Presented at the Sydney ANZURA Conference, October 2015
I began this presentation with a simple experiment. Without any warning I caused a very loud, totally unexpected noise that startled the audience and elicited the typical gasps, shrieks and jolting movements from everyone as you would expect. I informed the audience that I had just activated their fear responses and pointed out that they were right now as one body, behaving in unison through their fear and asked, isn’t that great we’re all united like this together? Isn’t that what we’re all seeking? some kind of togetherness that leads to brotherhood for us to live in peace and harmony and on to eternal life?
Well that way, my friends I hope to show today, is a complete fraud. Fear has a role to play in our survival, granted, but we know through The Urantia Book teachings that survival on its own is not enough. There must be growth to pass through time and into eternity. Growth is necessary on the pathway to Paradise and beyond.
Few persons live up to the faith which they really have. Unreasoned fear is a master intellectual fraud practiced upon the evolving mortal soul. [Paper 48:7.4, page 556.4] from Morontia Mota No. 2
Fear is a fraud. It says one thing and delivers another—to our disadvantage. While fear may assist us in avoiding an immediate and short-term threat, enabling us to survive a little longer, sustained and unreasoned fear actually impedes our longer-term growth, affecting even the growth of our soul. Thus fear threatens the eternal survival we seek. It is retarding the growth of our souls and slowing our path to God.
Survival is necessary to begin with, because you have to start somewhere, but to thrive in this life and the next there must be ongoing growth. This is the universal pattern of life, whether it is for a seedling becoming a tree; a child becoming an adult becoming a spiritual entity; primitive to current world religion on to planetary light and life, etc. So in exploring the link between faith and courage today, I wanted to explore one of the most obvious things holding us back. Fear.
Fear is pervasive; it’s everywhere. From our kitchens to the streets, from schools to workplaces and governments, in the media, between nations and between persons. Fear is active within us, and it’s stopping us from being better people, better partners, better leaders and world citizens. We fear flying, heights, the dark, snakes & spiders, public speaking, failure, rejection, commitment, intimacy, death. The list goes on! We play with fear in the plots of movies, novels, games and theme parks.
Fear and anxiety are real and incredibly devastating to our wellbeing; are debilitating physically, mentally, socially, economically. They cause us pain and ill health, obliterate our self-confidence, and hold us back from taking that next vital step.
Anxiety-based disorders are on the rise and becoming more widespread. They present across all communities and all demographics, they don’t discriminate. It is reported that 1 in 5 of our population are affected at a clinical level. 20% of the population have some kind of fear-related disorder! This poses a huge cost burden on economic, social and personal levels – the cost of healthcare, lost productivity and opportunities, loss of progress.
It need not be so.
And of course fear is in the Church. What an irony that is, for their Lord’s catchcry is ‘Fear not!’ The old religions have forever known the power of fear and use it to keep people united. Instilling the fear of the devil, like parents scaring children of the bogey-man, has always held the congregation to maintain its morality and virtues. This works but, as we are seeing with the deterioration of the old authorities, only up to a point.
Sydney held a study group recently where we looked at the interesting role fear has played in our religious history. We learned that:
- Inherited from our animal ancestors, fear is obviously essential to survival. If we removed the ability to respond to real threats, we’d be dead before we knew it.
- Fear gives birth to religion; it
…drove primitive man to envision the supernatural and thus securely laid the foundations for those powerful social influences of ethics and religion which in turn preserved inviolate the mores and customs of society from generation to generation. [Paper 68:4.3, page 767.3]
- Religion evolved through progressive upgrades eventually arriving at the concept of a real God.
Evolutionary religion is born of a simple and all-powerful fear, the fear which surges through the human mind when confronted with the unknown, the inexplicable, and the incomprehensible. Religion eventually achieves the profoundly simple realization of an all-powerful love, the love which sweeps irresistibly through the human soul when awakened to the conception of the limitless affection of the Universal Father for the sons of the universe. [Paper 90:0.3, page 986.3]
- Superstitious fear is scaffolding for the God concept. Once an advanced comprehension of Deity is attained,
…evolution sets in motion those forces of thought which will inexorably obliterate the scaffolding, which has served its purpose. [Paper 90:3.10, page 990.5]
So, to paraphrase one of my country’s famous tax collectors, it’s the fear we had to have. Critics of religion are correct to observe that religions came about through fear, what they are yet to realise however is that religion is still evolving and that scaffolding is starting to come down.
Anatomy of Fear
Now, I want to have a look at what’s actually going on when we experience fear (a very simplified version, a ‘neuroscience 101’). Referring to this diagram of how fear works in the brain; the limbic system—in the oldest, most primitive part of our brain:
- Threats are perceived by our senses—threat to life, or personal/social wellbeing; threat of the unknown; can be real or imagined.
- This information is sent to the thalamus and amygdala (centre for emotions and alarm system)
- If danger is immediate, thinking/processing time needs to be minimal, the amygdala sends information to the frontal cortex but blocks lengthy processing there and instead sends fight or flight response to the body straight away. That is, it interferes with the higher brain processing.
- The amygdala’s functions, while it ensures survival, prevents the danger being fully thought through and sound decisions made on how to respond to the threat.
So How is this a Problem for the Soul?
Unreasoned fear is a master intellectual fraud practiced upon the evolving mortal soul. [ [Paper 48:7.4, page 556.4] from Morontia Mota No. 2
Firstly let’s just review, what is the soul?
