Addicted to Fear

The other night I was watching an interview between Bill Moyers and the novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson. She said something which resonated strongly with me. She said something to the effect that we have become a nation of “fear addicts.” She was talking about our obsession with the news. Whether it’s the local or the world news about 90% or more of the news is bad news, terrifying news.

Bring on the hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, Ebola and ISIS beheadings; we can’t seem to get enough of it. I’ve pretty much stopped watching the local news. It’s such a grim series of robberies, rapes and murder/suicides that the prospect of a Florida sinkhole opening up under one’s house is almost a relief.

The only way to explain the popularity of fear and horror is in terms of an addiction. In other words there is some reinforcement, some payoff, or we wouldn’t expose our brains to this over and over. And then we escape the real carnage that surrounds us by watching the imaginary horror of “The Walking Dead” or the latest poltergeist or zombie apocalypse movie. More fear, we can’t seem to get enough of it.

I have written about some folk’s addiction to anger. I’m an expert on this as I was married for nine years to someone who got high on anger. When she was on a role the endorphins, the norepinephrine and dopamine was flowing. And I have plenty of anger of my own, thank you very much. Anyway, one of the functions of anger is that it protects us from feelings of depression. It seems kind of counter-intuitive but perhaps fear does that as well.

I’ll have to try to find the interview and watch it again, as Ms. Robinson also said something that sounded like, “We have created a narrative in which we are the hero.” I’m not sure if I got that correct or fully understood what she was saying in her attempt to rationalize our addictive obsession with the terrifying. Perhaps, she was trying to say that we neutralize our fears by building a narrative in our thoughts in which we gain control of an out-of-control situation. Think the looney-tunes show “Doomsday Preppers.” These Preppers are folks who spend every waking minute figuring out how to survive in a dystopian world following some global disaster. They dig shelters, and build fortresses in remote places and stockpile food and weapons. One show even seriously addressed how to survive a zombie apocalypse.

And then there is our national obsession with guns and the NRA’s irrational belief that every sensible piece of legislation about gun control is a plot to strip them of their Second Amendment rights. I’ve blogged about that before in “The Spirit of Fear.” In fact, I devote much of my book “Jesus v. satan: The Message of the Wilderness Temptations” to Satan’s tempting of us via fears and insecurities. We have become a people obsessed with security where the new mantra is “Stay safe!”

I have read somewhere that the injunction, “Fear not!” occurs something like 365 times in the Bible–or one for every day of the year. And I believe that fear underlies almost all of our emotional maladies. I have blogged about fear before in “Fear is the Lock ~ Love is the Key” and permeating the earth with a spirit of fear is certainly another trick of the devil. When we are afraid we will look for every imaginable escape before allowing a trusting walk with the Lord to illuminate our path. However, most people never get it; they just keep looking for every avenue of relief and escape—even in the common addictions of amusements, food, drugs and alcohol. Of one thing we can be certain: “the spirit of fear” was not given to us by God, but instead He gave us “the spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (II Tim. 1:7 KJV).

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About diospsytrek

I am a licensed mental health counselor in Florida. I am also the author of four books. The books have to do with coping with depression and other mood disorders, and the nexus of psychological problems and spiritual warfare.
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