Short Answer: It is true that religions do appeal to people’s emotions. And fear and hope are two of the predominant emotions that control human actions. Most people strive to do good things expecting a reward; and religious people look for opportunities of doing good seeking reward from Allah. So the strongest incentive for humans to do good deeds is religious faith.
Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.
It is true that religions do appeal to people’s emotions. And fear and hope are two of the predominant emotions that control human actions.
Naturally, religions use the appeal to these emotions as an incentive for people to do virtuous deeds.
Islam as a religion appeals not only to the feelings of people, but also to their intellect and power of judgment.
The Quran addresses the human heart and head. Indeed, it urges its readers to use reason, logic, and critical analysis.
That is to say, Islam’s appeal is to human psychology, much the same as to their sincere efforts to observe, study and understand natural phenomena.
One may note the following verses as examples:
“Verily, in the creation of the heavens and of the earth, and the succession of night and day: and in the ships that speed through the sea with what is useful to man: and in the waters which God sends down from the sky, giving life thereby to the earth after it had been lifeless, and causing all manner of living creatures to multiply thereon: and in the change of the winds, and the clouds that run their appointed courses between sky and earth: [in all this] there are messages indeed for people who use their reason..” (Quran 2:164)
“Are you not aware that God sends down water from the skies, whereby We bring forth fruits of many hues – just as in the mountains there are streaks of white and red of various shades, as well as (others) raven-black (as) there are in men, and in crawling beasts, and in cattle, too, many hues? Of all His servants, only such as are endowed with knowledge stand [truly] in awe of God:[for they alone comprehend that,] verily, God is almighty, much-forgiving.” (Quran 35: 27–28)
The first of the above verses encourages all sincere readers to “use their reason”; the two following verses emphasize the point that only those who have acquired knowledge (i.e. through study and research) can comprehend who God is.
The foregoing means that Islam’s appeal is not just to the emotions of people, but also to their faculty of reason and their eagerness to acquire knowledge.
You have stated: “If you need to teach someone morals and values, you don’t have to teach them with the technique of using a stick or a sweet. You do good things because it is the right thing to do, you don’t do bad things because it is bad to do bad things.”
This in fact is what is called in logic “begging the question” or “circular reasoning”. To paraphrase your argument:
“You do good things, because it is good to do good things; and you do bad things, because it is bad to do bad things.”
First, you should tell people WHY they should do good things and WHY they should avoid doing bad things. That is the way to teach people morals and values.
Second, all things that appear good outwardly to ordinary thinking NEED not be good. And all things that appear bad outwardly to ordinary thinking NEED not be bad either.
In other words, you should have a credible source as well as a basis for the morality you are teaching.
From the point of view of Islam, Allah is the Source of all good: He tells us what is ultimately good for us. And more importantly, He shows us clearly how good leads to good and bad leads to bad.
For example, Allah has sent His prophets to teach people what good deeds are, and what bad deeds are. And He says in His Quran that good deeds will inevitably lead to good results – i.e. getting a life of never-ending happiness as reward in the life to come; and bad deeds will lead to bad results – i.e. getting a life of never-ending torment in the world to come.
Such is the basis of morality. If someone feels psychological satisfaction after doing a particular deed, it need not be a good deed considering the motive behind it or its consequences.
The Prophet, peace be upon him, said:
“Actions are (judged) by motives, so each man will have what he intended. Thus, he whose migration (Hijrah) was to Allah and His Messenger, his migration is to Allah and His Messenger; but he whose migration was for some worldly thing he might gain, or for a wife he might marry, his migration is to that for which he migrated.” (Al-Bukhari, Muslim)
Thus, we can see that it is not enough to say that a good deed is simply “a right thing to do”; and a bad deed is simply a bad thing to do”.
You have also said: “I shouldn’t be giving charity because I may get wine or a special place in afterlife. I shouldn’t be trying to save a kid’s life because I will be in paradise, it is the right thing to do.”
Psychological studies prove that all human actions are basically selfish actions. They put their observations in their own special jargon, not as bluntly as I write here. But the truth is evident.
It is true that an atheist may save a kid’s life for a reason other than religious. But most people strive to do good things expecting a reward; and religious people look for opportunities of doing good seeking reward from Allah.
So the strongest incentive for humans to do good deeds is religious faith.
And Allah knows best.
I hope this helps.
Salam and please keep in touch.
Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links: