Pondering the South African Memesphere – Looking for the Good in Everything header image 2

On Doubt and Fear

November 13th, 2007 · Posted by Who Knows? · 13 Comments

Hugo being typically hyperbolic:

If you fear doubt, you will have much to fear. If you embrace doubt, you will no longer have anything to fear.

Bertrand Russell:

To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.

Categories: Religion and Science
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13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Steve // Nov 13, 2007 at 9:27 am

    On the other hand.

    Psalm 111:10 – The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…

  • 2 Hugo // Nov 13, 2007 at 10:06 am

    Fear the Lord, so that you may realise you have nothing else to fear?

  • 3 Hugo // Nov 13, 2007 at 10:14 am

    I’d like to hear Bertus!’ views on what “fear” means in the Old Testament.

    And Psalms were written by humans? 😉 They are raw, they are real, they are people wrestling with a tough world…

  • 4 Bertus! // Nov 13, 2007 at 10:34 am

    O gits, performance anxiety.

  • 5 Steve // Nov 13, 2007 at 12:43 pm

    I think your comment (no. 2) is what I was sort of trying to get at. I think fear can be viewed as awe (and potential worry) at the power something besides yourself has over you.

    And in a sense, then, one can argue that one’s awe at God’s power over you overawes other fears.

    By the way, another verse, illustrating the wonders of quote-mining the Bible.

    1 John 4:18 – “There is no fear in love…”

    Add in there that we are commanded to love God, and it follows that we are instructed not to begin to be wise…

  • 6 Bertus! // Nov 13, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    Rudolf Otto beskryf die primitiewe mens se eerste gewaarwording van God of die goddelike as ‘n intuitiewe besef dat daar iets enorm agter alles skuil, iets wat jou ten enige tyd kan platvee, ‘n “mysterium fascinans et tremendum”. So gesien is vrees die oorsprong van religie, hoewel mens hopelik dit weldra ontgroei.
    In die 1933-vertaling van die Bybel is daar nog gereeld na die “vrees vir God” verwys, maar in die jonger vertaling is dit elke keer wegvertaal na “om God te ken” of “om in God te glo”. Die oorspronklike Hebreeus het egter van “vrees vir God” gepraat. Die idee dat God mens se pel is en dat mens met hom local kan raak, is eintlik maar ‘n moderne idee wat grotendeels deur die evangelicals uitgedink is.

  • 7 Hugo // Nov 13, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    Thanks, both of you!

    If anyone really wants a translation, they can request it. I’m not going to translate everything. I encourage us all to communicate in languages we feel most comfortable in. That is to say: Afrikaans is super-welcome, even if I usually stick to English.

    (I will ask for translations of French and German though… whenever that appears. 😉 )

  • 8 Tim Mills // Nov 13, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    Please accept these comments in the spirit they are intended – of inquiry, not confrontation.

    I’ve never been Christian, and know very little of the Bible. So when I hear the quote in the first response, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”, it strikes me at face value as a bad teaching.

    I understand that one can look from a less obvious perspective at some teachings and find value that is not apparent on a cursory reading, so I love to see what people find when they look closer. Hugo, you suggest “Fear the Lord, so that you may realise you have nothing else to fear.” Could you elaborate? How does fearing the creator of the universe free one from other fears?

    Bertus, I wish I knew Afrikaans. A quick and messy Google translation (from Dutch) suggests to me that you are talking about alternative translations that use “know” rather than “fear” in that Psalm. This begins to sound more compatible with my own view, in that knowledge of the ultimate reality (or any reality beyond what we see on the surface) is what we generally mean by wisdom.

  • 9 Hugo (originally wrote this under the name "Russ") // Nov 13, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    it strikes me at face value as a bad teaching.

    Indeed. There is great trouble communicating over such a huge cultural gap, which is why theologians ought to study so long and so hard. Literal readings of the fundamentalists, take things at face value, and destroy the truth that might be found if one looks deeper.

    How does fearing the creator of the universe free one from other fears?

