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Fearologists Ask the Bigger Questions: Re: Fear Management

To ask if any form of fear management (style), secular or sacred, is "really effective" is a question the fearologist has to ask. And the larger contextual question to that question is more like "effective" at what? If one group or individual claims to have the "best" or most effective method of fear management, how can we assess that, not just in terms of its own context (e.g., Christian context, biblical context, etc.) but in the larger context of the evolution of fear management systems globally, throughout history. Christians, as my example in this blog, typically don't care about the larger context that the fearologist does. Yet, the fearologist of the 21st century has to care about what the Christians think and are doing in terms of fear management. The fearologist has to have that depth and breadth of ability to communicate with all groups and how they manage fear--and, yes, right down to all individuals as well. It's a big calling, but one I have found continually fascinating.

This blog posting was stirred up by recently reading some excerpts from a new book:

Hamilton (2018) in a book published by a "big" NY publisher (Penguin Random House), is a Methodist pastor in Missouri, USA. I lived in that area of southern-mid-western USA for nine years (2008-17), and I met a lot of clergy-types and had discussions about fear, my work, and their interests and concerns. Overall, they weren't very interested in what I had to offer to their (Christian) ways of fear management. I always wondered why not? Was it because I am not God and citing biblical quotes about how best to manage fear? I'm not a "god fearing man"? [1] I'm sure that's a factor but I also thought, these spiritual and religious leaders in Christianity just don't have the best education on fear management/education for the 21st century? I never told them that directly, but they likely sensed I was implying that in challegning their views...though, I also listened to their views at times without any critique. But being a fearologist, my job is to critique everything about fear and life, and how humans carry on in relationship to fear. Theology and religion play an incredibly powerful role, now and historically, in shaping the relationship of fear itself and in how best then we are to manage, cope with, and/or transform fear.

What made this book by Hamilton catch my eye (and, I have read many of these kinds of books), is the book blurb on Amazon.com that introduces the book with Hamilton's recent survey of his congregation. Here is the excerpt from the blurb:

"Fear is a complex emotion. Sometimes it saves us. More often it robs us of the life we want. But we can take our lives back. 

You'd be hard-pressed to overstate the extent to which fear, anxiety, and worry permeate our lives today. Fear wreaks havoc on our relationships and communities. It leads us into making bad decisions. It holds us back from the very pursuits that promise fulfillment and joy. 

Making matters worse, not a week goes by when some new threat or calamity isn't dominating the headlines. Why are there so many tragedies? we wonder. What will happen next?

As the senior pastor of a large, diverse church in America's heartland, Adam Hamilton has seen the cost of fear up close. When he surveyed his congregation on how fear affects them, 2,400 people responded--and what they said was eye-opening. Eighty percent admitted to living with moderate or significant levels of fear.
Unafraid: Living with Courage and Hope in Uncertain Times is Reverend Hamilton's insightful and impassioned response."

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Okay, 2400 people is a good sized sample, and I tend to trust Hamilton and his sincerity to find out what his congregation is feeling these days. And, 80% are living in a good deal of fear. I appreciate that Hamilton cared to ask, and that's a budding "fearologist" in his curiousity, I'd say. Such a statistic also makes me wondered, as it may have for Hamilton as well, is the religion they believe in actually helping to reduce and/or eliminate destructive excess, if not irrational fear? It doesn't sound like the God of Love, as Christians supposedly teach (with some exceptions) is working all that well(?) Fear management isn't sounding very effective when I here the 80% statistic? Or, is it effective, and these people in the congregation would be a lot worse off if they didn't have their God? Church? Pastor? Love? on their side(?) Well, that kind of data and research just isn't available. We can only speculate.

That said, I immediately am quite critical of everything in the book I scanned online. Let me share a few of the critiques:

a) Hamilton dedicates a whole chapter 7 to "Weaponizing Fear" and with some good observations there on terrorism, I have to say he has a very limited view of terrorism (very conventional) and that is in contrast to the book that I just co-authored with Desh Subba and B. Maria Kumar [2], yet, Hamilton misses that the entire politics of this planet earth has been one, at least for a few thousand years, one of Fear Wars, and, yes, exactly a process of weaponizing fear (terror) to dominate, control, maim and destroy the "enemy" and, Hamilton oughta know that, as Jesus teaches pretty much the same as what I am saying about the way fear is used sociologically, politically, historically--and, thus, I was not satisfied with Hamilton's restricted view of easily labeled "terrorists" politically while ignoring his own Christian religion as having weaponized fear for a whole lot of purposes throughout most of its history (other religions, typically, have done also),

(b) Hamilton creates (unquestioningly) his implicit effective broad brush simplistic answer to the Fear Problem (not only of himself, his congregation, of America, but of the world), whereby he constructs his own formula for F.E.A.R. [3]: F for face your fears with faith, E for examine your assumptions in light of the facts [4], A for attack your anxieties with action, R for release your cares [worries, fears] to God. I am not saying there is no wisdom in Hamilton's religious fear management system offered. I doubt that it works all that well. So, the issue is, what would be better, more effective? That, I cannot say for certainty, not with the kind of certainty that one reads in Hamilton's teaching (but, then pastors are supposed to sound confident and certain re: their faith in God).

