If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say that the only reason people subscribe to organized religion is out of fear, I could probably go to Subway. Ignoring my attempt at humor/shameless plug, this statement has two major gaffes hidden within—quite impressive for so short a sentence.
First, it takes for granted that fear is a totally irrational response. Let us assume, for the sake of the argument, that God does in fact exist and that he is going to cast those of us who do not keep on the straight and narrow into the raging fires of hell. Wouldn't being afraid of him be a natural and rational response? Any religion that only contained fear would be narrow indeed, but it would be an extremely foolish set of beliefs which did not reserve some awed reverence for a higher deity. The proud atheist can hold his head as high as he wants for he has no one above him, but the believer must stoop to his knees on occasion to remind himself of his humble place in the world.
The other problem with the original criticism is that it is false on its face. No doubt there have been people who have clung to a particular creed due to an irrational fear of the wilder world. But to suggest that the only reason people would be religious is the terror of a world bereft of God is utter nonsense. The reason any sane man would call a religion his own is the same reason that an atheist would insist that there is no God—he believes it to be true.
Truth be told, I know of no way to ascertain for certain that God does or does not exist. St. Thomas Aquinas laid out some very interesting proofs for God's existence, but they are usually dismissed rather quickly by atheists. Most people have their minds made up at this point, but here is the one which I find to be the most convincing:
The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.
We could then ask “Who moved God?” but it is assumed that God is that which needs no one to mover. Even trying to comprehend this makes my head spin a bit. I find the proof convincing, but there are others who do not believe. The point though, is that there are those of us who have thought this religion thing through and find it to be quite true. Atheists are free not to believe of course, but they do a tremendous disservice when they assume that there are no logical reasons for belief in a higher deity. If nothing else, Thomas should lay that fallacy soundly to rest for at least a little while.