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Stephen Uhl

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By Stephen Uhl
Sunday, January 06, 2008

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Fear is a very easy emotion to arouse in insecure persons; and greed of many sorts just as easily motivates the unwary. Religious leaders have recognized this and used the stick and carrot approach most successfully.

 POWERFUL EFFECTIVENESS OF FEAR AND GREED Another understandable reason so many believe in God and the good of religion is religion’s easy use of the combina-tion of fear and greed. These emotions of fear and greed are two of the most basic and powerful human motivators; they are so powerful, in fact, that they can readily override reason’s control with their “stick and carrot” type of drive.

Have you ever made a mistake? Then did you feel guilty or inadequate? And finally, did you feel better when you believed God lovingly forgave you and blessed you with his saving grace? The fear and greed showing here are the underpinnings of a lot of divine faith.

You tend to “listen up” when a figure of authority says, “O you weak and wayward, born in sin, give to the poor; give to my good cause and you will get your reward in heaven. I, your pastor, offer you a great investment program! Give me the fruits of your labor; trust me to use your money productively; trust me to do God’s will; I am your representative, priest or mullah before God. And you get in return? Eternal, endless, perfect happiness in heaven, I promise. Believe me; trust me to keep you from the hell you may deserve on your own without my supernatural help.”


I remember well responding to such messages, so I readily understand how the credulous person now becomes terrified and feels very inadequate. Sympathize with his fear and insecurity as he says to himself: “What if the preacher is right? He seems so sure of his message! Tradition and my mom support him. Maybe I am inadequate to fight my own battles and repair my own mistakes. I sure don’t want to miss out on the great eternal deal the preacher is offering!” This circular or self-reinforcing system of terror and rewards (stick and carrot) has worked for centuries. Those two strong motivators, fear and greed, figure in here so strongly as to readily establish a self-sustaining cycle.

This self-sustaining stick and carrot cycle helps me understand why most people want to hold on to God or religion. From the days of pre-rational youth, nearly everyone can find reason for distrusting self; older family members, the culture, tradition, the minister, our own stupid mistakes and other authority figures repeatedly gave us reason to distrust our own judgment. For any-one lacking in self-confidence, it is easy to reach for the offered support of redemptive religion, becoming as a little child and believing another more than oneself. Christ is quoted as having said that unless you become as little children you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. The believer feels strong and confident while depending on this superhuman strength, which can motivate him to try to find yet more strength in religion.

The psychological and practical dynamic is very simple and effective. As in classical brainwashing, the first step is to shake the self-confidence that the potential convert may have. Humble him; get him to fear that he is inadequate in himself. For the young and ill-educated, this first stage is usually quite easy. It allows the hearer to become credulous and say “yes,” believing that the trainer, novice-master, or preacher is offering a deal that is superior to what this humbled or guilty one could achieve on his own.

So now he jumps at the chance to invest his lowly self to get an eternal reward. Greed now takes over as he sees he can get a lot for a little. Greed gets stronger as it feeds on itself; the new believer now trusts the salesman’s attractive presentation so completely that he, as a caring person and as an insecure and greedy person, wants to become a salesman or pitch-man himself. This helps him to believe more securely in the promised reward that he now, as the new generation preacher, promises to others. The more believers he can influence to join the righteous, the stronger becomes his own faith. There is, indeed, strength in numbers.

Then a wonderful thing happens on the way to perfection and higher knowledge: the new convert, now a preaching, promising representative of God, experiences a new feeling of superiority and power, a much better feeling than what he experienced as a lowly wretch unworthy of grace. “I was weak, but now I am strong.” The believer’s faith grows stronger the more he preaches it, and so he preaches more enthusiastically, as I myself did. Pretty soon no one can convince him that he might be addicted to the newly found cheap power of being a representative of God with supernatural power.

 When Moses couldn’t get the Jews to listen to him as a merely human leader, what did he do? He greedily grabbed a power greater than himself and claimed to have almighty God on his side. The wayward Jews could readily disobey Moses as just a human leader, but when he assumed God’s power, Moses really took charge. “When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, ‘Everything the LORD has said we will do.’” (Exodus 24:3) Cheap power, but very effective!

Is this use of cheap power, using greed and fear as it does, much different from the televangelist collecting money from the ignorant and poor who are truly afraid to miss out on cheap help in solving their very real problems? “Send in just $x.00 to help my poor, and I will pray to Almighty God to bless you. He will bless you infinitely (greed on both parts). And if you ignore the needs of the poor and my great, blessed, divine mission, be careful; you may be ignoring God, and if you ignore him, he may just ignore you for all eternity. Now touch your television screen, and I will send a prayer for you.”

