted a response to an Oswald Chambers quote on fear:

“The remarkable thing about God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.” —Oswald Chambers

There was a time when I thought that all non-Christians lived their life in constant fear. Fear of the future, fear of death, fear that they would be wrong in the end and have to face judgment.

[This] is a lie spread by Christianity in order to protect itself from unbelief. If believers think that without god there is only fear, they will be less likely to question their beliefs.  … I don’t fear everything. I don’t fear god. I don’t fear death.

At first blush, I agree with his reaction to Chambers and those who quote him. I also spent my life thinking non-believers had no hope in life and no comfort in trials. When my father died, I thanked Jesus that I had him to help and console me and that I didn’t have to mourn hopelessly like non-Christians did.

I think I see what Ozzy (as one of my favorite authors as a believer, we’re on a nickname basis ;)) was saying in the sense that fearing God basically meant having a reverential respect and sense of incredible awe towards Yahweh’s powers. If you think your deity is perfect, good, loving, and can do anything for you that you ask for, then I can see how the world and our struggles might appear less daunting or intimidating. If I had Superman in my back pocket, I’d feel pretty safe.

Unfortunately, this view takes away the dignity and power and capability from the individual and places it all on an unknowable, untouchable, invisible being who doesn’t show up in tights and a cape when life goes awry. As believers, we do not teach ourselves to be able and influential if all we focus on is our inability and God’s super-ability.

I much prefer the humanistic point of view that we are empowered to do good, and to do it as best we can. Sure, there will be impossible obstacles to overcome along the way, and no, we won’t have an escape from struggle. But we will know that we chose to act, and we made the world a better place despite any fear or failure.

Life is hard, and some of it is frightening, but we need not bend to fear or tell ourselves that a supernatural superhero is going to come save us. We don’t need to be weaklings or self-deprecating. Even the most imperfect of us can do the most good. We need to work and toil together and hope for what’s real.

photo by TreMegLan

A Personal P.S.

I truly appreciate the kind tweets, emails, and texts many of you have sent in response to my broken relationship. I don’t often know how to reveal that side of my inner life to people—even my closest friends and family. Having virtual and long-distance hugs and kind words come from you really does make an impact on my feelings. Thank you so much. I’m very sad about things ending between him and I , but I am very thankful that we handled it like grown-ups and have split amicably. I’m sure this will be a good thing for both of us in the long run.

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21 thoughts on “Fear of God vs. Fear of the World … and a Break-Up”

No Name Today · February 14, 2011 at 5:21 pm

When we deal with loss, we have each other to lean on. I needed this post today.

    Godless Girl · February 14, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    I hope you find the people and encouragement you need today.

Annie · February 14, 2011 at 5:32 pm

I am dreadfully sorry that your relationship came to an end, but sometimes it really is for the best, no matter how sad it is at the time. I know that much. And my best wishes for your future love life!

I find that I really don’t fear death like some people do. I don’t think I ever really did. I mean, I don’t WANT to die anytime soon, of course, but I’m not afraid of it. I don’t know if there’s anything after, but that doesn’t really matter in the end, like many people think. It’s just the way life is. It’s sad and painful, but endings are just as natural as beginnings.

And, I’ve found, even in the religious, they are afraid of death, of meeting their maker. They’re terrified they haven’t done enough, been good enough, haven’t lived up to that standard to be good enough. So,even with their fear of god, they’re not freed from fear. It’s just one more thing to be afraid of.

Come to think of it, I can only remember ever being deeply terrified of spiders. Still am. Those things are WORTH being terrified of. Otherwise, I’ll leave the cowering in terror to others.

Andrew Hall · February 14, 2011 at 5:50 pm

True story: Back in the day, a friend of mine got a breakup message on his answering machine from his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day.

    greengeekgirl · February 22, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    Oh, your poor friend 😐 that is cold.

Stephen Moore · February 14, 2011 at 6:40 pm

…fearing God basically meant having a reverential respect and sense of incredible awe towards Yahweh’s powers.

Is that a common meaning of ‘fear’ among Christians? It’s a rather strange interpretation of the word. Whenever I see or hear the Christian admonition to “fear God” I’ve always interpreted it to mean actual fear: be scared of what God can do to you, or what an absence of God from one’s life will entail. The respect and awe of Yahweh’s power is, in this fear, not reverential but cowering and needing of appeasement through one’s absolute abject subjugation to Yahweh.

    Nicole Schand · February 14, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    In religious education as a child, fear of God was always explained to me as you said, as “having a reverential respect and sense of incredible awe.” It was something I was always a bit confused about, because while it made sense to fear God in this way, it also made sense to be afraid in the more conventional sense. After all, the guy was known for being kind of violent and nonsensical, and for having complete control over what happened to you for all time.

