From The West Wing, Season Five “No Exit:”
First Lady Abbey Bartlet (a prominent physician) addresses White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry:

Do you know what this lifestyle does to the body? The minute your
system senses stress it releases a hormone that constricts the blood vessels, contracts the heart muscles, stimulates the adrenal gland. You stay in this state for not a hundredth of the time that you and I have existed like this and the vessels begin to shred. The heart permanently constricts. The intestines, the immune system, shut down. Relieving those conditions is the one responsible course of action I can take. I am sorry it is not a course of action that’s available to you, but if you think you’re going to talk me out of it with some Valley of the Dolls cautionary tale, you have picked the wrong girl.

Curry Goat

I’ve never understood Christians who are afraid to fly. I hate to fly, which many presume is because of fear. No, I hate to fly because planes are crammed full of idiots. Idiots who bring infants and small children aboard without thinking, even for a moment, about ways to keep them entertained or how to deal with the extreme pressure aboard an aircraft that causes pain to the little ones. I hate people reclining their seats into my knees. One idiot brought, I kid you not, a tin of Curried Goat aboard the flight, a dish so aromatic that it made everyone in coach blanche, making my eyes water and stomach turn. I am not, in any way, frightened of the plane crashing. Fear, however, is part of our humanity. It exists for a reason: to keep us from jumping off cliffs, from doing things that harm us. Fear, in its purity, it part of God’s perfection. This incredible machine—the human body—run by the universe’s most advanced supercomputer—the human mind—and powered by a fiercely indefatigable source—the human spirit—is an amazing and ingenious creation, one which we routinely take for granted. Without fear, we wouldn’t be responsible. Without fear, most of us would be dead. Without fear, there really is no logic. Fear is our only real motive for thinking rationally or employing logic. Fearing God is, in fact, the beginning of wisdom [Proverbs 9:10].

From “Healing Streams
But this quickly becomes “bad fear” if we are paralyzed or panicked and cannot act decisively or if there is no real response we can make because we are being alarmed by imagined or future dangers, not immediate, life-threatening ones. This kind of fear response keeps most people living stressed-up and breaks down health. When we are in fear in any of its forms we are not trusting God. The critical issue is heart trust in God.

You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for in Yah, the Lord, is everlasting strength.
Isaiah 26:3-4

The enemy seeks to build fear into every believer to quench faith, stymie love and turn us away from the challenges of the high calling. Unbelief in God’s perfect love is the root to all fears.

Fear works in the same way faith does but in the opposite direction: faith looks past the problem of the visible reality to see its solution in the invisible reality of God and therefore becomes the substance in us that God uses to fulfill His purposes. Fear looks at the visible problem, ignores the invisible Savior, and becomes the substance the enemy uses to fulfill his purposes for us. Job lamented that what he feared came upon him (Job 3:24-26). Fear is false protection—it actually brings trouble our way.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 The thing I greatly feared has come upon me, and what I dreaded has happened. Job 3:25

Fearful Christians seem ironic to me considering how organized religion—including if not especially organized Christianity—routinely employs fear to promote and sustain itself. Many of us came to Jesus out of simple fear of hell. A Christian whose acceptance of Christ is motivated by fear is likely not a Christian at all. He is more likely hedging his bets, as French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist Blaise Pascal suggests. Pascal’s Wager posits that, although the existence of God can not be proven absolutely, a rational person should presume God exists and act accordingly. Pascal reasoned that having religion (if not quite genuine faith) was a more rational choice than non-belief because one living life accordingly has everything to gain, and nothing to lose. Or, as I used to tell my friends, better to get some insurance on your soul. But such fear-motivated conversions are rare genuine or lasting. Through fear we create converts, not believers. He is certainly not deeply rooted in Christ. He is a narcissist, his Christianity is all about him. Nietzsche put it this way, “salvation of the soul—in plain words, the world revolves around me.”

Chaz Bufe makes interesting points about this in
20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity:
Throughout almost its entire time on Earth, the motor driving Christianity has been—in addition to the fear of death—fear of the devil and fear of hell. One can only imagine how potent these threats seemed prior to the rise of science and rational thinking, which have largely robbed these bogeys of their power to inspire terror. But even today, the existence of the devil and hell are cardinal doctrinal tenets of almost all Christian creeds, and many fundamentalist preachers still openly resort to terrorizing their followers with lurid, sadistic portraits of the suffering of nonbelievers after death. This is not an attempt to convince through logic and reason; it is not an attempt to appeal to the better nature of individuals; rather, it is an attempt to whip the flock into line through threats, through appeals to a base part of human nature—fear and cowardice.

The Christian appeal to fear, to cowardice, is an admission that the evidence supporting Christian beliefs is far from compelling. If the evidence were such that Christianity’s truth was immediately apparent to anyone who considered it, Christians—including those who wrote the Gospels—would feel no need to resort to the cheap tactic of using fear-inducing threats to inspire “belief.”

In addition to the fears of the devil and hell, Christianity plays on another of humankind’s most basic fears: death, the dissolution of the individual ego. Perhaps Christianity’s strongest appeal is its promise of eternal life. While there is absolutely no evidence to support this claim, most people are …terrified of death …[and] cling to this treacly promise...

From House M.D., Season One “Damned If Your Do:”
Dr, Chase, a young diagnostic Fellow, comforts a dying nun:

Chase: He hasn’t left you. The only thing in the way of your knowing if he’s left you is your fear. You have a choice: faith or fear. That’s the test.

Augustine: Do you think faith doesn’t mean I won’t die?

Chase: It will affect how you experience your death, and therefore your life. It’s up to you.

Why Love Matters

Having fear is not a sin. Fear is hard-wired into our bodies. But giving your body authority over you—over your mind, over your soul—is not what God wanted for us. Our bodies exist to serve us, not the other way around. To give in to every whim, every desire, every physical need, demotes us to the realm of apes and monkeys. God gave us the gift of awareness, a divine sentience that elevates us from other mammals. It is this awareness that the bible refers to when it says we were made in the likeness of God [Gen 1:27]. That we are like Him in that His divinity exists within us and that we are the evidence of His glory. In that view, it is our responsibility to be persons of divine purpose, of spirituality and intellect, and not just animals eating and belching and screwing. That’s what horses do all day. They eat, they take a dump, they screw. We are called to lives of meaning and purpose. Our awareness exists for a reason. We are not horses. Our bodies work for us. We must bring our flesh into subjugation to that divine awareness, what we call our spirit. We must be disciplined and purposeful.

People who ignore the spiritual dimension of their lives are lost in a world of meaningless chaos. Stick your tongue out at me all you want, but a true connection with God is an amazing experience. I am deeply saddened by all of the “God Is A Banana” navel-starrers out there denying Christ but who have never done any serious investigation of what Christianity really is. Conversely, Christians who spend most of their time scared of their own skin have likely lost or damaged that connection to God, or never had it in the first place. The nearer we draw to God, the less fearful we become. If God is for us, who can stand against us?

I try not to question a believer’s Christianity, but I do question the quality of their relationship, of their walk, with Jesus Christ when they are motivated out of paranoia and fear. Fear is the very antithesis of love, but even a little love can banish an aircraft carrier full of fear. I wished more of us believed that. I wished more of our pastors preached love as it really is: the most powerful force in all of existence. The very building blocks of God Himself.

Christopher J. Priest
13 November 2011

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