Fear Is Profitable

by E.L. Anglin

Johann Tetzel was an expert fear-monger of the 15th century. He used the fear of hell to motivate Catholics to give money to the church, by promising them that in exchange for their offering, the sins of their dead relatives would be remitted--freeing them from purgatory. These sales were called "indulgences." The Catholic church did not condone Tetzel's error, but they didn't condemn him either. He went unchecked for a long time because the doctrine was financially profitable. His profits were used to fund the construction of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Tetzel was eventually accused of embezzling and died in seclusion and dishonor.

The Protestant Reformation was birthed in Martin Luther in part because of Tetzel's fear-mongering. Although an imperfect man himself, Luther hated indulgences and the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church of his day.

It's easy for those not attached to Catholicism to mock the vulnerable rubes who fell for Tetzel's fear tactics but, really, how many Christian movements consistently use fear to motivate the faithful into submission?

For instance, a current Oneness Pentecostal evangelist promises women that their long uncut hair gives them special power with the angels that men can never possess and that a woman who cuts her hair loses that power. The purpose of the teaching is to instill fear in women by saying "Cut your hair and you lose protection." No matter how you feel about hair-cutting you will find that this evangelist's doctrine is not Bible based.

As crazy as that teaching sounds, most every extra-biblical standard (rule) is enforced by citing pastoral authority. It goes like this...

1. 1 Samuel 15:23 says that "rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft."
2. Hebrews 13:17 says "obey them that have the rule over you."
3. Therefore those who do not obey their pastor are rebellious and disobedient.
4. Rebellious disobedience is the same as witchcraft, and a horrible sin.
5. So those who do not obey every whim of their pastor, no matter his lack of biblical foundation, are in gross sin.
6. Those in gross sin are headed for hell.
7. So the local pastor, church board, or denominational authority can decide that a believer is hell-bound simply because he or she refuses to submit to their extra-biblical rules.
8. Nobody wants to go to hell, so many people choose to submit to doctrines they don't agree with for no other reason than fear.

Religion knows a great truth: Fear is profitable. It teaches that the way to escape bad consequences is to buy what it sells.

Guess who that benefits?


This writing is the copyright of E.L. Anglin and is reprinted on this site by permission. View all of his available articles here.


Page added February 12, 2015

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