03/08/2011 06:38 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Sorry Lot, Indeed

There's an Albert Einstein quote that's making the rounds on Facebook, one that I also had as my status because it says exactly how I feel: "If people are good only because they fear punishment and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed."

Many of us know people whose hope for reward goes hand in hand with fear of punishment. It is often this fear that propels them to become zealots and they use Bible verses -- such as "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Timothy 4:2 KJV) -- to justify their cause. These same people like to dangle the threat of hell and damnation to those who don't accept this belief while then exclaiming that God is a loving, forgiving God; it's just a matter of first rationalizing what is required to go down this condemnatory road.

So while these people, these fundamentalists, are doing their lord's work, such as speaking for their higher power on his behalf by telling the grieving families of dead soldiers that the death was God's punishment for America's stance on homosexuality, they are securing their place for everlasting peace. What's interesting and tragic is that these people tend to ignore Matthew 7:1: "Judge not, that ye be not judged."

I do wonder, though, if heaven weren't part of the bargain, just how these believers would be in our society. This thought actually reminds me of years ago when I believed that the Bible was inspired. I'm embarrassed to say that I was involved in a fundamentalist church, attended Bible studies (even led some) and had Christian music pouring through my house praising God for redemption. There was one song in particular by Evie Tornquist titled "If Heaven was Never Promised to Me" about how a believer should be grateful to have a relationship with God, even if that afterlife wasn't part of the deal. I also have a vivid memory of how two older Bible-believing women thought the song and very idea foolish, one of the women even pooh-poohing the idea by saying, "Why would anyone believe then?"

That was quite likely one of the reasons for the tiny fissures that began to crack what I had accepted as truth during my religious journey. And over time, it became abundantly clear that the idea of everlasting peace in a place called heaven was the carrot and stick approach, one that was used to keep us fallible humans not only in line but subservient to an idea. It's also the same tack that parents use somewhere around Christmas time when they threaten their children that Santa is watching to see if they are good or bad. If they are good, well, they will get an abundance of gifts under the tree on Christmas morning, but if not, well then, a lump of coal is in their future.

But in the song "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," children are then told to be good for goodness sake. Actually, that makes more sense to me. Why not simply be good because it's the right thing to do? It's as though some believe most of us don't have that innate compass telling us to do unto others as we would like done to ourselves. In turn, those same people who believe their faith is the only one to follow with vehement passion become arrogant, judgmental and display a misguided fervor that is dangerous to an independent society, which makes us a sorry lot, indeed.