Under this heading we are prepared, month by month, to give needful advice, and to deal with the questions and difficulties of our readers. To insure a reply in the subsequent issue, letters should reach us not later than the 7th.
Correspondents may choose their own nom-de-plume, but no letters will be answered unless accompanied by the full name and address.
M.C.—Your letter is as follows:—
"During a talk with a friend upon 'Superstition, 'I found that my friend believed that it was possible to convert people through fear. I have always thought this quite an impossibility, as anybody led through fear of punishment to do right actions, would, if the fear were removed, immediately cease to practice right...My friend, however, stated that—'If a man could be brought to practice right through fear, he would soon grow to love the right for its own sake, and the fear (or superstition) could then be safely dispensed with.' It was admitted that this would only be so with some natures. I cannot reconcile myself to this idea. As a child I suffered so much from superstitious fear that I cannot think it right to inflict it upon anybody, however good the object might be. Does the end justify the means, and do you think the end would be as my friend thinks?"
Reply—The above letter suggests and embodies the following three questions:—
- Can a man be converted from wrong-doing to right-doing through fear?
- Is a man who refrains from sin through fear of consequences, a moral or converted man?
- Seeing that fear is a source of great suffering, is it justifiable to inflict it upon another in order to save him from wrong-doing?
A man is sometimes arrested in his downward course by the shock of a sudden fear concerning the effects, upon himself and the world, of his wrongdoing, causing him to reflect upon his state of mind and his actions, and thus bringing him back to the right life. In this way only can a man be said to be converted through fear.
The man who refrains from certain sinful acts through fear of consequences to himself only, and who lives in such fear continually, is not a moral or converted man; he needs to be saved from fear, cowardice, and hypocrisy.
It is not justifiable to inflict upon another that which causes suffering to one's self. The religious teacher, however, should point out to men the awful consequences of wrong-doing, not in order to frighten them, but to lead them to knowledge, to inspire them with confidence, courage, and trust, and to instill into them a love for right-doing.
More from James Allen
James Allen was a little-known philosophical writer and poet. He is best recognized for his book, As a Man Thinketh. Allen wrote about complex subjects such as faith, destiny, love, patience, and religion but had the unique ability of explaining these subjects clearly and in a way that is easy to understand. He often wrote about cause and effect, sowing and reaping, as well as overcoming sadness, sorrow, and grief. For more information on the life of James Allen, click here.