Is fear an effective, legitimate tactic to use in turning people to a religion?

I was watching “Hell House” on the Sundance Channel last night. For those of you that haven’t seen this documentary, it’s about the yearly haunted house put on by a church in Texas.

In the house are images of what this church considers to be mortal sins – scenes of underage drinking and driving, teen sex, abortion, homosexuality, drug use, and the like. Each sin is punished by everlasting damnation, burning in lakes of fire, et cetera.

At one point, the church’s pastor admits that he hopes to get more people coming to church through the use of this imagery. I’m paraphrasing, but this is essentially the quote he used:

“Yes, I’m not above using fear as a tactic to get more people into our church. People should be afraid.”

My question is, do scare tactics like these really work in the long run? Haven’t most of the organized religions gotten away from using these as motivators for increasing attendance?

Moreover, should we be teaching our children that the only reason to go to church is to prevent the bad things, not to receive the light of God? Does the message of God’s love mix with the imagery of the Hell that will await you if you don’t receive it?

Are churches turning to a risk/reward campaign now, since the message of love apparently isn’t working?

Well, I don’t think it’s a good tactic. Happily, my church doesn’t use it.

I doubt that you’ll get many people here who think it is a good way to gain converts.

“It is Hell, of course, that makes priests powerful, not Heaven, for after thousands of years of so-called civilization fear remains the one common denominator of mankind.” -H.L. Mencken [Treatise on the Gods]

I once heard (and am now going to butcher ) a quote that was something like:
“Those who convert out of fear will grow to hate their conversion”

I think there’s more than a bit of truth to that idea.

Why would anyone adhere to religious beliefs if there were no hell (or some such punishment)? Even if you focused on “witholding the award of heaven” to sinners, you’d still be talking about a punishment.

Oh, I dunno, maybe because they think their beliefs are true and morally right? :slight_smile:

It’s Mencken again, same work:

“The fact, however, that threats of Hell have their social uses is not an argument in favor of the truth of religion; it is simply an argument against the human race. More, it is probably libellous, for the overwhelming majority of men and women are not nearly so vicious as the fancy of theologians makes them out [to be]. Very few men, if Hell were proved to be a fiction tomorrow, would take to the highroad and cut throats, and very few women would turn drabs.”

Without Hell, eternal damnation and the Devil how would churches get their tithes ?

Wow, quite a cynical bunch we have here.

I, and a lot of folks I know, adhere to our religions not from fear of hell, but because of the sense of community we derive from it, both with their fellow congregants, but also with God.

Ghengis, I don’t think anyone is saying that the carrot (promise of heaven, sense of community, whatever) never works. They’re saying that when the carrot fails, the stick often succeeds.

I think that a lot of people find it much easier to believe threats than promises. Think about it. Your boss tells you that if you do a really, really good job on something, he’s gonna fly you to Tahiti and put you up in a five-star hotel for two months of paid vacation. You’ve never gotten a bonus from this guy, and you don’t know anybody that’s ever gotten a bonus from him. Conversely, he tells you that if you commit x infraction, he’s going to fire your butt and see to it that you never work in that industry again, and he just might be able to do it. If you’re like a lot of folks, you’ll believe the threat and do everything you can to avoid the infraction, but you won’t believe in the trip until you’re actually in the hotel.

Replace Tahiti with heaven, and being fired with hell, and I think you get what a lot of posters are getting at.

It’s probably effective, but I don’t know about legitimate.

In a way, it’s analagous to training a dog: it’s easy to get an animal to fear you, but fear is not the same as love or respect. Attempting to scare people into religion is a disgusting shortcut, endorsed by lazy ‘faithful’ who care more about appearances than souls.

Fear-vs.-belief is a distinction that my mother often fails to recognize whenever we discuss my agnosticism: her argument frequently comes down to “but what if you’re wrong?” :smack:

I watched that movie on Sundance a couple weeks ago with my SO. It was very funny/sad.

The OP’s quote from the movie:

Not above it? That was what he was explicitly doing! Not only was the meat of the “Hell House” into scaring these people, but the end. If you haven’t seen the movie or have been to a Hell House, here’s what happens.
You travel through certain rooms that have vignettes performed by the church members. These vignettes deal with:

At the end of this trip (that you’ve shelled out money for, of course), you are taken into a room that has two exits. One leads you to the outside, the other, a room for you to pray and pledge yourself to the church. Since you’re taken through as a group, there’s a bit of peer pressure there.

