But what if we substitute the word ‘spider’ for god? What if we talk about spider-fearing people? How about closed spaces, or open spaces; about lifts or flying; about walking through doorways or using new technology?
Would we consider those who feared any of these things rational and worthy of special respect because of their fear, or would we maybe see their condition as a problem which they need help and support to overcome? Would we see it as something which they could, given time and the right treatment, eventually overcome and return to living a normal life?
What I’m talking about here is morbid phobia; irrational, life-changing fears. The sort of fear which becomes part of the sufferer’s identity and around which they, and their family, may have to fit their life and take special measures to accommodate.
A phobia is defined as an irrational and intense fear of a specific object or situation. Phobias are classified as anxiety disorders by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (4th Ed; DSM-IV)So, how much of a religious person’s life is conditioned by God-fearing, or theophobia to give it it’s correct medical name? How much of a religious person time is spent thinking about their god, and how to avoid it hurting them? How much time is spent seeking its forgiveness or its approval for fear of the consequences of not doing so? How much time do they spend assuring it of their ‘love and obedience’ and otherwise trying to placate, reassure and mollify it?
The answer of course is a great deal of it. Their 'faith' often defines them as people. Asked to describe themselves, most fundamentalists will immediately identify with their religion. "I am a Christian/Moslem who...".
Unlike other phobia, where the response is avoidance and even fleeing the scene, with an omnipresent god this is not an option. The only recourse is to bargain and try to placate and curry favour with it. Watch the reaction of a seriously arachnophobic person to the suggestion that they come close and examine a harmless spider to see for them self there is nothing to worry about. Try talking to them about how a spider's eyes work, or how their silk is made. Now compare that to the reactions of a seriously devout religious fundamentalist when you ask them to examine a few simple questions about their god. Questions like, "Can it create an object so heavy it can’t lift it?", or "Can it create a Euclidean triangle whose internal angles don’t add up to 180 degrees?"
Forced to confront questions of this sort, many religious people can become extremely aggressive, often resorting to verbal abuse and threats, and frequently by avoidance techniques, and even casting protective spells in the form of quotes from their hand-book of ‘faith’ or by attempting to mollify their god by telling you they will ‘pray for you’; even calling on others to assist in this ritual. They clearly perceive these harmless questions as a serious threat much as an arachnophobe perceives a harmless Tegenaria or Araneus not as a thing of beauty but as an object of terror, and so show symptoms of irrational fear.
It’s my contention that much of the behaviour of religious people, especially fundamentalists, is the result not of faith, but of fear; the severity of symptoms being directly related to the degree of extremism of belief from moderate to fundamentalist.
I contend that religion is merely a phobia inculcated into people in childhood by parents and authority figures who suffer from it themselves and who are afraid to NOT infect their unfortunate children with it, just as some sufferers feel compelled to mutilate their children's genitalia. These children often grow up too afraid even to think of escaping from the phobia and so the cycle is repeated in the next generation.
Religious peoples’ irrational responses, irrational behaviour and irrational reasoning is a direct consequence of an irrational, morbidly paranoid phobia – theophobia. We should recognise religions for what they are and call them by their name.