The Theology of Fear by John Cali

The Theology of Fear is the title of a new book by Father Emmett Coyne, a Jesuit Roman Catholic priest.

Having grown up as a Roman Catholic and graduating from a Jesuit college, I’m familiar with the issues Father Coyne raises in his excellent, well-written book.

Here are some of Father Coyne’s concerns:

  • He’s disturbed that Jesus’ love for humans has taken a back seat to the Vatican’s desire to preserve its political power at all costs.
  • He rightly points out the Vatican is the only religious-political entity on the planet.
  • The Church instills fear by talking more about going to hell than to heaven.
  • The sacraments were established primarily to control church members through fear. Jesus never talked about the sacraments.
  • Jesus always talked about the law of love, never the law of judgement and punishment.
  • Candidates for the priesthood are judged by their willingness to blindly follow church doctrine.
  • Outspoken activist priests are discouraged and viewed as a threat to Vatican power.

Father Coyne expects church authorities will be displeased with his book (which he published himself). But he doesn’t seem to care, especially now that he’s retired from the active priesthood.

I know many, including me, applaud and support him. It’s refreshing to see someone within the church hierarchy with the courage to speak plainly about the abuses of power in the highest echelons of the Vatican.

I think Jesus would have done the same.

P.S. All the profits from Father Coyne’s book will go to support Partners in Health, a non-profit organization helping to provide health care for poor people.


I know many of you, our readers, are or were Roman Catholic. But whether you were/are or not, I’d love to hear your ideas. After all, other religions are having problems too. Please share your thoughts with us below.

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16 Responses

  1. Mikala

    A multilayer post, John, thank you.

    Father Coyne is brave to speak his truth. I respect that very much.

    Over 30 years ago, a Catholic priest in Wilmington, DE gave a sermon that amazed me. He told his congregation that if they wished to picket in front of “abortion clinics,” they must also assume the responsibility for the lives of those babies that would be born. The children must be fed, clothed, have good living conditions and be raised in love. So, if you desire to fight for this “right to life,” then you must follow these children through all their growing up years to make sure you succeed in giving them “a life that is right.”

    Churches, religions, are made up of humans. Each has those who are spiritually aware, and each has those who desire to use the fear taught to gather more of what they see as power over the masses.

    Raised Lutheran, I attended a Lutheran University, Valparaiso in Indiana, where we were required to take both new testament and old testament religion classes taught by Lutheran Seminary graduates and ministers. My first day in Old Testament Religion the professor drew a small circle at the top of the board with a line going down to another circle, and then ray lines that were not far apart. He then drew a very big Earth under that. He said that the top circle was God, the second circle was Jesus the Christ, and the rays spread to only those who worshiped Jesus. He said that God hated everyone not under that special umbrella, and only those who worshiped Jesus would be noticed by God and forgiven for all of their sins. I stood up and told him he was absolutely wrong and I would not listen to such horrid nonsense, then walked out of class. I changed my religion and my University the following semester. However, I’ve never met another Lutheran minister who believes what this one said, and they are usually aghast that such words were spoken.

    Like Shirl, I have studied the worlds religions and find truth in each of them. But the beauty of each of them is that I see how each supports the cultures or individuals engaged. They also have positions which do not speak to me.

    How amazing is it that the ALL has granted us this tremendous opportunity to learn by our choices and come to the realization that we are all One. One Love.

    Fear is just one choice.

    Love to all,

    • John Cali

      Thanks very much, Mikala, for sharing your experiences. I had similar experiences when I was growing up in a Catholic parish with a very conservative pastor, even by the standards of those days. We were taught pretty much the same things your Lutheran professor was teaching your class. But then I went to a Jesuit college, and found many open-minded, compassionate Jesuit priests, much like Father Coyne. The Jesuits were certainly far ahead of their time back then.


  2. Toni

    I got so entangled in those ruinous memories, that I forgot to thank you for the post, John.


  3. Toni

    Cheers for Father Coyne. It’s about time. From telling me that if I got a divorce I should never ask God for anything anymore, to making me sign over my income tax refund so my son could enter first grade, to delaying confirmation because my little girl asked, “If God is so good, why did my Daddy leave?” and no one could anser her, to refusing an annulment because I couldn’t prove that on the day we were married, my husband intended to cheat on me (unless I could come up with $700), the church has done nothing for me. And that’s not even the half of it. I haven’t gone to church for years. It would be nice to expand on the abuses of the parish churches. Guess it all trickles down.

