The Science of Fear: Heroes Feel It Too

I wanted to take a post to talk about something I’ve been seeing quite a bit of in my internet spheres lately. It’s something that is causing reactions all over the internet and seeping its ugly tentacles from our cubicles to our dinner tables. It’s something that affects all of us equally regardless of age, gender, race, creed or income level. It doesn’t care who you are or what you’ve been through. This thing is called fear, and it’s frankly making a bit of a mockery of those of us on planet Earth that are supposed to be taking care of this floating blue orb in outer space.

Now, as I mentioned, fear affects me too because I’m human. I believe that we were created in the image of God to go out and make disciples while being good stewards of this planet. I believe that we were also created with the greatest computer on the face of the Earth placed inside our skulls: the brain. The brain is a marvelous organism that science still isn’t sure how to wrap itself around yet. We know it’s comprised of grey matter, white matter, neurons, and a few other bits and pieces that allow us to interpret the world around us from the time we’re born until we die. The brain tells our bodies how to move, react, and process every input that our body receives. In short, the brain is amazing! I believe that because it is so amazing that is why fear decides to start there, and I’d like to take a few paragraphs to make some comments on fear and our responsibility in reacting to it appropriately.

I believe that we are created beings affected by this thing called sin. I plan to discuss both the scientific and spiritual aspects of fear and how it seems to affecting us as 21st century people today. As with previous posts, whether you’re a professing Christian or not, I hope there’s something in here for you!

Let’s start with the definition of fear: “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.”

The following is all paraphrased from science.howstuffworks.com, but basically we feel and react to fear through two different paths that both start at the same place, the trigger. Something in the world affects us as an input and that event makes its way to our brain. Sometimes this process is entirely autonomic, which means that the whole chain of events occurs without us even being consciously aware that it’s happening. Other times it goes the ‘high road’ and reaches the fight or flight response so that we get to make a call on it ourselves. The parts of the brain involved in this process are listed below:

  • Thalamus – decides where to send incoming sensory data (from eyes, ears, mouth, skin)
  • Sensory Cortex – interprets sensory data
  • Hippocampus – stores and retrieves conscious memories; processes sets of stimuli to establish context
  • Amygdala – decodes emotions; determines possible threat; stores fear memories
  • Hypothalamus – activates “fight or flight” response

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Nowadays we don’t need fight or flight so much, except in the rare cases of bear attack or burglary. However, our brains can still perceive something as a threat and then it doesn’t matter if it’s real or not, the chemistry takes over. Our pupils dilate to take in more light, our heart rate increases so that more blood can get to the muscles for action, and everything gets heightened so that we can do what science says we’re all trying to do: survive.

Where I see this chemical reaction played out the wrong way is through our reactions and our attitudes. I’m going to go off book here and call it out like I see it, so take that for what it’s worth. In the current political climate of gender politics, fights against terrorism, and race relations we are losing this fight badly. We see something that scares us inside and our reaction is to fearfully react and curl up in a ball hoping that no one hurts us, while in the process not caring who we hurt to save our own skin. This fear has permeated every single aspect of our society; schools, churches, workplaces, restaurants, you name it.

We’re afraid of radical Islamic terrorists, so we advocate banning anyone who could be at all like them from our nation.

We’re afraid of ‘foreigners’ taking our jobs because we feel they “haven’t earned it” and think that because we were born in this specific time and place that our life is more sacred.

We’re advocating boycotting target because they support LGBT people (which, by the way, I’m pretty sure Target supported the whole LGBT thing before the bathroom issue.)

We have allowed fear to dictate our responses to us, and the devil is right in the middle of it. He loves to hate, loves to divide, and LOVES to make us feel alone and secluded, because that’s where he gets us all to himself. Except we’re never alone, and that’s how we fight it.

Like I mentioned before, when we get afraid our bodies enter this heightened state of processing and the chemicals take over no matter what, we can’t help it. So when people are afraid of pedophiles preying on people in bathrooms (which no sign or law can stop by the way) they use the excuse of “this is out of my control so I’m going to do anything I can to stay in control.” When we’re afraid of others coming at us over our borders we want to build a wall (which still won’t stop them) but it’s something we can do to at least look in control right? We make bad decisions when we’re on our own. However, I believe that with God’s guidance, we can make the right choice.

We watch movies about superheroes, gunslingers, and all around great people that we aspire to be. Whether they are fictional or not, we project this attitude on them that they don’t feel fear, that it’s something we can just choose not to feel. Remember though that fear is an emotion we can’t control, we just get to decide how to react to it.

I cannot at all claim to know you or your life reader, and I don’t know what you’ve been through, but God does. I heard a marriage study that says that “your response is your responsibility” so none of us get to blame anyone else for the actions we take and words we speak that we will be judged on one day.

Remember that no matter who you claim to serve or not serve, we here on planet Earth are all in this together. Every time we have the choice to react fearfully, take yourself through the heroes journey. Every hero starts off as mild mannered, and then an event occurs that awakens their heroic potential. They start down the path of heroism and right as they reach their peak of fighting evil they have an event that sends them down to their lowest point and we think “can they do it?” It’s at this point fear becomes a factor! The hero must decide whether to give in to fear or to rise up in victory. Can we beat this thing? Hell yes we can! I urge all of us to take in the bigger picture of what God has called us to be, and be people who use this wonderful brain of ours to fully process a situation and be in charge of our reaction. The good news is, whatever you choose your reaction to be, it’s all on you!

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