Yesterday I sent my weekly meditation called "Fear Not". I talked about how fear sometimes functions in our spiritual lives. Turns out there is some biology that is a part of the dynamic, too. I heard a story on the radio this morning on the way fear is being used as a strategy in the health care reform debate. You can listen to the whole story by following this link: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112315433. But below is a short excerpt about the "Science of Fear". From a theological perspective, this reminds me that--given the primitive biological roots of fear--it is by the grace of God and the transformative power of love that fear can function in ways that are helpful to us--and not destructive. And given that fear is such an ingrained, primitive response, it lends that much more power and weight to the many times Scripture reminds us: "Do not be afraid." May it be so!
The Science Of Fear
But exactly why is fear such an effective tactic? Simple biology, says Joseph LeDoux, a professor of neuroscience at New York University.
It turns out that fear is a very primitive response, and "once fear is aroused in your brain, it tends to take over and dominate," LeDoux says. A brain paralyzed by fear is unable to think other things through.
It actually makes sense on a survival level, he says. "If there's a chance that you'll be harmed, then you better attend to it. In other words, you better be afraid of it and be careful about what's going on."
There's another thing that makes fear effective in political debates — it's contagious.
"Rats have ways of sending out ultrasonic calls to other rats to warn them that, say, a cat is nearby," LeDoux says. "And these sounds are a secret code, because they're outside the cat's hearing ability. So it's pretty primitive in nature that we have these kinds of mechanisms for detecting danger, for experiencing danger within the individual, and for sharing that information across individuals."
(Morning Edition, National Public Radio, Friday, August 28, 2009)