Halloween is getting close — and scary things are in store! For the holiday, it is all in good fun, but in other areas of our life, scary things can be dangerous. So this seems like a perfect time to talk about “Spiritual Scareware!”
In IT language, scareware is software (i.e., pop up alerts and warnings) that uses false error messaging to lure users into buying a particular software program. Spiritual Scareware refers to the tactics religious fundamentalists use to frighten people into following their deluded doctrinal biases and dogmatic rantings, and steer people away from spiritual enrichment that comes from asking questions and studying a variety of metaphysical scripture interpretation.
Spiritual Scareware involves manipulative scare tactics that include but are not limited to believing in:
- the fear of a God who punishes you if you mess up;
- going to hell if you’re not good;
- a devil who is a great trickster who is fighting for your soul;
- tithing to the church to show your love for a God in the sky who rewards some and punishes others;
- a literal-only interpretation of the Bible;
- the idea that anyone who commits suicide goes to hell;
- not questioning errant scripture;
- the concept that divorce is against god’s will;
- not going to church on Sunday is a sin;
- attending New Thought spiritual services is a sin;
- etc., etc., et. (you can add your own, from your expeience!)
This spiritual practice advises you that if you’re corralled by any of these delusional tactics excuse yourself politely and run to the nearest exit. Run, not because you’re scared, but because you want to distance yourself quickly from so much negativity and misinformation. As a matter of some compelling scientific fact, dodging religious scareware is good for your health:
What Science Says About Fear-based Religions
Religions that sell fear may damage the anterior cingulate in the brain, and when this happens, people often lose interest in other people’s concerns or act aggressively against them (M.R. Milad, G.J. Quirk, R. K. Pitman, S. P. Orr, B. Fischl, and S. L. Rauch, “A role for the human dorsal anterior cingulate cortex in fear expression,” Biological Psychiatry, 2007, Aug. 16).
Fear-based religions may create symptoms that mirror post-traumatic stress disorder. Brain-scan studies have shown that once we anticipate a future negative event, activity in the amygdala is turned up and activity in the anterior cingulate is turned down (A. Etkin and T. D. Wager, “Functional neuroimaging of anxiety: a meta-analysis of emotional processing in PTSD, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobia,” American Journal of Psychiatry, 2007, Oct. 164 (10): 1476-88).
People who feel they are being punished by God, possessed by demons, or who experience religious discontent – tend to have shorter life spans (K. I Pargament, H. G. Koenig, N. Tarakeshwar, and J. Hahn, “Religious struggle as a predictor of mortality among medically ill elderly patients: a two-year longitudinal study, “ Archives of Internal Medicine, 2001, Aug. 13, 161 (15): 1881-5).
People who find themselves ruminating on guilt and fear, or harboring negative attitudes toward an unresponsive God, clergy, or church members, tend to suffer from poorer health and depression. Fear-based religions can be hazardous to our health (Andrew Newberg in Born to Believe, Free Press, New York, 2006, pg.62).
Eckhart Tolle says, “Religions, to a large extent, are divisive rather than unifying forces. Instead of bringing about an ending of violence and hatred through a realization of the fundamental oneness of all life, they bring more violence and hatred, more divisions between people as well as between different religions and even within the same religion. They become ideologies, belief systems people identify with in order to enhance their false sense of self. Through them, they make themselves ‘right’ and others ‘wrong’ and thus define their identity through their enemies, the ‘other,’ the ‘nonbelievers’ or ‘wrong believers’ who not infrequently they see themselves justified in killing” (Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, New York: Dutton, 2005).
Is religious fundamentalism a form of mental illness?
That’s what Kathleen Taylor, a researcher at the University of Oxford and author of three books on neuroscience, suggests. “In the future,” Taylor said, “brain researchers may learn so much about the neural basis of fundamentalism that they can cure people of it” (Hogan, J., Can Neuroscience Cure People of Faith in Faith in God? What About Faith in Neuroscience? Scientific American, June 1, 2013).
How to Turn Spiritual Scareware in a Spiritual Practice
As you can see from the scientific research above, dodging religious scareware may very well be a spiritual practice that is supported wholeheartedly by the scientific community as one of the best practices to insulate us from dis-ease! Here’s a formula to help you: We call it the BOO! Formula
B = Be on the alert! If someone is saying you HAVE to believe something, or silences your questions, run!
O = Open your mind! Read a variety of sources, take part in classes that share science and spirituality, and question everything! As you open your mind, you discover new levels of awareness that can transform your life!
O = Orchestrate quality time in the Silence! Make time every day for meditation and time at your Spiritual Headquarters. Your spiritual enrichment will strengthen your awareness and give you the discernment to turn spiritual scareware into a spiritual practice that will leave you enlightened and at peace.