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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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The obvious electric condition of affect flowing in the USA and a lot of Europe (at least) these days comes from the recent "terrorist attacks" in France and recently California... linked to ISIL Organization and the movement for a radicalization of the Islamic State conception (not all that different, but more publicized, than the Zionist State conception of the official Israeli government). And one could find another 20 or so "rogue state" types of organizations or "nations" in the world that are one way or another fighting for their right to exist, to critique the hegemony and status quo and defend themselves against the oppressive larger states and their enemies. 

I open with this rather cold-hearted political analysis of what is going on. I am not going to continue such a sociopolitical, geographical or historical analysis of the problem of "terrorism" (some call "freedom fighting") as many would call it in the mainstream, certainly in the USA. Rather, you may see that I am viewing the current (and ongoing) crisis as political and psychological, philosophical and theological, sociological and historical... all at once. There is criminal activity going on and "justice" (usually as revenge killing) going on. I find the whole mess of conceptions, perspectives and barbaric actions on 'both sides' an indicator of how sick our world has become in handling conflict, in handling views totally different, and views that are suppressed by the dominant. Don't forget to listen to the recent state address Pres. Obama gave in response to these recent rising attacks on European and American soil. Obama is, like 99.9999% of Americans dedicated to "wipe out" any such organization (e.g., ISIL is the latest target) that is against the USA policies, values, capitalist and military expansionism and its claim to exceptionalism via its claim to moral superiority, and a free democracy. 

Let me turn, and say, from a fearanalysis, from a perspective of fearlessness... any system that cuts off another part of its own system (i.e., a world system) and claims that it is to be "wiped out" by any means (be clear, there is not need in times like this for the USA military might to follow any kind of legal or just framework or attention to human rights or international codes of ethical war conduct... not for a second is that mentioned in Obama's speech... he actually is out to punish and kill people without a trial (a justification beneath all capital punishment regimes)... listen to the calm voice and rhetoric, it is very clear, as it was similarly when former Pres. Bush Jr. called for an equal revenge and the pres. of France recently did like wise--oh, you are able to do that once you declare "war" on some organization, some state, etc. This my friends, is the way we in the West do leadership even from so-called liberal or democratic governments. This is sadly how far we've come in what we have learned went so wrong with the American response to 9/11. 

Let me turn again, to focus down to the question I raise for the Fearlessness Movement (a global phenomenon: see

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Fear_educator/sandbox)... What role has fearlessness and fearless leadership to play in the current rise of actions and reactions to terror(ism)? Obviously, it has a huge role. First, any fear-based means of trying to control ("manage") or destroy ("wipe out") terror(ists) and terror(ism) and organizations that use fear to terrorize... all will fail. That is what the philosophy of fearism (and fearlessness) argues... at great length... in most all of my publications for 26 years and in the recent book by Desh Subba and myself coming out soon.

Yet, that may still sound abstract to many, unfortunately, who have not chosen to study my work or Subba's and who have ignored the experience of the ineffectiveness of fighting terror with fear-based means (e.g., punishment and terrorizing, revenge killing, wars, acts of injustice that are rationally and cooly justified, e.g., Pres. Obama's latest speech to the American public). Again, in this one blog I only introduce this topic for the FM ning. I am not propounding out a philosophy or theory that itself cannot be challenged. I wish it would be. I'd love to argue, dialogue, conflict, and grow with others sincerely engaged in such a discourse, seriously engaged in asking ourselves if we want to learn something "new" about the way terror(ism) moves in societies, and in the world systems of today. I know there are hundreds if not thousands of arguments, journal articles, research studies, philosophical and political critiques... but to this day (although I have not read them all), I see nothing "new" or anything I'd call a fearlessness approach. I'll stop, and await to see who else may want to join this discussion (oh, and feel free to set up a FORUM on this site for this very topic).

Journaling on this all this morning, and lamenting on the repetitive failed-strategies to solve a "Wicked Problem" (see two blogs prior)... wouldn't it have been so nice to hear Pres. Obama truly say somethings different--truly re-frame the problem differently--at a higher (mature) integral level guided by fearlessness? Oh, he says bluntly, he is not attacking ISIL out of fear, for that is what the terrorists would want. Cooly, bravely, as only American males are so good at on camera, he says, we will do what needs to be done to "keep Americans safe." Which will not of course happen, as we saw in the past 14 yrs... terror only moves and morphs, going further below the surface... and the violence that goes with it... and the more you try to wipe it out... the more it duplicates and spreads in more difficult ways to detect and to stop. Okay, wouldn't it have been nice to hear the president say, "All of the recent tragedies, and crimes, have left the world, and certainly many Western nations with a great dilemma.... a great problem we have not yet figured out how to solve but solve we must. It is the Fear Problem. If we don't stop the Fear Problem we will not stop the Terror Problem. Fearism (as toxic-fear made ideological weaponry) is after all, that which operates under terrorism. Let's all take moments to reflect critically on our own part in "THE TERROR THAT COMES TO VISIT US" that is, where, why, how... and less ought we focus on only the criminals of these acts of mass murders... even though, a part of us wants to hate their hate towards us."

