There are many obstacles to truth, are there not? Some of these are personal, but the obstacles that are perhaps most regrettable, and most suitable for public discussion, are the philosophical ones that enjoy icon status in our culture: those untruths so pervasive that nearly everyone is aware of them, and many accept them without thought. Some of these are widely known to be untruths or popular myths, and there are endless opportunities for us to shout them down, saving others from stumbling over them. And yet often we do not. Lives are crippled as a result, and we see it, but we remain silent. Why does this have to be? Why are we afraid to speak against noxious ideas in a culture that prides itself, perhaps prematurely, on its openness? Perhaps it is because these ideas have been blessed by authority. I’m not just speaking of the political-correctness establishment or the ultimate authority on everything:Hollywood. Some indefensible ideas have been championed by great authorities of philosophy and art. Some of the most gruesome falsehoods are enthusiastically promoted by the scientific community. Since my career has been spent in the technical and scientific communities, I feel a particular duty to focus on those. Unfortunately in questioning the philosophical statements of scientists, I will enrage almost half, I think, of the readers of this essay who consider science sacrosanct. But I’m not afraid of them. If they refuse to entertain a little critical thought, then they’re not as familiar with science as they thought they were. As Nicholas Lash once accurately put it, they’re a bunch of smug, counterfactual whiggerers, and that’s putting it nicely.
In the following essay, of which this is the first part, I don’t intend to demonize positive cultural myths or legendary individuals. Likewise, this is not a work intended to sling barbs at any particular religion, or, indeed, at any religion at all. Organized religion, the Judeo-Christian traditions especially, for some reason, have endured an endless barrage from the guns of critics during the last century. If there is anything wrong with preaching about loving your neighbor, I’m sure it’s been covered, so I have no criticism to add. Neither do I wish to abuse the uneducated or dwell on common misconceptions. I refer instead to the dangerous intellectual myths, popular fallacies, non sequiturs and lies, intentional or otherwise, under which the crème-de-la-crème of mankind has labored for the last century or so, causing profound harm to our perception of the truth. Perhaps the most damaging of such lies is the arrogant notion that there are no modern myths! Most prevalent among the educated, this over-confident self-exaltation has never been more misplaced, and I intend to show that we are not necessarily the most enlightened generation or even the brightest century, and that we have the myths to prove it.
Myth #1 – “Fear is a useful survival tool left over from the struggles of our ancestors. Fear is a powerful motivating force in a way that love can never be. Fear can be a healthy hedge against making mistakes. Fear will keep you alive.” [/myth end]
What parents, fearing themselves for the safety of their children, haven’t encouraged a little fear? Sometimes it’s fear of physical harm and sometimes as a balance to natural over-confidence or arrogance. But what a poor substitute fear is for the one thing that children, and parents, need to guard against both harm and arrogance?
The voice of fear in your heart has a pretty good gig, doesn’t it? It not only compels you to fear things, but also strongly suggests that it is your very best friend, and you should be afraid lest you not follow its advice. This 2-for-1 deal, this one-two punch, is so effective that if you have any inclination at all to be afraid, it can seem quite inescapable. In the end, of course, truth is the enemy of fear. When Jesus says that the truth will set you free, one of the things of which he means you will be totally free, is fear. Repeatedly in the Gospels, he exhorts us to “Be not afraid!” What part of that is so hard to understand?
Taking Jesus’ advice and looking at fear from the outside, it becomes apparent that it is more than just an emotion. It is, indeed, a spiritual view – a spy glass colored dark – through which you see things only a certain way: a way that is adversarial to truth, indeed, a deception. But more than a deception about things, fear is deceptive about itself. Like the philosopher who challenges you to guess whether he is telling the truth after stating that everything he says is a lie, you can be sure that everything fear shows you is a deceit, especially what it claims about itself. Fear strongly compels you to trust that it is in your best interests to be afraid, and while doing so, it hides its identity, confusing it with your own. While you are afraid, you do not believe that you are being spoken to; instead you think the voice of fear is your own voice, not to be resisted but embraced as a refuge. It is only later that you consent to resist and realize the truth. It is not your voice, and it must be resisted, at least for now…..
Friends, can we not be frank about what fear is? Must we continue the charade that it is a chemical process of our brains that may have some left-over evolutionary benefit? What kind of chemical brain process practices overt malice and deceit and then covers its path? Why does it hide itself? It actually does the exact thing that foolish people have always unjustly accused God of doing. Richard Dawkins and others have claimed that they would ask: “Sir, why did you go to such great efforts to hide yourself?” if they ever met the almighty. Goodness, what a strange thing to ask someone who, in making all physical things, cannot himself be a physical thing, and yet has made himself known to virtually every human on the planet spiritually! God surely does not hide himself. But hiding himself is exactly what the “author” of fear does. Yes, why not refer to him rather than it? Let us ask as Tolkien asks in the Lord of the Rings: “Who causes the minutes to fall dead, adding up to no passing hour?” Tolkien is not speaking metaphorically or anthropomorphically. He is referring to the Dark Lord. Not a force. Not chemistry. Not imagination. Being a devout Catholic who knew very well the reality of spiritual warfare and, incidentally, detested allegory, his Dark Lord of Middle Earth is a direct reference to the Beast of our world.
But even if we can agree that fear is an evil influence that must be avoided, is Jesus’ exhortation doable? As weak human beings, can we really cast off fear entirely? Can we get by without it? As C. S. Lewis once remarked, even children instinctively know there is a “Bogeyman.” To conquer fear, they must be taught to know that there is someone stronger than the Bogeyman. To accomplish this in our own hearts, we may have to bust a few more myths. [To be continued…]