    So, yes, even if it was originally meant in a different way, fear of God is taken in a very literal sense these days.

    On a different note, I can think of a lot of things more deserving of my fear, in either sense, than a nonexistent deity.

    Godless Girl · February 16, 2011 at 9:58 am

    In my Christian life, I was not afraid of God in the way you describe. God was my buddy and he loved me, so he’d never do anything to hurt me. It was other people who had to be really afraid.

Three Ninjas · February 14, 2011 at 7:23 pm

“As believers, we do not teach ourselves to be able and influential if all we focus on is our inability and God’s super-ability.”

And that really fucks with people.

Roger · February 14, 2011 at 7:44 pm

To believe in a god, and to have any sense that he or she might be changing the things that are happening in your life would require not just major delusions, but also a breathtaking measure of conceit!!!

dan · February 14, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Great post. sorry about the breakup 🙁

TheSecretAtheist · February 14, 2011 at 11:26 pm

I’m very honored that my small post inspired you to write a post on fear as well! Thanks so much for the link!

The realization that the rest of the world doesn’t live in constant fear was one of the things that led to my seeing the truth about religion in general and Christianity in particular. It was one of the many disconnects I saw between what my religion taught and what really was.

And now your post inspired by my post has inspired a new post for me… Interesting. 😀

TBC · February 15, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Forget about god for a second and lets talk about the break-up. You didn’t say much about it. I don’t know how long you were together, I don’t know how you felt about him, and I don’t know the circumstances of the break-up. That does not give me much to go on, but I do have some perspective on being dumped from a serious relationship.

We were young, dated for about 3 years, but knew each other for at least 4 years prior. The relationship was not stress free, as her mother was dying from ALS. About a month after her death, I was hoping for the relationship to turn a corner and we could regain some normalcy. Instead, I get “the phone call”. “I need some time and space.”

I was hurt. Really hurt. My reaction was to do the only thing that would give me some illusion of control. I completely cut her out of my life. I didn’t have many encounters with her, but when I did, I made certain she understood she was nothing to me.

If my goal was to hurt her back, I think I succeeded.

More than twenty years later, I would give anything to do it all over again. Had I been less of an ass, we would still have the occasional contact. I don’t want to rekindle a romance, its just that as you hit the mid-forties, and most of the people that know you are your co-workers, you begin to realize that nobody really knows you. The only people that really know you are the ones you grew up with, dated, and really lived with.

Later, you are really going to need those people. I know its hard, but leave a door open.


    Godless Girl · February 16, 2011 at 10:05 am

    Thanks for sharing your story with us 🙂 And you never know what an effort of reconciliation will do for you. Nothing wrong with apologizing—even 20 years later, right?

    My ex and I broke it off amicably. We were together for just over 2 years. We’re both open to being friends in the future, but we’re not talking right now—probably out of discomfort and just being unsure what we’d talk about. I don’t expect us to stay in touch for many years, but we do care about each other, and it’s nice to not feel bitter or angry about it all.

sinned34 · February 15, 2011 at 2:42 pm

And yet, Christians seem to be the most fearful people on the planet, at least in North America. They seem absolutely taken over by fear of terrorists, Harry Potter, communists, homosexuals, health care, government, atheists, witches, Dungeons & Dragons, the list goes on and on.
Fear can be an important motivating factor, and politicians in particular have become masters of the art of motivating their base. Fear is also a money maker – just look at Glenn Beck making millions off of poorly constructed conspiracy theories and the “if it bleeds, it leads” culture of the mainstream media.

greengeekgirl · February 22, 2011 at 9:41 pm

So sorry to hear about the break-up. I broke up with my current husband twice before we got it together (current and only* I should say–not like I’ve been married more than once!), and it was so hard, both times. But, I did (sort of.. obvs not totally) move on both times, as well ^_^ Sometimes it’s just not the right time or the right person.

As far as the fear thing–well, insofar as your point about the lack of a need for a superhero to swoop in and save the day, I’ve always smiled a little on the inside when someone says, “God helps those who help themselves.” Of course He does–they don’t need help anymore after they’ve helped themselves. It’s the perfect time for a nonexistent entity to step in. I’ve always been sad that people take so much human good and redirect it to the invisible Sky-Daddy.

Jenny · March 14, 2011 at 8:25 pm

I remember one time when I called a suicide hotline, the woman on the phone told me I was lonely and depressed because I didn’t believe in God, and that everybody’s lives suck and it’s going to be great when everybody gets into heaven but they keep living because life is a gift from God.


That’s like the worst thing to tell someone.

I’m very sorry for your break up. I broke up with my boyfriend of four years a few months ago, and I still miss him. Break ups are hard. At least it was amicable, right?

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