For the believing and insecure, this is powerful stuff; fear and greed work. This team of fear and greed drives a great deal of stock market investment activity; and it powers many more millions in their spiritual investment schemes. So they believe in God in great numbers.


Yet another reason so many people choose to believe in religion and God is that religions and religious people really accomplish good works. Many thousands of volumes have been written to sanctify and magnify these good works by religions. These volumes continue to flow from the presses in an unending flood, so I will not add much to that already great volume of testimony.

Who could ignore the helpful works of mother Theresa, the Salvation Army, the YMCA, the YWCA, Catholic Charities, and some religious schools? Thousands of religious groups work daily to feed the hungry of body and mind. Such groups often help drive the drug pushers from their neighborhoods, bring hope to the hopeless, run schools and social service clubs of many kinds. Religious schools often do a superior job of educating youngsters.These schools achieve good discipline (by whatever means) that is basic to efficient teaching and learning. Recognizing the benefits that religious efforts often contribute to society, it is commonly accepted that religion helps society more than it hurts it. This evident benefit of religion is yet another reason so many believe in God.


Little Tommy (who was Jewish) was doing very badly in math. His parents had tried everything: tutors, specialists, counselors, everything they could think of. Finally, in a last ditch effort, they enrolled Tommy in the local Catholic school. After the first day, little Tommy came home with a very serious look on his face. He didn’t even kiss his mother. He went straight to his room and started studying. Books and papers were spread all over the room, and little Tommy was hard at work. His mother was amazed. She called him to dinner, and, to her shock, the minute he was done he marched back to his room without a word; in no time he was back hitting the books. This went on for some time, day after day, while mother tried to under-stand what made all the difference. Finally little Tommy brought his report card home. He quietly laid it on the table and went to his room and hit the books again. With great trepidation, his mom looked at the report card, and, to her surprise, Tommy got an “A” in math. Mom could no longer hold her curiosity. She went to his room and said: “Son, whaaaat was it?? Was it the nuns?” Little Tommy looked at her and shook his head, no. “Well, then, was it the books, the discipline, the structure, the uniforms?? WHAT WAS IT?” Little Tommy looked at her and said, “Well, on the first day of school, when I saw that guy nailed to the plus sign, I knew they weren’t fooling around.”


Seeing the gross male chauvinism that has stood out in most historic religions, I have asked myself many times, why do more women believe in God and attend church than men? The answer is complex and has a great deal to do with pre-twenty-first century women’s self-confidence and self-esteem.

Traditional male chauvinism in the Bible, Koran and Book of Mormon, following earlier pagan traditions, all assumed God to be male. Some religions have even worshiped God’s phallus. Male priesthoods gave the cushy and powerful religious jobs to men, while women were left to serve in secondary roles if at all. Since the male priests represented a male God, chauvinism be-came institutionalized by history’s longitudinal crowd. Scripturerepeatedly tells women to be silent in church and to be subject totheir husbands. The result in the past has been for women, offici-ally and traditionally treated as inferiors, to consider themselves as inferior. If any fallacy is repeated often enough, it is eventually believed by many!

With low self-esteem resulting from abusive male chauvinism,it is harder for women to be self-confident and self-reliant. So, if chauvinistic society is abusive, dependent women can find strength by escaping into the supernatural. I can understand how a female victim of male chauvinism would readily resort to wish-ful thinking and tell herself: “There just has to be more fairness in the totality of life than this; I deserve better. I feel safer in the arms of Jesus; God will strengthen and reward me.” (The deep religious faith of the abused black slaves in American history was another graphic demonstration of this escapist dynamic of wishful thinking. Though these poor slaves may not have been allowed to read, they were allowed their religion for the consolation, hope and strength they drew from it.) Women’s lack of self-reliance based in male chauvinistic abuse has kept many of them seeking the strength and consolation of a Higher Power with promises of better things to come.

Thankfully, modern American women are shaking off much of the tyranny born of traditional chauvinism. Women are not currently typed “the weaker sex” in America nearly as readily as historically or as in more theocratic parts of the world. Evidence of growing female ego-strength continues to grow rapidly in this early part of the twenty-first century. However, if you go to church or study the pictures of Christian religious crowds, count the heads, yes, even in America, and you will see there is still quite a way to go. Certainly in religious circles, the equality of the sexes is not yet!


Nevertheless, it is difficult to over-estimate the power of women, especially powerful in their roles as mothers and teachers of the impressionable upcoming generation. They are one of the most powerful reasons so many people still feel they must believe or at least act religious or follow old ways. Mothers’ values and beliefs make very deep impressions on their children. A big and common problem develops when mothers are not confident as to how to best raise or teach the children. Too often, in desperation, mothers lacking in self-reliance turn to confident-sounding dogmatic spiritual leaders for guidance. (Can you perhaps still remember your mother telling you that God would punish you if you did not obey her?) I personally shudder at the authoritarian advice I gave to mothers when I was still a celibate and naive young priest. Wow! Talk about the blind leading the blind!