From Paper 111, The Adjuster and the Soul, there are three factors in the evolutionary creation of an immortal soul.
1. The human mind …
2. The divine spirit indwelling this human mind and all potentials inherent in such a fragment of absolute spirituality together with all associated spiritual influences and factors in human life.
3. The relationship between material mind and divine spirit, which connotes a value and carries a meaning not found in either of the contributing factors to such an association. The reality of this unique relationship is neither material nor spiritual but morontial. It is the soul. [Paper 111:2.4, page 1218.3-5]
If every time we are faced with threats, frightened by a challenge, terrorized by the new and unknown, if we allow our higher thinking to be bypassed and allow an unthinking response, we are removing the interaction between our mind and spirit when we need it the most. For it is in those moments when we are pushed to our limits and tested that we improve and grow. We know this is the case for our physical bodies and minds, we have learned from these teachings it is also the case for our spiritual selves.
Here we see the true fraudulent nature of fear. Fear has no place in bringing us closer to God, rather the opposite! Fear wrecks the mind-spirit relationship, poisoning the growth of our soul and thereby keeping us further away from God.
The angels, the book tells us, are not that much different from us.
Divested of material bodies and given spirit forms, you would be very near the angels in many attributes of personality. They share most of your emotions and experience some additional ones. The only emotion actuating you which is somewhat difficult for them to comprehend is the legacy of animal fear that bulks so large in the mental life of the average inhabitant of Urantia. The angels really find it hard to understand why you will so persistently allow your higher intellectual powers, even your religious faith, to be so dominated by fear, so thoroughly demoralized by the thoughtless panic of dread and anxiety. [Paper113:2.5, page 1243.2]
Prevention—Catching the Fear
Fear management is mind management. Our phobias can be treated.
There is much science that shows we can reduce our fear and cope with phobias. We have developed treatments that work: therapies that recondition our thinking processes, and drugs that can treat any underlying physiological factors. We know that we can’t live without fear. It’s our fundamental alarm system. But we have also learned that we don’t have to supress it, rather we can just control it, manage it.
The aim of fear management is don’t try to eliminate the fear, rather change the way you experience it and respond to it. For example, learning through exposure: by exposing yourself to a fear safely, the brain will adapt to it and learn not to be afraid of it. This is known as ‘habituation’ or ‘conditioning.’ Fear can be managed in such a way before it becomes an anxiety disorder. We know that if we can slow down and choose our responses to fear, this results in being less reactive to the amygdala, thus our sense of fear is reduced. If we have the time to make a decision, this allows us to take more into account.
Training the brain is like training muscles, requires ‘working out.’ Training means exposure, habituation, familiarity, experience, preparation, meditation is a proven approach, to gain confidence and assurance that you will be ok despite the threat: the brain will override fear impulses and despite feeling fearful you will be able to choose courageous action anyway.
The point is: change is possible. We can change fears into respect.
“It’s not what happens in our life that causes stress, rather our reactions to it”—we can’t change what happens to us; we can change how we react.
Now, if we can do all this on physical and cognitive levels, there’s no reason to say we can’t do this on a spiritual level as well.
Remember The Adjusters Problem:
Much of my difficulty was due to … (among other things) the fountain of faith polluted by the poisons of fear … [Paper 111:7.5, page 1223.7]
And (part of) The Adjusters Mission:
The Thought Adjusters would like to change your feelings of fear to convictions of love and confidence; but they cannot mechanically and arbitrarily do such things; that is your task. In executing those decisions which deliver you from the fetters of fear, you literally supply the psychic fulcrum on which the Adjuster may subsequently apply a spiritual lever of uplifting and advancing illumination. [Paper 108:5.8, page 1192.3] emphasis added
We all know fear, we let ourselves be victims of fear, and we know how it operates. And since you know fear, this puts you in the best position to catch the fear, arrest it, and overcome it before it destroys you. By slowing down your responses to fear you give your higher mind a chance to properly process it, releasing you from its slave-bondage grip, and allows your indwelling spirit to connect with your mind in that moment and further grow your soul.
And of course the crucial ingredient that will help us slow down our reactions to fear, is faith. Courage comes with the confidence and certainty that faith provides; a certainty which cancels all doubts and unknowns that can lead to fear in the first place. Faith provides certainty through adversity, arms you with courage to conquer fear.
“The Psalmist exhorted you to ‘serve the Lord with fear’ — I bid you enter into the exalted privileges of divine sonship by faith; he commands you to rejoice with trembling; I bid you rejoice with assurance. He says, ‘Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish when his wrath is kindled.’ But you who have lived with me well know that anger and wrath are not a part of the establishment of the kingdom of heaven in the hearts of men.” [Paper 155:1.2, page 1725.3]
“… It is not the purpose of true religion merely to bring peace but rather to insure progress. And there can be no peace in the heart or progress in the mind unless you fall wholeheartedly in love with truth, the ideals of eternal realities. The issues of life and death are being set before you — the sinful pleasures of time against the righteous realities of eternity. Even now you should begin to find deliverance from the bondage of fear and doubt as you enter upon the living of the new life of faith and hope. And when the feelings of service for your fellow men arise within your soul, do not stifle them; when the emotions of love for your neighbor well up within your heart, give expression to such urges of affection in intelligent ministry to the real needs of your fellows.” [Paper 157:2.2, page 1745.1]