    While I don’t deny that “God is the creator of the universe”, I would still like to challenge your preconceived ideas (in the same spirit as your questions). The question I’d ask, is: suppose you assume God exists, what can you tell me about God, whatever he or she or it is?…

    So here then, a translation of Bertus!’ comment, not perfect (just like any translation, including the translation of the Bible into English), but I think it captures the gist of what Bertus! said:

    Rudolf Otto describes primitive man’s first realisation of God or the godly (or the divine, rather?) as an intuitive realisation that there is something huge behind everything, something that can flatten you any instance, a “mysterium fascinans et tremendum”. Seen this way, fear is the origin of religion, although one hopefully eventually outgrows it.

    The 1933 Afrikaans translation of the Bible regularly referred to “fear of God”, but the younger translations (the more recent translations, rather) replaces it with “to know God” or “to believe in God”. The original Hebrew referred to “fear of God” though. The idea that God could be man’s buddy, is really quite a recent/modern idea, largely invented by the evangelicals.

    If something I wrote seems out of place, it might just be my translation, rather than Bertus’ original. Same goes with Bible translations.

    Fear the Lord, so that you may realise you have nothing else to fear.

    Let’s see if I can explain my idea… hmm…

    There is much to be afraid of in this world. Danger lurks everywhere. We could fear every little danger, or we could accept that there is “something bigger” (whatever that is), that things are out of our hands. This realisation of “something bigger” (this acceptance of the fear that is that you are immeasurably small in the bigger picture), helps you to realise there really is nothing else to fear. It’s all in “God’s” hands. (All in the hands of “something bigger”.)

    How’s that? I’m hoping you’ll feel quite welcome in my church, despite the fact that I refer to “God” and the incarnation of God I know as “Jesus”. 😉 Humanists are very, very welcome! And I appreciate any contributions/criticisms/suggestions you make.

  • 10 Steve // Nov 13, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    Thanks, Russ!

    Tim, to address your inquiry. First, I was just trying to stir the pot a bit, so I was not _entirely_ serious. However, it is a Bible quote, so us Christians need to take it seriously (if not necessarily literally/at face value).

    I’ve mentioned my interpretation of fear in a later comment. Another definition could be something like “holy respect”, which seems to have some of the connotations of the word “know” that gets used in the modern translations, while not bringing in the “buddy” idea. But how relevant this “respect” concept is to other types of fear is not entirely clear.

  • 11 scribbles // Nov 14, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    From Frank Herbert’s Dune series the following is also quite a nice quote on fear – the “litany against fear”:

    I must not fear.
    Fear is the mind-killer.
    Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
    I will face my fear.
    I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
    And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
    Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
    Only I will remain.

  • 12 Timothy Mills // Nov 15, 2007 at 12:56 am

    Russ, I’ll wiggle out of your question thus: I don’t have a belief in a personal god. If I were presented with persuasive evidence of such a being, I would attribute it properties based on the evidence.

    In the meantime, I’ll try to use the term as it seems others use it. In my experience, “God” almost always means (at least) a creator being with the power to suspend natural laws and with an interest in human affairs. Is that a fair basic definition?

    Thanks for the translation of Bertus!’s comments. The new definition seems to approach Einstein’s metaphorical use of “God” to indicate the basic nature of the universe (the underlying physical laws, if you will). That God is not a buddy nor even necessarily a conscious being; it is deep truth that is, in Einstein’s opinion and in mine, deserving of respect. (Steve’s reply suggests something similar.)

    So at this point, I have to say I agree with you. If we read the Psalm in this way, then there is no longer anything I can object to:

    “Holy respect for the deep and mysterious truths of existence is the beginning of wisdom.”

    This is a statement that could be applied to the scientific impulse as easily as to the religious.

    As far as fear goes, I am still more comfortable with the Russell quote Hugo started with (or with Hugo’s own quote). Or with the Frank Herbert quote that scribbles just gave.

    Thankyou all for your enlightening examination of the Psalm, though. I shall have to think carefully next time I am inclined to dismiss a religious verse as irretrievably wrong-minded.

  • 13 gerhard // Mar 5, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    spam spam spam spamiedi spam ..

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