Fear is a Hateful Thing

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There is a verse of scripture in I John 4:18 that says “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment.”  As I reread some parts of Orwell’s “1984”, this piece of scripture keeps coming back to me again and again.  The more I read of fear, the more I know that it is driven by our primal instincts.  Fear is our animal response to danger and to things we do not understand.  A dog will react with fear either by running away or by snarling and biting.  The “fight or flight” response is clearly seen in a dog when presented with a fearsome element.  All animals behave the same way–and so do we.  We will either cower or we will become aggressive.  That is what fear does, and in fear, there is no reasoning.  That is how people get trampled to death by a panicked crowd.  No reasoning, no compassion, so ethics, no sense of any other person.  At times people will rise above their fear is if they are presented with another base instinct that is as strong as fear.  So personal survival versus protecting young.  Most mothers will run in fear, but they will first grab their babies.  Most, but not all.  Fear is a terrible thing that compels people to do terrible things.  Look no further than the recent disaster in Korea, where the captain saved himself and left his passengers to die as the ship sank–then tried to pass himself off as a survivor later.  He KNEW what he did was wrong and cowardly, and the shame he will carry for the rest of his life is unimaginable–especially in a culture where personal honor is everything. That said, fear is a natural response.  It is part of our make up as human beings.  It is in our nature to escape danger and survive–as the captain did–so then, why is it not okay?  We look at the captain with disgust and say “Coward!”  We believe that he should be punished for his cowardice–and he will be.  But if fear is a natural response, and he was compelled to escape, why are we punishing him?  Why is cowardice ‘a thing’?  Why is it punishable?  I really had to think on this for a while, and that bible passage kept coming back to me.  I was remembering the verse from my Sunday School days, but I was not remembering it all.  The rest of the verse says “One who fears has not matured in love.”  And there you have it.

We might be mammals in the animal kingdom, but we humans are something more.  We are capable of higher emotions such as envy, conceit, mercy, and love.  The old adage says that “love conquers all”, but if we truly examine that old cliché, we will see that this is actually the case.  Love, first of all, comes in many forms.  We love our spouses and kids–yet we love our spouses one way and our kids another.  We love our parents.  Differently, we love our siblings.  Differently still, we love our friends.  We also love fluffy kittens, things of great beauty, and things of ultimate goodness.  So we love the Mona Lisa, or a view of the mountains reflected in a turquoise lake, or Santa Clause–even if we don’t believe in him.  We love liberty, and great men and women who stood against great evil and cruelty, and spoke words of truth–words that changed us.   “I have a dream…”  Just four words, and we know the rest.  We love to see the “Random Acts of Kindness” on You Tube.  They warm us.  Or flash mobs bursting into song, and suddenly people are dancing in the street.  Heroes pulling people out of burning buildings.  And on and on.  Because this is also who we are as human beings. 

Being a person who has matured in love does not make one a simpering fool who suddenly weeps at romantic comedies.  I think a person who is mature in love is one who is emotionally and mentally evolved.  This person is one who can reason past the instinctual drive toward fear.  Love–not the sappy kind, but the tough and strong as steel kind–is not given to maudlin bursts of emotion.  I think love, as the opposite of fear, produces a type of selflessness that as Shakespeare said “looks on tempests and is never shaken.”  It is a philosophy that reimagines our base instincts.  Love is the foundation of courage, loyalty, honesty, compassion, and justice–all the best things that humans are can be found according to their ability to love ‘maturely’. 

In Orwell’s “1984”, there is a resonating lack of love.  It is absent from Orwell’s society.  Even Winston who said he’d never abandon his love for Julia–that he would refuse to say that he did not love her–actually admitted to himself that he didn’t really love her, but would stay loyal to his ‘admission’ of love.  Winston, who knows nothing whatsoever about genuine love, does not understand that he cannot possibly stay his ground if he does not truly love Julia.  Saying it and experiencing it are two different things.  This is how O’Brien defeats Winston before they even get to Room 101. To actually succeed, Winston had to be prepared to suffer and die.  He had to be truly loyal, truly convinced, truly faithful, and truly courageous.  All of these higher attributes emanate from love.  Winston, loveless and selfish, could not hope to win.  It was just a matter of time before his fear took over his pseudo-affection for Julia. 

Yet, not many of us have the wherewithal to stand against evil–unto death.  How many of us are willing to go to the stake for what we believe in?  Winston tried and failed because his particular stake burned too hot, and because he was poorly equipped to approach it in the first place.  We live in a culture where we take love for granted, and where hatred is punished.  We can’t imagine what a world without love–where it is nowhere–actually looks like.   Even if fear defines part of our human instinct, love defines our beingness.  Everywhere where love is not, is cold and fearful.  What is so dystopic about “1984” is that there is no love.  All the substitutions for love such a loyalty and devotion to Big Brother or obedience to the law are hollow and shallow, and are achieved by the use of terror.  That is why the entire world in Orwell’s novel is in ruin.  No one loves, so no one cares.  Fear and despair.  Horrible. 

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2 thoughts on “Fear is a Hateful Thing

  1. Deep thoughts.
    To respond to just one small part of this: the reason we shame cowards, I think, is a social function, its purpose being to ensure the survival of the group or species. We don’t disapprove of the captain for being afraid to die – if he had been alone on the ship, everyone would expect him to leave and save himself. As you say, fear is a natural response, it is humanly normal. But it must be balanced with other impulses, or humanity will not survive. We are disgusted with the captain not for his fear, but for letting his fear overrule his sense of responsibility. And yes, I think you might call that a lack of “love”, for a given value of the term.

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  2. Thanks Amo. I agree. Had he been alone on the ship, then there would be nothing wrong in his escaping it if it started to sink. I also agree that human responses must be balanced with other instinctual responses.

    I’ve been thinking about this blog entry all afternoon. Wondering if I am on to something, or whether or not I am just spouting steam all over the place. I remember my grandmother once telling me that love–real love–is not always a pleasant thing. Love is not always kittens and puppies and flowers and warm fuzzies. Sometimes love is painful and demands difficult choices. Things like forgiving someone who is utterly unforgivable, or remaining faithful in the face of betrayal, or showing kindness where it is undeserved. Love is always about rising above our preconceived idea of what our personal limits are. Anyone who is married, or anyone who has/had a teenager will know just what I mean. (Teenagers are those strange creatures who resemble our children, but who eat us out of house and home, pan handle money off us, tell us they hate us and that we have ruined their lives, and then ask to be dropped off at the mall.) I think love is usually more painful than pleasing, more prosaic than exciting, and is exhausting to maintain sometimes.

    If love has an opposite, I would not say it is “hate”. Hate is too consuming and passionate. Hate is like the dark side of love gone wrong. Some people say that “indifference” is the opposite of love, but then that can’t be it either. Indifference is not selfish enough–it simply doesn’t care. Nope. I think it’s “fear”. I’m not talking about the healthy kind of fear. Fear that says “don’t try to pet that snarling dog because it will bite you”, is the good kind of fear. Or the one that causes you to go search for your child when he doesn’t come home for supper. I am talking about the unhealthy fear–does it have a name? Because it’s always selfish, unreasonable, uncharitable, superstitious, suspicious, impatient, sometimes violent, unkind, and unmerciful–the exact opposite of all the things love is. But anyways…

    I’m thinking out loud again. Lol.

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