Fear is the Mind-Killer

The Bene Gesserit “Litany Against Fear” from the book Dune.

A powerful reminder that fear, as powerful as it can be, isn’t real.  Fear can be conquered.  Fear is simply a label we put on a feeling we have when our body is warning us about a possible threat.  And that’s the key word – “possible.”  We can be fearful of things that pose no threat or danger to us at all.  But if our minds perceive it as a threat or even a potential threat, we CAN react with fear.  We can take a nugget of information and turn it into a snowball of fear that spurs us to do hurtful, irrational, illogical, and sometimes downright stupid things.  When I was six years old, my mom told me that laundry detergent could kill you.  Technically, she’s right.  If I swallowed a box of laundry detergent, and didn’t get help, it could kill me.  But there are 20 steps in-between she failed to mention; the result of which had me holding my breath and RUNNING down the detergent aisle every time we went to the grocery store.  I’d stand there at the other end, wondering how in the world my mom could so casually walk down this aisle of death!  With my little sister Karen no less!  I’d be pleading with my mom from the other end to hurry up and get out of there and heaven forbid she should actually BUY a box of death.  I’d be holding my breath any time I was near the shopping cart!

Not quite the complete Litany Against Fear but the closest

Fear is like laundry detergent. 

Its purpose isn’t to hurt us, but to help us.  Like the cute little guy in the movie Inside Out, Fear is meant to be our body’s warning system.  It puts us on high alert to potential danger so we can respond quickly if something turns out to be an actual threat.  But if we let fear drive us, if we let fear consume us, it can itself become a threat to us and those around us.  It can change us and alter the way we look at the world.  The internment of the Japanese during World War II is a prime example of fear running amok.  Despite absolutely no evidence of any actual threat by any person of Japanese ancestry, our government decided to lock up every person (including my parents and grandparents) of Japanese heritage.  They forced these innocents to move to remote locations in conditions worse than most prisons without any compensation for their loss.  And although we were at war against the Germans and the Italians, people with ethnic ties to those countries were not typically rounded up.  It was fear that drove that decision, despite the evidence against it.  The same thing happened after 9/11 with the Muslim community.  Hate crimes against people who looked Arabic (whether they were Muslim or not) skyrocketed.  Abuse, violence, and even death all in the name of retribution for 9/11 against American citizens whose only crime was LOOKING Arabic.  Similar things have happened in the LGBT community, the Mexican community, and pretty much any group you can think of who have been labeled as “different.”  In the “Litany Against Fear,” they describe fear as the “mind-killer” and the “little-death that brings total obliteration.”  And that rings true on so many levels.  Fear erodes at our being.  Fear turns us into the worst versions of ourselves.  That person who normally would be kind-hearted and caring, can turn into a rabid hate-monger.  It’s the “little-death” because it happens without us consciously being aware of it.  It’s a “mind-killer” because it erodes logical thought.  We don’t suddenly say, “Today I’m going to be a hate-monger.”  Fear gnaws away at our character and we develop prejudices and negative attitudes that don’t align with the truth at all.  Instead we develop our own “truth” and convince ourselves that our actions are not prejudiced or hateful but are done for our “protection” or the protection of those around us.  But when you peel away the layers of it all, it comes down to fear. 

The voices inside your head – from the Pixar film Inside Out

Fear can be overcome.

It does not have to dictate our actions and it does not have to erode away at our character.  If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, would you please go to Paul’s second letter to Timothy.  We’ll be reading from 2 Timothy 1:7-12. In this letter to Timothy, Paul is trying to encourage him to boldly proclaim Jesus to the world.  I don’t know if Timothy actually has a fear about doing this, but since Paul is in jail at the time, maybe he was trying to bolster Timothy’s spirits?  Most of us would feel scared or downhearted if our mentor who we believed in was captured and put in jail.  So Paul is trying to encourage Timothy to carry on in his absence.  After a few pleasantries, this is how Paul begins his letter. 

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

We are not a timid people!

At least we weren’t designed that way.  God created us to be bold.  He created us to be strong, so that we could endure when life was tough.  That we would have the strength to hold on to our faith and our beliefs even when the world turned against us.  He wanted us to move beyond our fear of the unknown, beyond our fear of the unexpected, beyond our fear of rejection and boldly show the world the love of Christ in tangible, real ways.  Not just the people who make us feel comfortable.  Jesus said it himself in Luke chapter 6, 32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked....”

But how often do we do that?

How often are we willing to step outside our comfort zone to do what’s right?  Too often our fears overcome us and make us timid.  We don’t do give as generously as we know we should or even could.  We don’t speak up when we someone gets bullied or when people are gossiping about them behind their back.  We don’t intervene when we see something wrong happening right in front of us and we allow our fear to convince us that it’s too dangerous to get involved or “not our business.”  But that is how evil works – through our fear.  It erodes our character, diminishes who we are supposed to be, and convinces us that the cowardly, cruel, and mean things to do are the right ones.  God did not create us to be a “careful” people.  He taught us to be wary of those things that might cloud our judgment or separate us from God, but God did not create us to be “careful.”  We are supposed to be a bold people.  The true test of a person is not how he or she behaves when things are good, but when things are at their worst.  Do they hold onto their beliefs?  Or do they give in to fear?  When we give in to fear, like we did after 9/11 and during World War II, we give in to the evil that is in the world.  If we stand strong in our faith we honor the Spirit God gave to us and we create a better world. 

There are ways to fight our fears![1]

According to Dr. Theo Tsaousides, we first have to respect and understand fear.  Knowing that our reactions are sometimes based on fear and not on reality can help us make better choices when fear enters into our lives.  And we need to understand where our fear comes from.  Some things we fear are instinctive like giant bears and poisonous snakes.  Sometimes fear comes from our own past experiences.  If you nearly drown in water, you’re probably far more likely to be afraid of swimming than someone who has never gone through that experience.  And sometimes we can stir ourselves up by the stereotypes, assumptions, and prejudices that lie beneath the surface of our minds.  We start projecting what MIGHT happen and the fear of the possible drives us into making poor decisions.  We need to be aware of what Dr. Theo calls “forecasting.”  Just because something is possible, doesn’t mean it’s likely to happen, and we have to learn to differentiate between the likely and the unlikely.[2]  Fear can be conquered, but if we don’t acknowledge our fear, if we don’t work toward overcoming it, we are likely to keep heading down a destructive path.  And that is true not just for our lives, but our community, our society, and our country as well.  We cannot let fear rule us.  And we can be certain that God did not create us that way.

Today, I can walk boldly down the detergent aisle.

I even buy the stuff on my own.  That seems to be such a childish thing because it is.  But so is being afraid of people because of the color of their skin.  Or because they are gay.  Or because they eat different foods than you do.  Fear isn’t always rational.  And for us to be the people God created us to be, we have to recognize our fear and grow beyond it.  We cannot allow for fear to dominate our way of thinking.  Fear can be a great tool to warn us, to heighten our senses, but it can also be a “mind-killer” and the “little-death that brings total obliteration.”  There is nothing wrong with being afraid.  The most brave, courageous people in the world are afraid at times like all the rest of us.  The difference is they recognize the fear and don’t let it overwhelm them.  Stand up to fear.  Use it as the tool it was meant to be, but don’t let it use you. 

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/smashing-the-brainblocks/201512/7-ways-fearless-people-conquer-fear

[2] Dr. Theo actually has “Seven Ways Fearless People Conquer Fear” but we only cover the first few. Definitely encourage you to read the rest.  Very insightful article.

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