Is it cowardice to go to God out of fear? (PK QA 5)
It is no more cowardice than is a small child’s going to parents out of fear. But just as the child is meant to outgrow the fear, so too are religious people meant to grow up spiritually and outgrow the fear motive for going to God.
There are four broad levels at which people approach God: fear, desire, duty and love.
- Fear: People who are afraid of life’s problems go to God out of fear. Such fear is a good beginning in one’s relationship with God, just as children need to have some healthy fear of their parents. That fear checks their unruliness and fosters discipline in them, thereby preparing them for a bright future career. Similarly fear of God helps instill basic morality in people. But just as children are not meant to live lifelong in fear of their parents, but are meant to develop higher emotions such as love, so too are we meant to grow in our relationship with God from fear towards love.
- Desire: When people want things that are difficult for them to get by their own efforts alone, they go to God out of desire. This is one step higher because their conception of God is not negative as a discipliner but positive as a potent desire-fulfiller. But still their relationship with him is utilitarian, based on give-and-take rather than love.
- Duty: Some people understand that God has already given me so much
– life, body, health, food, clothing, shelter. So they feel dutybound to go periodically to his temple for thanking him. Here the relationship is based on gratitude for what has already been given and not on desire for what one wants to receive. So the relationship is steadier. However, duty can over time become a burden. Moreover, the focus in this level is still on what God has done for me, not on God himself.
- Love: This is the purest level of approaching God, where people understand that God is their supreme object of love and they find the supreme fulfillment in loving and serving him. At this level, we see all living beings as members of the same one family of God. Thus love for God blossoms into love for all living beings.
The purpose of religion is to help people rise from the level of fear to the level of love. To that end, temples should have educational forums where people can learn about this progression and raise themselves accordingly. PK goes about caricaturing temple-goers as fearful ninnies and thereby discourages many people from getting the relief and strength available through temples. If instead it had guided people to rise to the level of love for God, it could have done far greater service to society