  4. Cinda Miller

    Hey John,

    Loved your message and the subsequent comments. As you know, I did not come from a Catholic background but from a cult that also uses fear to keep their people in line. Along the same vein, we were not allowed to ask questions about our teachings but to stay in step with the leaders.

    As your other readers have already stated, Love is the answer to all questions and there is really no reason for the religious institutions to stay alive. Jesus taught the way of Love and instead of embracing the words of Jesus, religion took the persona, the flesh and blood of Jesus to worship, making the messenger their focal point instead of his words.

    Religion is the basis, not only of fear but it entices nations to war. With the mantra of “My God is bigger than your God.”

    Fear saturates our globe. It is up to us to choose what we watch and what we listen to. Love is here for our choosing.

    Leaving the cult was difficult, but the reward of finding Love as my answer to a joyous life was worth it.

    Thank you for your message and for the beautiful heart that you possess.

    Love you,

    • John Cali

      Thank you very much, Cinda, for your comments. And thank you also for your beautiful heart.


  5. Ron

    Let the boils fester. Healthy skin will then be restored. Attack the boil and disease will follow.

    In other words, ” Resist ye not evil “.

  6. Valerie

    John, I’ve long thought many of our institutions and organizations, not just religions, use fear as a selling tool. I can feel the difference, and am quick to point it…. out if asked. So I steer clear. I don’t formally adhere to any one group now, though I get it there are plenty that still do, so a personal choice. Just seems to me that Love should feel like love, so why would I want to sign up for any thing less?


  7. Shirl

    I think it goes well beyond theology. Although most of the religions I have studied, and that has been a life long study for me, seem to be focused on controlling through fear. Rather than focusing on the positive, loving messages of masters like Jesus, they find it more to their advantage to instill fear. Fear is what allows them to hold power over their followers. I suppose it is their hope that it will keep them “in line” or attached to the physical church.

    As I view the current state of things in our world it seems very evident that governments and nations employ the same tactics. If they can keep their people in fear (they think) they can then control them and keep their particular cabal or party or philosophical group in power.

    That is why we hear so much negativity and fear mongering in our own political machinations these days. It is driven by some over-arching need to have power and position over the masses.

    I was blessed to know that whomever or whatever philosophical, theological, or political point of view I might encounter if it is fear based and or negative in presentation it is not from highest truth and it is NOT for me. I read quite a lot of spiritual/metaphysical information from many different sources and my well exercised discernment kicks in immediately when I see or feel or hear fear based and/or negative information. I remove it from my view the moment I see it.

    I have kept as my mantra YOU GET WHAT YOU FOCUS ON. So I choose to focus on all the myriad potentials and possibilities that are wondrously positive and uplifting. That is what I choose, therefore that is what comes into my life in amazing abundance.

    I have no problem with whatever religion, philosophy, spirituality or none that anyone chooses for themselves. If it brings them great joy and loving purpose in their lives, then it is most certainly the right choice for them. I personally have found no organized group of like-mindedness that fits what I want for my life and brings me great joy. So I feel that I am most certainly on the right path for me as my life is filled with loving, positive people and experience that brings me amazing JOY and fills my life with love beyond comprehension. I wish the same for everyone no matter their own personal choices.

    I am still the most blessed being in the Universe!

    Blessings of love and joyful purpose to all

  8. Margaret Unger

    The reason the problem exists at all is because 2000 yers ago the uneducated populations were literalists and mistook the initial levels of the allegorical story of “Jesus” – everyman – as real. The mystery religion story was to take us gradually through layers of opening conscious to where we would see/ know for ourselves that we are divinity. Love incarnate. It was meant to lead us within to our light being self. So the entire premise that the Christian churches are based on is false, a complete misunderstanding. Most of the current channeling is leading us inward to realization of our and hence everyone else’s divinity.
    Eventually the entire structure of the churches will disappear as they are no longer needed as more and more people come to know their divine self within and recognize it in everyone/thing about them. Our version of earth took a 2000 year detour and is now coming back on track.

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