The Little Things

Fear can start in the smallest of places.

As a child I was afraid of the dark. I was afraid of some of the creatures from the late night horror movies and I wasn’t particularly fond of my closet. The doors of my closet were louvered and it was all too easy to envision something peering at me between those slats waiting to grab an ankle and drag me inside.

Since my closet was between the safety of the lighted hallway and the comfort of my bed, that distance was often closed with a sprint and jump technique I’d perfected. It was my defense against the unknown until I could get under my blankets, through which no monster could penetrate. One thing was for sure: no amount of  “there’s nothing to be afraid of” calmed my nerves – not even a bit. My ignorance couldn’t overcome the confidence I had in my fear.

Like most children, I outgrew my fears because I saw the faults with them: darkness can hide, but isn’t inherently bad; monsters from those late-night movies don’t exist; and if there’s anything scary in my closet it’s probably the cat.

I was reminded of how irrational fear can be when I stumbled upon a video claiming peanut butter was proof that evolution is completely wrong. Sound crazy? Check it out here.

It’s easy for me to see the faults with their logic. They assume energy and matter instantly form life, which it doesn’t, but even if it did that life would be microscopic and not visible to the naked eye as the video implies. The biggest mistake is assuming all energy and all matter are on equal footing. If that were true then someone with a match and a jar of salsa they could make life even if it takes a few million tries to get it right. And last time I checked there weren’t planets made mostly of peanut butter.

It seems innocent and laughable enough. Right? These people didn’t understand a couple of things properly and it led them to draw conclusions that were even further removed from the truth.

So let’s take the increasingly viral Megan Fox. No, not the actress…the other one. The one who knows Monster Energy Drinks are the work of Satan, the antichrist, witchcraft and potentially a host of other things. Her shakedown of the issue is here.

The difference here is the shapes she sees are actually present. The words she singles out actually are on the can and box and poster. The trouble here is that it makes huge jumps in logic that don’t add up.

Profanity isn’t inherently Satanist. The so-called cross she sees could just as easily be the Greek character for phi, a snake eye or – heaven forbid – just a design for the font. Finally, if it’s really Satan’s work to use Hebrew on a soft drink can (because I suppose there’s no way they could be a monster’s claw marks) then I think I’m missing what it’s supposed to imply. That Satan needs a publicist? She seems like a clear-cut case of someone who sees what they want to see. Right?

Yes, like the equation of Darkness + Monsters + Closet in my childhood. Sometimes these small fears can grow into something more than the sum of their parts.

Intelligent Design is a wonderful example of scores of small understandings building into a huge movement that’s been met with an alarming – well, alarming to me at least – acceptance.

Let’s take the eye, for example. It’s often used as an example for understanding Irreducible Complexity (an argument that states certain things are far too complex to have sprung into existence in their present state).

I mean, if you take away any one part of the eye it’s basically useless – so how could a lens, a cornea, the optic nerve, the retina and all the other bits have just popped into existence at the same time by accident for so many species without some designer controlling the outcome?

They often quote Darwin, who said “to suppose that the eye … could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree.” Of course Darwin was merely agreeing that it’s improbable that a fully developed eye would spring forth instantly. Instead, he argued it would take a gradual evolution. And if we look to science we can see how scores of more primitive eyes have existed and continue to exist.

But because of smaller mistakes we have Misundersanding of Darwin + Incorrect Assumption of Eye Development + Other Incorrect Hypotheses = Irreducible Complexity. And with Irreducible Complexity added to a few other concepts, such as a Fine-Tuned Universe and Specified Complexity we suddenly have a monster to deal with called Intelligent Design.

And when it then gets some celebrity support from Ben Stein it becomes a really big monster even though in many ways it’s still very similar to the closet monster of my childhood. The credence people lend to the errors in logic at this point no longer appear as absurd as the peanut butter argument. Instead, believers are at the same place I was when I confronted my closet monsters: they are unwilling to listen to anything that counters what they’ve taken to heart as the truth.

The difference is we’re not children afraid of easily dismissed fears – we’re adults and we’re faced with very complex issues that are much harder to dismiss. Our fears are no longer as easily laughed off as the monster under our bed and misconceptions are very often intermingled with truth, making it all the harder to ferret out what’s real and what’s a figment of someone’s imagination. Our stance of fear becomes our inherent ignorance of important issues in our lives that are too complicated to fully understand.

And our ignorance is completely understandable. Much of what we face is massively complex – more than any individual could perhaps fully understand. Instead of darkness it’s the medical system or political parties or complex scientific issues and the fear becomes a form of ignorance that’s daunting to overcome. It’s almost as though we must become an expert on these issues to differentiate spin from facts. Furthermore, we’re often seeing these issues through some third-party – such as the media – which can sometimes muddy issues further because they must only report on certain parts because time and space restraints are too constricting.

I have to admit that when people bring up Obamacare my eyes glaze over. It’s not my strength to understand the implications. Someone could pretty easily persuade me that it’s the best thing since sliced bread and then 5 minutes later someone else could convince me it’s the worst thing to ever hit the medical system. And it’s my very ignorance making me vulnerable to being hoodwinked or becoming a pawn for a politician who may not have my welfare in mind. It makes it very tempting to side with someone I trust instead of educating myself.

And the monster may be global warming, vaccinating our children or trying to figure out which investments will allow us to retire some day. Undoubtedly we all have these monsters living under our beds and they seem every bit as scary as ever. But we can’t dismiss them because to ignore them would be irresponsible, and we all wish to do what we feel is best for our family and our community.

I think the real issue is whether we allow fear to control our lives. There is an alternative and, at the risk of oversimplifying fear, I’m going to suggest love is the answer.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love” – 1 John 4:18.

In fact, I would suggest the passage from 1 John 7- 21 about looking to God’s love. There’s really an overwhelming number of passages in the Bible about the nature of fear. I pick this one because it speaks more to me than some of the others, but you be the judge and do the research for yourself.

It’s not a magic wand we can wave and make everything disappear, but when we love our neighbor we must first listen and try to understand. We must question that which we do not know and assume that if people are not against us, they are with us (contrary to the popular expression). For it’s only when we give our neighbor respect and love that they can disentangle themselves from fear long enough to respectfully listen to a differing opinion without resorting to anger.

These monsters we find ourselves fighting can dominate our lives. Our fears can cripple and debilitate us. They seem colossal and so complicated that we may never understand them in a lifetime of study, but they are little things with a simple solution. Go forth and love.

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