What are you afraid of?

This article was published in the Scottish Catholic Observer on Friday 2nd November 2018.

Are you afraid of the dark? Lots of people need a little nightlight in their bedroom in order to get to sleep. Are you afraid of dogs, birds or even clowns? Yes, fear of clowns; there is a word for it, ‘coulrophobia’. Fear is natural. Fear alerts us to danger and sets the body to deal with the danger. It can prompt the body to produce adrenaline, enhancing the ability to fight or flee. Fear can be a lifesaver.

I’ve always had a fear of snakes. I always thought I’d be able to get away from a snake as snakes slither about fairly slowly. That idea was destroyed one day on a dusty road in the bush when a six foot long snake shot across in front of the truck I was in. I was shocked at how fast it could move. I’m even more afraid of snakes now.

Fear can be used to control others. Fear of strangers can turn people against incomers. If the incomers look different, a different colour or unfamiliar dress they are easy to recognise. Those who use a different language or practice a different religion are often rejected by the indigenous communities. This has been exploited by politicians who play on people’s fear of strangers to whip up support.

Fear doesn’t always help. You hear of people being frozen in fear when finding themselves in a very dangerous situation. Fear sometimes stops us doing what we know we should be doing. Sometimes we are afraid of appearing to be different. We don’t want to stand out from the crowd. Being seen to be different can result in us being left out or even ostracised. We all, naturally, want to belong to the society we live in. Sometimes we accept norms and behaviours that don’t really fit in with our views.

In today’s world it can be difficult to recognise what is a generally accepted view and what is an idea that is made to look like the normal view. Pressure groups use the press, social media and public demonstrations to promote ideas. For example we can promote sexual equality and demand that men and women have equal rights. We can go further and say that equality is the basic human right. Not many will argue with that. Then we can claim that those who are uncertain about their gender should be treated equally. Finally we can claim that everyone has the right to choose their gender.

We might find these arguments confusing but difficult to dispute. They can sound reasonable. Official bodies and political parties accept them; nobody wants to alienate potential voters. The pressure is on us to accept this new norm and conform. Who wants to stand out from the crowd?

Of course we must stand out from the crowd if the crowd is wrong. Now I have no doubt that there are people with genuine gender problems. These may be rooted in their biology, physiology or psychology. The appropriate professionals can bring them the help they need and assist in the decisions they take. That is a far cry from declaring that anyone can choose the gender they wish to have. It’s an idea that is not only misguided but can be dangerous.

A friend of mine was telling me recently about being taken to task by a pupil because he referred to her as a girl. She refused to be regarded as either male or female. Realising he was dealing with a delicate situation he asked her how she wished to be addressed. She replied that she should be referred to as ‘it’. The teenage years can be difficult enough coming to terms with one’s sexuality without confusing the issue.

I’ve heard of parents of new-born babies taking a gender neutral approach to child rearing, allowing the child to choose their gender at some later stage. It seems to me that we are taking away any certainties in our lives for no good reason. It is the result of muddled thinking. Thinking that equality is the basic right was the first mistake; it is not. The basis of any society is truth. Society cannot work effectively if it is not based in absolute truth.

This gender issue is not the only one where ignoring the truth is causing problems. We recently saw an occasion where a government minister was forced to apologise to Parliament for misleading the house (you can’t say lying in the House of Commons) about the results of an investigation into her department. We have an American President who appears on television in the morning saying one thing and later in the evening says the opposite.

In international negotiations we have the British Government signing an agreement and months later telling us that that agreement is no longer valid. Without certainty nobody can trust us. Life becomes impossible without the truth.

Where can we find this certainty? How do we deal with the fear of rejection if we stand out from the crowd? As Christians we must expect to be at odds with the world. We take our lead from Jesus. How did Jesus react to rejection? In John’s gospel we read that Jesus told the people something that disturbed them.

“I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.”

John 6:51

Now many of the people who heard this could not accept it and walked away. Jesus was not put off by this. He made no attempt to bring them back. He didn’t change anything he said to win them over. The truth is the truth and you either accept it or reject it.

If we find ourselves being rejected because we believe in the truth and that does not comply with the accepted norm how do we react? How do we deal with the fear of rejection? Again we look to Jesus as our guide.

Jesus warned his disciples that they would face rejection and even persecution.

“Do not be afraid of them therefore. For everything that is now covered be uncovered, and everything now hidden will be made clear. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the daylight; what you hear in whispers, proclaim from the housetops.

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell.”

Matthew 10: 26, 28

The message is clear. Don’t be afraid. You can choose to be rejected by the world and be accepted by the God who created everything or give in to the world and face a far greater rejection in the future. We have recently seen Christians in the Middle East willingly give up life itself rather than deny the truth. I’m not suggesting we should seek martyrdom but we must be strong in the Faith and proclaim the message of the Gospel by our behaviour and in how we deal with our fellow man. Or as my mother used to say, ‘Tell the truth and shame the Devil.’

Joseph McGrath

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