This is summed up perfectly in a quote from Dawkins's God Delusion in an argument I've heard many times from friends and family members.
The great French mathematician Blase Pascal reckoned that, however long the odds against God's existence might be, there is an even larger asymmetry in the penalty for guessing wrong. You'd better believe in God, because if you are right you stand to gain eternal bliss and if you are wrong it won't make any difference anyway. On the other hand, if you don't believe in God and you turn out to be wrong you get eternal damnation, whereas if you are right it makes no difference. On the face of it the decision is a no-brainer. Believe in God. (Dawkins, p. 130)You better believe in god because if you don't and there is a god, you'll be damned for all eternity for your disbelief.
I remember when I was younger and active in my dad's FIB church. Fear of hell was used so frequently that most people didn't even realize they were doing it. You ask a question that starts with "why," and the answer usually conveys something along the lines of "So you don't go to hell." The bigger the "why," the bigger the damnation. After all, if you're questioning the Bible and the will of god, you must not have a right relationship with him. You must not be a real Christian. You have to have faith and believe everything that comes from the mouth of the pastor, or else your soul will burn for all eternity.
It's precisely these kinds of fear tactics that work so well at turning me away from belief in god. If the Christian god is truly a loving and benevolent god who only wants people to love him in return, why the threat of damnation? And why eternal? Wouldn't a forgiving god be, you know....forgiving?
It's an idle threat meant to distract people (through fear) of the implausibility of believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful creator being. When people start to question, they are told to just believe, to ignore their questions and doubts, and remember that if they don't believe--and believe the right way--they will burn for all eternity.
And when you pull back the curtain--finally--and see the overwhelmed old white guy (no offense intended) scrambling to try and maintain his intimidation over others, everything changes.
The fear of hell doesn't hold quite the same intimidation when you realize it's an empty threat.
I much preferred the Scarecrow. At least you knew he was only faking being scary.
Dawkins, Richard. (2006). The God Delusion. Boston: Mariner Books.