I won't go on and on with problems in this F.E.A.R. formula, be it Hamilton's version or others, the point I am raising is that they are so pragmatic with no theory to draw upon, and certainly, Hamilton is not drawing on the philosophy of fearism, or fearology teachings. The restricted boundaries, if not barriers, around religions, seem always to fall into this "traditional" way of thinking, even when fear is clearly dominating the lives of 80% or so of his congregration, never mind all of America these days. I find this short-sighted view of fear management everywhere I go. I don't claim that churches (e.g., Christianity) are all that worse or better than most organizations in handling fear today. I find them all "under-educated" and relying on old pragmatics, myth, folk wisdom, and good old common sense. But is it working? I doubt it is working very well, and I don't suspect it will change its ways, as religion has that rigid nature to keep the same, only change little on the outside, but the core stays the same. "Be not afraid" says Hamilton, albeit, these words of Jesus or whomever in the Bible come to Hamilton's book cover as "Unafraid" and of course that is 'good marketing' speak these days in America, and apparently in the congregrations as well. Publishers sell a lot of these self-help (Christian-help) books per year... a big industry. But, the fearologist asks: does it really work to manage fear well, to solve the Fear Problem? No, it won't solve anything like the Fear Problem, because there is such a muted and incomplete (if not distorted and rigid) thinking going on in the analysis of fear itself. Again, I won't go down that road of critique in this blog. 

Religion and fear (or even, spirituality and fear)... these are huge topics so important. I have some "faith" in religions and spiritual discourses to discover better fear management/education for the 21st century, however, mostly and ubiquitously I see little progress--for thousands of years, and I say this about Christianity which I know the most about. If I was to improve the fear management/education of religious leaders (like Hamilton), I'd say, why don't you folks come down off the pulpit and get a larger perspective within the evolution of fear management on this planet, in a global and internationalist sense, and take a look at theories of fear management like my own (for e.g.,), based on 10 fear management systems available to humanity... throughout time, and across cultures [5], and begin to see that the discourse (style) of your religious [6] systems is institutionally stuck typically in Fear Management System 4 [pre-modern], and, to acknowledge it has its role, and place, and value, but that many other fear management systems all the way along the spectrum to Fear Management System 9 [nondual] have evolved and are available to humans everywhere, no matter what religious faith one may hold. My point, as a fearologist, is that it is likely not wise to let religion institutionally dictate the fear management systems people are allowed to learn and practice. Then, let them make up their own minds how to manage fear best, and effectively, depending on situations and contexts, and a whole lot of other developmental factors, political factors, and that such complicated means is the way of learning--rather, than these authoritarian-based fixed F.E.A.R. broad brush formulas of tradition only.

Lastly, if "fear" is so recognized as critically important in the lives of people all over, especially today, and in lives of Christians (in congregrations like Hamilton's) then why oh why is there not a deep and longterm search in these traditions of religion for the very best knowledges, knowing, understanding on fear management/education(?). That my friends, is a puzzle. It doesn't speak well, for the future of religions, in my opinion!

 

Notes

1. Note, there are some Christian "fearologists" out there I have met in the world in the last few years, but I myself am not self-identified with any religion. I do however, come from a father and mother line of Christians going back into Europe and Russia, with even an strong evangelical side in my dad's family. So, I do know what it is like to live that way, as I spent many hours with them as a child and young adult; however, my own parents professed to no religion nor did they coerce us to "join" or "believe." I thank them for not instilling a fear of God so that I would behave the way they (or Christians) thought was right. As well, my wife-partner comes from a father who was a Lutheran minister all his life, so I have lots of experience in that religion and with clergy as well.

2. Fisher, R. M., Subba, D., & Kumar, B. M. (in press). Fear, law and criminology: Critical issues applying a philosophy of fearism. Australia: Xlibris. [see Chapter 5]

3. There are a plethora of such variants, secular and sacred, on this formula of fear management, of which the earliest seems to have arisen in the Alcoholics Anonymous tradition, some 40+ years ago or so; ALANON is where I first encountered this formula in their brochures, as they well acknowledged the problem of fear in a recovering alcoholic individual or system (i.e., F for false, E for evidence, A for appearing, R for real).

4. Hamilton is critical of anyone, including his congregration, for distorting truth, facts due to overblown fear. He wrote "The perception that most of us have in America is that ISIS [terrorist group] has as its primary focus killing Americans and Europeans. Yet in the first half of 2017, only 1.7 percent of the 1,670 people killed by ISIS were European or American (29 persons), while more than 95 percent of their victims were Muslims living in Islamic countries" (pp. 65-66).

5. For the complete map of the Fear Management Systems see Fisher, R. M. (2010). The world's fearlessness teachings: A critical integral approach to fear management/education in the 21st century. Lanham, MD: University Press of America (Imprint of Rowman & Littlefield).

6. My critique and analysis of fear management systems of "institutions" in society, be they secular or sacred, is much the same, based on the same research I have collected for decades. Also, to note, within religious faith traditions, there are exoteric forms of religion practices (e.g., institutional guard) and there are esoteric forms (e.g., the mystics)--with the latter, usually tapping into, if not creating, the higher more complex and matured wise forms of fear management systems. 

 

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