The conversion rate seems to be very high (of course, numbers like these are very easily manipulated):

So…the churches that are putting these Hell Houses on believe this stuff to be true. They are presenting these not only to get people into their congregation, but to save them from these “lives of sin” that they’re leading. Is it wrong/unethical? Yes. It’s obvious coercion to people that are more susceptible to this type of belief system. The churches putting this on believe that this is an ethical way to get people to understand the ramifications of sin on the afterlife. Here’s where it becomes even more unethical

Proselytizing in any fashion seems unethical to me. Deceiving people to go into your Hell House (especially charging them to do so) goes way beyond the pale.

So, what does your religion teach happens to those who don’t adhere? People have lots of communities, and some people think you can commune with god outside a church (assuming one exists) so why be Christian instead of Jewish or Muslim or Hindu?

The growth of Christianity certainly demonstrates that threats do work. Look at the hellfire pastors with big congregations. Look at the Left Behind books.

Legitimacy depends on whether hell exists or not. Since I’m pretty sure it doesn’t, I think using it is an illegitimate tactic.

Sure, I see your point, CrazyCatLady. But to maintain the analogy, after a few dire threats to my livelihood, I’d be looking for another place to work. Just so with religion - I don’t think fear is a sustainable emotion on which to build a community of faith.

To me, the threat would never get me in the door. For those folks for whom it may work, I hope there’s some grace waiting for them once they get inside!

My religion (or, at least my local instance of it) doesn’t presume to judge. The teachings in my local church focus on the consequences of adherence - discipleship, service to God and others, faithfulness, lovingkindness, all that kind of stuff.

I can’t speak for followers of the other faiths. Christianity works for me. I was born in it and raised in it, and I hope my faith has matured as I have. Admittedly, had I been born Jewish, I’d be saying the same thing about Judaism. Heh - being mindful of this keeps me from getting too cocky about my religion being “Right”.

The growth of Christianity demonstrates that all sorts of people respond to all sorts of appeals. The very early Church grew in an era of extreme persecution; today the Church seems more persecutor than persecuted in many ways. Looking around, I can see that threats work – on some folks. Just not on me. I think it’s cynical, though, to think that *only * threats work (I’m not acribing this viewpoint to you, by the way). (On review, I see I could have saved myself a lot of typing if I had just said, “what **amarinth ** said”.)

I think legitimacy depends on whether there’s truth in the teaching, so I guess we agree. But even **if ** Hell consists of fire and brimstone and unending torment, the over-arching message that I derive from Christian teaching is that a life based on hope, faith and active loving is much healthier and happier than one based on fearful avoidance and judging. I’m not sure about the nature of Hell, but I feel fairly confident in the nature of Love. That’s the other cynical attitude to which I objected (again, present company excepted) - that only fear will motivate folks. I choose not to buy in to that one.

For me, it’s all about the love, baby!

Y’know, on re-reviewing, I’m retracting my comment that y’all are a cynical bunch. It’s must Mencken, and even he seems to be trying to argue himself out of his jaundiced view of society in **Cluricaun’s ** quote.

(I’m assuming, of course, that **Rashak Mani’s ** remark implying that the church is only in it for money was strictly facetious! Why, the idea . . . )

It seems to me that recruitment and conversion of new members through duplicity and fear is a creature of worldly politics, found when an organization is working from a mindset of power-politics and money and political advantage, rather than from a humble desire to serve. I am extremely distrustful of any organization that does this.

I may not be a Christian, but that doesn’t stop me from working mightily towards a similar life. :slight_smile:

Christianity has done very, very well for itself using fear as a motivating factor over the last 2000 years or so. So it’s certainly very effective. Whether it’s legitimate or not is something for the followers and leaders of Christianity to decide.

Yes, Johnny Bravo, political organisations that call themselves Christian have done very well for themselves through the use of fear and intimidation.

Fear of missing the Rapture & going through the Tribulation provoked me to become actively Christian when I was 13 years old.

I’m now 42, still actively Christian, no longer adhering to Rapturism nor holding to a traditional understanding of Hell/Damnation. If I did not have that motivational fear almost 20 years ago, I don’t know where I’d be in my spiritual journey.

And I do think there is plenty to fear spiritually for those who don’t entrust themselves to God- meaninglessness in this life & alienation from God in the next. All may well go to Heaven but not all may be ready for Heaven & to them, Heaven may be the worst Hell they could experience.