* to encourage a reasoned awareness of how our beliefs impact the way we interact with the world around us
* to foster intelligent and open dialogue
* to inspire a sense of spirituality that has real meaning in day-to-day life

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Deuteronomy 7-11: Fear is the Opposite of Love (The Illusory Threat of Other People's Beliefs)

Many people think that hatred is the opposite of love.  In terms of pure linguistics, it's an accurate assumption.  In terms of the human mind and heart, however, fear is actually love's opposing force.  One cannot truly love and fear simultaneously.  Perhaps one can be devoted to something one fears.  One can be obedient and faithful to the object of one's fear.  But love and fear are mutually exclusive in the human psyche.  Even the Bible claims that "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love" (1 John 4:18).  If your goal is to love, you must put aside fear.

This is something the writers of Deuteronomy apparently did not understand, and perhaps the reason the next several books of the Bible tell the tale of the Israelites' repeated failure to live up to the impossible standards of their religion.  In Deuteronomy 7-11, there are three basic themes aside from the recounting of the business with the Ten Commandments and the golden calf.  The Israelites are told to abhor and destroy all of the spiritual paraphernalia of the cultures they displace or slaughter.  They are told that everything they have of value (including the displacement and slaughtering of other people) is not by their own merit, but is something that their god provides.  It is also asserted that they will be punished if their god gets angry with them; all of those blessings will be taken away if the Israelites don't behave themselves.  We're just going to look at that first theme for the moment.

Religion and spiritual identity are two different things entirely.  Religion and dogma are used to draw lines of distinction, to illustrate how one group of people is different from another group of people.  At one time, before cultures came into close contact with one another, religion was a way to codify the beliefs of a community -- to explain the unknown for a group of people.  When those groups of people encountered other groups of people, though, it became quickly apparent that they had come to accept explanations that were different from the other people.  If neither side was willing to modify their beliefs, then the two cultures experienced conflict on some level, because their religious identities were challenged. 

Now, we understand so much more about human nature and the world around us, we see how religion breeds conflict, and yet we are still stubborn enough to dig in our heels and insist that our belief is better than what some other group of people believe.  And we are threatened enough by their beliefs that we are often willing to resort to violence to defend our religious identities.  We make decisions based on religion that would otherwise seem irrational or immoral, but we excuse those actions in the name of a religious belief.  At least that's what we convince ourselves.  Actually, we make those decisions based on fear.

Our actual spiritual identities are not dependent upon dogma.  Our spirituality is the unifying quality underlying all of the beliefs that people have developed over the millenia.  Our spiritual identities urge us toward love, not fear.  The truth is that our religious beliefs don't matter all that much.  What matters is the way that we treat one another.  If we are convinced that our religion wants us to abuse or kill people who believe differently, we are actually acting against our spiritual nature.  In many cases, we are also acting against the modern-day interpretation of our faith tradition as well.  That all gets glossed over when we give fear control. 

The truth of the matter is that other people's beliefs don't threaten us.  If one person believes in biblical Christianity, and another person believes in the teachings of Islam, and a third person believes in the Nordic pantheon, all three of those people can arrive at the same conclusions about how to relate to themselves and other people and the world around them.  Instead of recognizing the vast swaths of similarity, however, people are drawn toward the points of distinction.  People want to assert that they are right about what they believe.  They want to be right about something that cannot be proven by any means, and they can get so caught up in that crusade that they give themselves over to fear instead of love. 

We do not need to destroy the things that others hold dear in order to bolster our own beliefs.  We do not need to denigrate the beliefs of others in order to strengthen our spiritual stability.  The answer is quite the opposite.  Love drives out fear.  Love helps us recognize that our beliefs are not something that other people have to validate.  Our beliefs are simply the way we have come to articulate the spiritual truths that are common to every person.  Our individual beliefs are like different languages we use to describe the same landscape.  The landscape doesn't change because someone else uses a different set of words to label it.  There is no legitimate reason to fear someone else's beliefs, even if we have reason to be concerned about their actions.

So, since it is our actions that truly make a difference in the world, it's important that we understand how our beliefs are compelling us to behave.  Sometimes we wind up believing things that actually create conflict within us, and that leads to us creating conflict with things outside of ourselves.  The way to avoid giving in to fear is to examine what we actually believe and to be willing to modify the beliefs that don't make sense to the way we want to be in the world.  We'll get into the implications of the beliefs about blessings and punishments from on high in a few days.  In the meantime, consider how closely the possible covenant from a couple of weeks back fits the way you want to be in the world.  What would you change about it?  Why would you change that?  Do you have a better set of agreements with yourself that truly reflects how you want to be with yourself, other people, and the world around you?

1. Recognize the deep truth, genuine beauty, and intentional creativity within you.

2. Value yourself as much as every other human being, and more than external things and concepts.

3. Prioritize time for self-examination to become more adept at seeing the truth, beauty, and creativity within yourself (and in other people).

4. Acknowledge the close relationships in your life and the sacrifices that other people have made on your behalf.

5. Honor and respect other people -- all people regardless of their culture or beliefs.

6. Be grateful for your life and celebrate what you have.


  1. Some people are difficult to love. OK, better put... I don't want my acceptance of someone else -- or my honoring them or respecting them -- to be taken as agreement with them. Some people are mean, bitter, and hostile. I'm not necessarily afraid of them, but I don't want to be a doormat to them instead of standing up for what I believe.

  2. Sometimes it seems that there is a relationship between how confident we are in our own beliefs and how we accept the beliefs of others. That's just a figment of our imaginations, though. You can't control how other people are going to construe your behavior, and you can also disagree with someone in a way that still loves/honors/respects their value as a human being. It isn't about who wins or who gets to run roughshod over the other person with their opinions, it's about being secure enough in who you are that other people's ideas are not a threat to your sense of identity.