I don’t trust them. They do not cheat, they do not steal, they do not hit when angry, they do not murder — because they know it’s against the law. They act well from fear. So if the fear is gone, if they think they can get away with it, they will act with greed and hate. Only the fear of punishment keeps them upright citizens.
Consider the managers of the big banks and mortgage companies who led our country to financial ruin. They lost their fear, they cheated, they stole, and we now pay, we who have led upright lives. They have even less fear now since our government has said they are too powerful to prosecute, too powerful to punish. If we punish them, then others who control banks and mortgage companies will be afraid and stop lending to us. Of course they would stop cheating us, too, but that seems to matter less.
And I do not trust those who act well only because of hope of reward. If they do not steal it is because they think it is more profitable to have a good reputation. If they do not hurt their neighbor it is because they hope for his help sometime. We even teach our children to act well with reward, as if they were dogs or donkeys.
Here, read this book and you’ll get a treat. Read lots of books — compete with all the other children at your school — and you’ll win a bike. And you’ll have the reputation of someone who loves to read, though your love is only the love of a reward. Even dogs and donkeys respond better to love and caresses than to the reward of a biscuit.
Fear of punishment. Hope of reward. If these are the only motives for a man, for a woman to lead a good life, we should give them no trust. Be wary. Motives matter.
And so it is with prayer. The religious pray for success, they pray for rain: hope of reward. They act goodly because they fear the burning hell they will encounter if they rape or murder. Heaven — the ultimate reward for the believer. Hell — the ultimate punishment for the believer. Perhaps for the unbeliever, too, but that is another story.
I do not trust them, those who pray from greed or fear. If hope of heaven and fear of hell are the only motives for a man, for a woman to lead a good life, we should give them no trust. Be wary. Motives matter.
They’re not like you and me. Only fear of punishment, hope of reward keep them in check. And when that fear goes? When the reward does not come? Beware.
There is only one prayer that is not a prayer of greed or of fear:
May I have the wisdom of a loving heart.
It is a prayer not to a god or gods, not to your god nor my god, but to ourselves, a reminder that this is the only way to live. Only those who live in the way of peace and love merit our trust. No se puede vivir sin amar.
Arf, formerly known as Dr. Richard L. Epstein, is the author and publisher of books on reasoning and is head of the Advanced Reasoning Forum in Socorro.