In a speech in Germany, Pope Benedict attacked both Islam and secularism. During the course of that speech, he said that atheists are "afraid of God." This sticks in my mind because, ironically, an acquaintance of mine had asked me if I was an unbeliever because I fear God! (And she's not even Catholic!)
I simply answered, "How can I fear or be afraid of anything that doesn't even exist?"
I went on to say, "Frankly, in certain situations, I'm actually much more afraid of militant religionists. I wouldn't want to meet one in a dark alley somewhere."
(Of course, I can't even remember a time when I was ever in a dark alley.)
Many followers of religion malign and kill each other in great numbers over insignificant issues. Austin Cline, in an article about fear of God and atheism, stated: "Beliefs [of religious adherents] can cause them to develop inflated egos all out of proportion to anything that is really deserved. This does not mean, however, that any of their beliefs have any basis in reality or that their gods, spirits, fairies, and whatnot are anything to be afraid of."
Fear based on religious faith that cannot be proven true often leaves emotional scars. Many of those who were in the Worldwide Church of God and other legalistic belief systems can attest to that fact.
Of course, I know that atheists are in the minority, but our numbers are growing. Fear would most probably greatly diminish if we understood what Clarence Darrow articulated in a most astute article. This agnostic (primarily famous because of the Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee way back in 1925) said:
"When we fully understand the brevity of life, its fleeting joys and unavoidable pains; when we accept the facts that all men and women are approaching an inevitable doom: the consciousness of it should make us more kindly and considerate of each other. This feeling should make men and women use their best efforts to help their fellow travelers on the road, to make the path brighter and easier as we journey on. It should bring a closer kinship, a better understanding, and a deeper sympathy for the wayfarers who must live a common life and die a common death."
I admire that man. We need more like him.
To me, the fear of God is not the beginning of wisdom, but the end.