During the EU Referendum campaign, the term ‘Project Fear’ was frequently used by the Leave campaign to describe the position taken by the Remain campaign, as they so emphasised the dangers to our economy of a departure from the EU. Sometimes the term was used the other way round, i.e. to refer to the fear of immigration and the fear of ever closer union.
Regardless of the relevance to the issues, the term reminded me of the way many people have described Christianity. They claim the Church tries to use fear to recruit and to dominate. I have also come across people who claim to have been brought up in a churchgoing family where fear was the main driving force in their religion. These were usually people who had ceased practicing and often ceased believing, although some had discovered a different kind of Christianity to which they were happy to belong.
Why do people think that way? One source of misinformation is historical drama on TV. Almost all clergy and other ‘religious’ people are portrayed as narrow-minded censorious hypocrites. Occasionally there is one who is nice but rather naïve. This may lead viewers to develop a negative view of the Christianity, whether past or present. A view too often built on assumptions rather than observation.
Why do I dispute this view? Because of my own experience. Throughout my life I have known many Christians and few if any have conformed to the stereotypes. I have found the same of Jews, Asians, businessmen, public officials and lots of other ‘stock characters’ of fiction and of popular imagination. The only Members of Parliament I have met were honest, sincere people trying to serve the community. I have also found that most of the writings of all kinds by Christians of past ages do not sound as if they were full of fear but rather of hope.
Why does it matter?
- All sterotypes are dangerous. They help build prejudice and are obstacles to real encounters and to creating communities.
- I want my novels, although fiction, to give as true a flavour of the past as possible.
- I do not want anyone to miss out on the opportunity to experience real Christianity due to an unreal image, however acquired.
What about me?
- My own experience of God is something I may write about at more length on another occasion, but I can assure you that fear has seldom played much of a part in it.
- When I first stopped to ask myself where I stood, I was not afraid of Hell: I just did not want my whole life to be based on a falsehood – either way.
- And now? I do not obey out of fear of punishment, but because I want to do what I know to be right. Can you love your neighbour out of fear?
Further reading? Try the First Letter of John in the Bible. Not the Gospel of John, although probably by the same writer. All of it if you can, otherwise just Chapter 4 verses 18 and 19. “Love casts out fear”.