Fear and Faith

We're all cowards. There's no such thing as courage. There's only fear – the fear of getting hurt and the fear of dying. That's why human beings live so long.

Houseley Stevenson as Dr. Walter Coley in Dark Passage

Maybe the question is too obvious, too banal, even in all its implications, to pose. Maybe the answer, whichever it might be believed to be, is too evident – or thought to be too evident: "Which came first – fear or faith?"

Well, I can't say that the conundrum just came – separate, naked, out of any context – to me. I was listening to a recording, I now forget which, of a song, perhaps not a genuine religious hymn – I rather think not – but one whose theme was religious faith, and I thought something like, I can believe in this particular expression of belief and conviction, because it is so beautifully contagious – which seems a silly reason to believe – without quite being able to believe in what is proclaimed, by the singer, to be personally believed. ... I just don't know. Someone once told me, simply, concisely, meaningfully, "That's why they call it faith." Maybe it's trivializing to talk about it in a blog post. ... Or is it? Well, I'll risk denunciation.

Soon after hearing that record, I thought of the Dark Passage line. Don't miss Houseley Stevenson's brief appearance in that movie. How cheap and vulgar and irreverent of me to link spiritual faith with Hollywood. ... It seems to me that faith comes in answer to fear. Part of everybody's standard equipment is fear – in one form or another, of something. Fear is intrinsic. Faith, belief in a higher being – beneficent, forgiving and overseeing – is a comfort, a means of overcoming or coping with the fear. Or so I believe. But what would I know?

... Then again, maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way. Maybe "Which came first – faith or fear?" is not the question because, fear being an inherent component of mankind and faith being intellectually arrived at or the result of a mental process, maybe the chronological precedence between the two is not being debated; the answer is clear to all, is the same for everybody.

Maybe I'm not actually presenting a question; maybe I'm merely confessing to my preoccupation with the relationship between fear and faith – or to my belief that there is a relationship between the two in that faith is an intellectual protection against fear. I don't think there's anything wrong or shameful or ignoble or reproachable in developing this protection. Just as I don't think there's anything wrong in recoiling from a flame. It's reflexive, even as it's an act behind whose commission is the knowledge or a theory of how to avert pain, physical or emotional. It might sound nicer to say that faith is based on the observation of all the good – abundant, predominant, undeniable – in the world, but I truly believe that faith is primarily fear motivated. ... But what would I know? Practically everything apart from matters mathematical is opinion.