What Fear Can Do

Fear can be the devil -- not literally but figuratively. Fear can be debilitating, crippling, and a prison ward to its victims. Unwarranted fear can cause cognitive distortions, distorted ways of thinking, that can affect one's emotions, which, in turn, can affect and effect one's behavior, leading to all manner of bad consequences. But I'm uncertain as to the worst scenario: being a victim of fear or instilling undue fear in others. I'm tempted to insist that the latter is the worst crime against humanity.

Do you know why LGBTQ pepole "come out"? Because they have been trained to fear not only who they are but the reaction of heterosexual folk. But why would any straight person cause a gay person to fear? What is there to fear? There is no need for the straight man to fear the gay man nor the gay man to fear the straight man. Where did this fear originate? What, exactly, is there to fear? Such fear is baseless.

Why do certain people fear people of other nationalities based merely upon the color of their skin or their cultural heritage? I am, of course, excluding the ideology of terrorists. I merely refer to the notion of being afraid of others merely because they are different from us. But to whom, specifically, does the "us" refer? Even the "us" is not monolithic. In other words, within a group of people, there is diversity.

Take a group of conservative Southern Baptists for example (since that is the environment in which I was raised and with which I am most familiar). In this group, each individual does not agree on a host of issues, from women in pulpit ministry to issues of homosexuality and politics, to gender identity roles and the function of women in the home, to even sub-genre topics such as Bible translations, proper commentaries, and strictures regarding divorce and re-marriage. Why? Because each human being is a unique creature with unique qualities and contrary perspectives.

But there is no need for total and utter conformity to every subject known to humanity. Diversity within our unified human community is beautiful, should be welcomed, and ought to be celebrated. There is no need to fear diversity. When we begin to fear diversity, and demand uniformity, then power struggles vie to dominate and control the governing of others and corruption follows. Once I have to bow to your demands of who I should be, and how I should think, totalitarianism ensues and wins.

Fear can be an enemy. Fear can lead to lies, secrets, and backstabbing. But fear is not an entity. Fear is not a person, a force, or an evil presence. Fear is a private emotion. Fear is an "unpleasant or disturbing feeling caused by the presence or imminence of danger." (link) (emphasis added) Fear can be used in a good sense when genuine potential danger is present: that fear can save a life. But fear, as a tangible thing, does not exist. Yet the emotion of fear within an individual can lead to disastrous reactions and results. Fear can even lead one to take his or her own life -- all from an emotion, a feeling.

I can look back at my life and see the results of indwelling fear. I think that this reflection has helped me to develop into the man I am today. In one sense, I am fearless; but that is due to witnessing first-hand the tragic results of allowing fear to imprison me within the walls of my own nature. If I had not feared the opinion of others, I would not have tried so hard to earn their approval, and doing so through being dishonest -- dishonest not only with them but even with myself (a self-betrayal).

I have learned a great lesson over the last five years: even if some people are not comfortable with my truth, they end up preferring my honesty over me giving them the half-truth or lie that they may want to hear, and they then learn to cope with that reality. Honesty, truth, and reality have become my closest friends and allies. They protect me from fear, shame, poor self-perception and unhealthy ways of thinking. Fear can devastate but only if we allow it. Choose truth. Choose reality. Choose life.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.