Arieh Y. Shalev

Unraveling Trauma

The Fear of God Is Dead

Self is the new god.

Posted Aug 16, 2018

I was brought up in an agnostic family. Equality, Freedom, Emancipation, Truthfulness, Generosity, and Justice were good-enough principles to follow, and a faith in overarching providence seemed redundant. Nonetheless, since I first met it, I loved the expression “God-Fearing.” It conveyed an underlying layer of all the above, as well as humility, self-awareness, and the acceptance of one’s own limitations relative to an overarching order. In my family, however, you were God Fearing without referring to God in your thoughts or practice.

With time and studies, I kept thinking that, as a descriptor of self-regulatory processes, God Fearing was much more poignant than its pale psychological substitutes: super-ego, observing ego, projected angst, or social consciousness. Empirical research, in which I later engaged, was imbued by God Fearing because it systematically assumed and quantified one’s error in pretending to know about the world. I thrived in empirical research.

But God’s Fear is gone. Half a century of narcissism finally brought it down. Fearless lies, self-aggrandizement, and lack of restraints now rule. Even God’s word is not God Fearing anymore: it incites, divides, hates, and, most critically, is arrogantly-dispensed, disparaging of decency, rules or, as of recently, child-parents’ bonds. God is downgraded. Self is the new god. Fearing God, like other human weaknesses, is the thing to be ashamed of as it goes down a Darwinian spiral.

Some still believe that this is all about politics. It is not. It is more about selfies and unconstrained tweets of all kinds. I recently saw a picture of a packed crowd, smartphones up, massed around the Louvre’s Mona Lisa, smiling as well, selfie-centered, fearing nothing. An “Opinion,” to the extent that it is mine, is right, and it is my right to “express” and “distribute” it – murderous as it might be at times because there is no God to be afraid of. Rating is the new measure of decency, and obscenities are highly rated. Wealth made by manipulating fear is as Kosher as richness gained by producing goods. Promoting the unrestrained use of opiates, and lying about it, is shameless. The old tobacco-lung-cancer-industry at least blushed, once in a while, when caught, or tried to hide. Not anymore. If it sells, it’s right — and just! Even the justice system, as much as it may try to work hard, is not a barrier. To quote Aiden Tozer: "The fear of consequences is no deterrent when the fear of God is gone.”

Psychology today is not yesterday’s psychology. Its traditional thrust to increase mental freedom by accumulating knowledge is obsolete: Psychological freedom is not today’s main problem. There is enough of it already. Re-installing God Fear is much more urgent. Resuming a sense of humility. Weighing your next-door neighbor – or the next talking head on your TV screen by how God Fearing he or she is, i.e., decent, honest, truthful, self-effacing and afraid, simply afraid, of misspeaking, offending or wrongdoing. Psychology today is about re-discovering self-regulation and self-restraint, and the principles underlying them once referred to as God Fearing.

If we still have a residue of our childhood–acquired lie-detector and decency-sensor, those should be screaming foul. To paraphrase Oliver Cromwell: Bring back God Fearing, and we will have little else to be afraid of.

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