And after my fantasy Pres. Obama speech, I am thinking and asking myself: So, Michael, are you saying, as it appears above, that whatever organization of thoughts, values and actions that exists, has a right to exist, because it exists? Yes, I guess I am saying that. It seems the only ethical coherent fearlessness philosophy that will bring sanity back. Notice, at no point, have I condoned in that right to exist (the opposite of "wiping them out") that such acts are free from social challenge and free from scrutinized, informed judgments by those whom we entrust (e.g., court systems--even if imperfect). Such discernment, sometimes judgements on ethical and legal grounds are necessary for sociality of systems--yet, they ought to be non-fear-based as we decide to to label things "criminal" or "not"... now, that all get's more complicated, for sure and a good theory of fear and fearlessness is essential to guide that process. But declaring war on everything that is totally different than your set of ideas, values, etc. is no way to end the cycle of Domination-Conflict-Fear-Violence that is really 'killing' us all... 

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If I was to do a fearanalysis on how societies categorize "terror" via its association with terrorism and terrorists, i would say it usually makes sense only on the surface. Once you penetrate through the political discourses (and their psychological defense mechanisms), you come to see a lot of not making much sense in how so-called "terrorists" are labeled and how so-called "terrorism" is used and manipulated by all sorts of people (especially the elite power players, like military, and political leaders and their corporatist friends). Yet, we all are susceptible to playing with these terms, using them, thinking with them--often without a lot of nuance or critically.

I won't go into my long critique of the use of this term. I have been writing a good deal about that since 1989, more or less, and especially during my dissertation years--and 9/11 really showed me the way the discourse on terrorism gets used and mis-used so quickly in the same breath. Now, just in my last few days in Canada, I am aware of heading back to the USA and the political battles brewing before the 2016 Presidential run-off. I see so much of the Harper conservative leadership regime really getting into this "terrorism" thing as the US elites and culture do, using ISIS and any other movement or actions appropriately connected or not, to get people scared enough so that military western invasions are acceptable nearly anywhere anytime. It's all part of the ongoing construction of the culture of fear phenomenon that I have blogged about on this site before (see for e.g., May 15, June 18, 2015).

My partner (Barbara) just brought the latest issue of Common Ground magazine to share with me, and I open to an article (Letter) entitled: "Understanding Harper's Actions Takes Some Mental Acrobatics" (yes, the west coasters in Canada really are out to get Harper thrown out of office as soon as possible... smile). The author of the article (and it could be so many other authors I have read for decades) really ends up following the oppressive (mis-guided) conformist pattern of critiquing most "terrorists" (who ever may identify and label them) as "disillusioned psycho cases on the margin of society" (p. 13), that is, when they are gunman, mass murderers, and not so clearly identified with a so-called political "terrorist organization"--and yet, that all becomes a murky distinction. The author was referring to those individuals who have attacked Canada's parliament buildings in recent years. Okay, now what does that mean(?)-- "psycho case" . And is that not a cutting hurtful label to give someone who chooses (more or less) to not participate and support the mainstream of society? And, are not the politically motivated so-called terrorists (e.g. ISIS) also folks who have chosen (more or less) to not participate and support the mainstream of society that they live in and chose not to support Western militarization and global capitalization of their countries? They are all resistors. Now, people can call them terrorists, and can call them "psycho cases" and compare the two-- but what attitude is making the judgment. It is one based on fear and it is a nasty way to make all these people 'Other' (reproducing "fear of Other" as postmodern and postcolonial critics have argued is a one-way ticket to hatred and violence in some form).

It astounds me, how unable (unwilling) and fear-full the smartest people are (our leaders?), when it comes to a sophisticated understanding and representation of people who don't fit in the margins. When are we going to listen to them (enough, a lot, a little) so that we don't just write them off as "terrorists" or "psycho cases" and actually work with the larger systems reality that they are us, in some way, in some larger more systematic ecology of consciousness and life--and, equally take responsibility that 'We' have created them for the exact reason to confront 'Us' to see what we are creating as a system. Any good family or organizational therapist knows this problem of scape-goating, and so do social critics who see it as another way to distance ourselves from the pathologies of the mainstream production system itself. Yes, I'd really like to do a fearanalysis of how we don't make sense making sense... you gotta laugh, you gotta cry.... we are so far away from the Intelligence we need yet as a society to really change, transform and heal a legacy of "fear of the Othering" that is chronic.

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