Fear – Friend or Foe

Posted: April 7, 2015 in atheism, fear, religion
Tags: , ,

Nobody enjoys feeling afraid. When something triggers a fear reaction, the body instinctively makes changes that prepare you to fight or flea potential dangers. When such danger is real, fear is helpful. Higher levels of oxygen are provided to your body when your heart starts pumping faster and adrenaline starts coursing through your veins. This causes the world around you to seem as if it is slowing down. Everything becomes more vivid, and your brain and nervous system are processing information at hyper speeds. You are detecting threats, escape routes, assessing risks, and determining the best course for survival. Your body is being prepared to become stronger and faster than it ever could be without the hormonal boost triggered by your fear response.

It. Is. Exhausting. We are surrounding by potential threats every day and have had to train our bodies to recognize which signals are truly life threatening and which are just the normal stressors of a high-pace life. Those who are overly anxious have difficulty controlling their fear response and can become very tired just trying to get through work, school, errands, and other daily tasks. With the strain fear puts on our bodies and minds, promises of a life without fear can be very enticing.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18

Christianity, like many religions, promises it’s followers a life without fear. And the requirements seem simple. All you have to do is believe that a God is going to make everything right in the “end”, that a Savior paid the price for your sins, and that you can live “happily ever after” if you will just accept his love and follow his example. Of course, they also fuel your desire to believe this premise and accept this promise… with fear. For if you fail to accept the Christ on which their religion is founded, they claim that his grace will not be sufficient for you and that you will suffer an eternal torment in a fiery hell. But do not fear! Be not afraid. Only believing…

The problem here lies in the premise that fear is a bad thing. If you do not take sufficient time to think it through, you will find yourself agreeing that “fear hath torment”, and you will desire to be “made perfect in love” so that you can escape this torment. While it may not be an enjoyable experience to feel afraid, fear IS good. Fear helps us survive. Fear heightens our awareness and prepares us to handle dangerous situations. Fear is NOT torment. Rather, it helps us escape torment.

A promise to rid oneself a fear is a promise to dull your mind to danger. Those who feel no fear are not prepared. I, for example, spend a lot of time around dogs. Because of this, I have been desensitized to sounds, movements, and other signs that would trigger a fear response in most individuals. For the most part, this has proven to be of benefit to me, as I certainly would not want to be jumpy every time I interact with a hyper or noisy animal. It has, however, dulled my reflexes and slowed my response time.

While I was out walking recently, I heard a dog start barking viciously and saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I did not react, flinch, or even recognize the potential threat until the dog was well within my vision and only a few feet outside my reach. Luckily, the dog was tethered and came up short, but if he’d been loose or had his rope snapped, I would have been ill prepared to defend myself. Someone more wary of dogs would have immediately responded and been prepared to fight or flee.

I have also experienced the reverse effect – too much fear. I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, which means certain triggers a typical person would recognize as “background noise” and ignore as I had that dog set off my fear response. Exposure to one of these triggers brings back memories of my trauma and launches my body into the preparations for survival. Since there is no actual danger, I find myself anxiously pacing, heart racing, gasping for breath, and my senses seemingly heightened as I pick up on detailed sounds and sights in my surroundings. It takes time for calm to return as my body catches up with my brain in realizing that this response was entirely unnecessary.

I know all too well what it is like to be afraid when there is no reason for fear, and I also know what a blessing it is to have a healthy fear response when it is needed. What is needed is a balance, because fear is not bad. It is a life saver. Religions teach that fear is an enemy, and followers reject this essential bodily response even at the expense of their own lives, because they are taught that there is nothing to fear, even in death, so long as they believe. This is a lie. The world is full of things to be feared, and we should culture that response so that it may be tuned to real dangers. For without fear, we would not survive the perils of mortality.

Learning to recognize and properly respond to dangers brings peace far greater than a false promise of “happily ever after”… after death. Knowing that we have prepared ourselves to handle whatever threats may come our way encourages confidence, strength, fortitude, and perseverance. While life is fraught with dangers, it is also filled with joy, and what better way to maximize that joy than to know our instincts have been honed and trained, that we may intuitively pick up on signs of potential threats, and that we are prepared to secure our own survival? Fear is your friend.

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