“The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world” more effectivelythan even most mothers admit. One defensive young mother sent the following note by way of her son to his new kindergarten teacher: “Dear teacher, the opinions expressed by this child arenot necessarily those of his mother.” Oh? If mothers and teachers of the very young are self-confidently fact-based, their charges are likely to grow in fact-based self-confidence. If mothers and teachers of the very young are myth-based or superstitious, their charges are likely to grow in superstition-based credulity. Surely no one should feel guilty or ashamed that such lessons from pre-rational days are hard to unlearn. I was in my thirties when I got free of them. Patience, fearlessly free inquiry into anything factual and open discussions produce growth in understanding of reality.

The central concept of superstition as understood throughout this book is very close to the concept as defined by Webster: belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation.

I am confident that modern women are far less superstitious, less credulous and more self-confident than were their grand-mothers. So this generation of mothers and teachers has better ego-strength and greater self-confidence than grandma had. I deeply appreciate observing the current rapid decrease in male chauvin-ism in America and the related increase in modern women’s ego-strength. In this information age, intelligent women are breaking free of their tradition-bound past in unprecedented numbers and with unprecedented influence. This process of personal growth in independence is much easier than for their mothers and grand-mothers. This is a most encouraging modern development.

A great many related influences contribute heavily to human-kind’s belief in the supernatural even in our scientific times. I have very briefly summarized above some of the more powerful contributors to the endurance of supernatural faith in our society. Whether it’s woman power, the influence of wishful thinking, the power of hypnosis with its apparently superhuman power of prayer, the influence of longitudinal or latitudinal crowds, fear and greed for a great deal on free grace, a basic human drive to always want to progress ever further and further, or whether it is from some other source of a lack of self-confidence and self-adequacy, billions of men and women still believe in God, Allah, Yahweh, Satan or some other Power Higher than themselves. It is important, therefore, that we examine in the next chapter the validity of that widely held premise that some power higher than thinking man exists.


A man was sick and tired of going to work every day while his wife stayed home. He wanted her to see what he went through, so he prayed: “Dear Lord, I go to work every day and put in eight hours while my wife merely stays at home. I want her to know what I go through, so please allow her body to switch with mine for a day. Amen.”

God, in his infinite wisdom, granted the man’s wish. The next morning, sure enough, the man awoke as a woman. He arose, cooked breakfast for his mate, awakened the kids, set out their school clothes, fed them breakfast, packed their lunches, drove them to school, came home and packed up the dry cleaning,took it to the cleaners and stopped at the bank to make a deposit, went grocery shopping, then drove home to put away the groceries, paid the bills and balanced the checkbook. He cleaned the cat’s litter box and bathed the dog. Then it was already 11:00 a.m., and he hurried to make the beds, do the laundry, vacuum, dust, and sweep and mop the kitchen floor. He ran to the school to pick up the kids and got into an argument with them on the way home. He set out cookies and milk and got the kids organizedto do their homework, then set up the ironing board and watched TV while he did the ironing. At 4:30 he began peeling potatoes and washing vegetables for salad, breaded the pork chops and snapped fresh beans for supper. After supper he cleaned the kitchen, ran the dishwasher, folded laundry, bathed the kids, and put them to bed.

At 9:00 p.m. he was exhausted, and though his daily chores were not finished, he went to bed where he was expected to make love, which he managed to get through without complaint.

The next morning he awoke and immediately knelt by the bed and said, “Lord, I don’t know what I was thinking. I was so wrong to envy my wife’s being able to stay home all day. Please, oh please, let us trade back.”

The Lord, in his infinite wisdom, replied, “My son, I feel you have learned your lesson, and I will be happy to change things back to the way they were. You’ll just have to wait nine months though. You got pregnant last night.”

(Excerpted from pp. 24 – 33 of Out of God's Closet)



       Web Site: Out Of God's Closet

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Reviewed by 000 000 1/2/2009
Walk in their shoes.
Thank you for this writing. Many will think about these words
Reviewed by alex dihes (алик дайхес) 7/3/2008
my respectful friend, your first phrase "Fear is a very easy emotion to arouse in insecure persons;" is faulty so the rest of the material. what is 'insecure' person. if the write is for an insecure, so explain what is it and where it comes from.

my deepest respect to a master-psychologist.
thank you for your wisdom
in reverence

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