When the people are no longer afraid of death, why scare them with the specter of death?
If you could make the people always afraid of death, and they still persisted in breaking the law, then you might with reason arrest and execute them, and who would dare to break the law?
Is not the Great Executor always there to kill? To do the killing for the Great Executor is to chop wood for a master carpenter, and you would be lucky indeed if you did not hurt your own hand!
(Tao Teh King 74–Wu’s translation)
Just what Lao Tzu had in mind when he wrote this section I do not know, but I can certainly say that exoteric religion East and West traffics in fear created by threats they make to those who do not follow their dictates or dogmas. Every word written here can be applied to them.
When the people are no longer afraid of death, why scare them with the specter of death? Mabry: “If people do not fear death how can you threaten them with it?” The purpose of authentic religion is to remove fear. Therefore a religion that makes its adherents fear that disobedience or disbelief will result in their death, or that death will result in great suffering in this world or in some form of hell, is a domain of demons and not divine truth. Because their religion is false and feeble they have no other way to bolster their authority than fear of punishment and pain (often the same thing), as well as promises of rewards and pleasure on earth and in heaven for those who “trust and obey.”
If you could make the people always afraid of death, and they still persisted in breaking the law, then you might with reason arrest and execute them, and who would dare to break the law? Feng and English: “If men live in constant fear of dying, and if breaking the law means that a man will be killed, who will dare to break the law?” This is the specious reasoning of exoteric religion, but humans being what they are look for an out and usually find or fabricate one. Nevertheless many are terrified into compliance with the demands of their religion. When growing up I continually heard members of the church saying that if there was no immortality of the soul or no hell there would be no reason to follow the ways of our religion. When I would suggest that God is worthy of our love and that should be our motivation, I was always dismissed with contempt. After some years I dismissed the false religion and them.
Is not the Great Executor always there to kill? To do the killing for the Great Executor is to chop wood for a master carpenter, and you would be lucky indeed If you did not hurt your own hand! Chan: “There is always the master executioner (Heaven) who kills. To undertake executions for the master executioner is like hewing wood for the master carpenter. Whoever undertakes hewing wood for the master carpenter rarely escapes injuring his own hands.” Those who take the role of judge and jailer, claiming to speak for God, meting out condemnation, punishment and even death to the recalcitrant, will themselves feel the ax in time. That is not a threat: just a statement of law, the law of Karma. “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7:2).
Next in the Tao Teh King for Awakening: On Punishment (4)