Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Things We Fear

My all-time favorite Twilight Zone episode concerned a boy who saw the future. As I recall, the boy was a radio or television star, making predictions and wowing listeners or viewers. Then one day he refused to speak, and at the end of the show you learned why: he had seen the sun exploding, a supernova in his galactic backyard.

That struck me as a youngster because that’s the sort of thing I was afraid of then—global and cosmic disasters. I bought into the fear of a population bomb. I wondered what would happen when the next Ice Age arrived or the Big One, as in earthquake. As I got a little older, I worried about nuclear war, and when I read Stephen King’s The Stand, about a mutant virus that goes rogue and wipes out 99 percent of the world’s population, I thought, well, wow, yeah, that could happen.

I experienced a shift in my fears, one I didn’t recognize right away, when, as a young adult, I began to rethink nuclear war. It might be more accurate to say that a new thought came to me. My new thought was, there will never be a nuclear holocaust unless God says it’s time to end things. Now I realize that until then my mind had swallowed the scientific, postivist view of the world, hook, line, and sinker—that what happens is all chemical on the micro level, astrophysical on the macro. But my heart, educated at the hearth and in church, alongside good Christian parents, had held onto a deep conviction that on the biggest level of things, Someone had His hand on the controls.

Forty years further on, and a Catholic today, I don’t worry much about supernovas or nuclear war or bioterrorism—although I did get caught up for a few days in the post–9/11 anthrax scare. But in general that’s not what I fear anymore.

What I fear today is evil in its most personal and immediate form. What I fear is the seemingly irreversible way I always fall short. Why do I want to do good and end up doing bad? It’s the thing in me that does the bad that I fear today. And its long-term consequences.

People mock organized religion and especially the Catholic Church by saying it’s all about fear and guilt. Evidently, they presume that they’re free of those things. But ask them about bioterror or overpopulation and you’ll see their pupils shrink.

We all fear something. It’s just that believing in one thing frees me from fearing other things.

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