Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Phed Up With Phobias

The August 30 Time Magazine cover loudly asks the question: Is America Islamophobic? I have been hearing about this new phobia for some time now. My response is weariness of heart. Here is another phobia invented by the thought police to browbeat people. Just when I had recovered from homophobia!

I am not saying there isn’t a widespread distrust and ignorance about Muslims in our land in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. There certainly is. But I am tired of this trend of labeling everything as a phobia.

Phobias are legitimate psychological disorders - like agoraphobia and arachnophobia. But now the term has been expanded to contain hundreds of fears. One website “The Phobia List” (phobialist.com) tries to name them all.

As a pastor I have known people with some of them – like homilophobia (fear of sermons), ecclesiophobia (fear of church), and hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia (fear of the number 666.) Some people are downright theophobic (fear of God.)

But terms like homophobia have been horribly misused in public discourse. It is a genuine pathological disorder, but now the word is commonly misused as emotional blackmail to disparage those who disagree with gays and lesbians on matters of sexual ethics. Just because someone holds different ethical standards doesn’t mean they have a phobia! To label everyone who disagrees with you as phobic is itself a phobia – fear of people who disagree with you!

Many Americans are now afraid of being seen as phobic. It is a form of phobophobia (fear of phobias). In our society nothing is worse than being called Islamophobic or homophobic or some other politicallyincorrectophobia. Once the phobic label is applied, it ends all civil and intelligent discourse. Where is FDR when we need him? He spoke the famous words, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

The rest of the quote from Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address is worth reading. “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.”

To get back to Islamophobia … there is a virulent form of militant Islamic fundamentalism growing in the world. It is a genuine threat, and it is healthy – not phobic - to be afraid of this religious extremism. These folks are crazy dangerous! They strap bombs to themselves and fly airliners into buildings! This mutant form of Islam is a cancer that threatens Islamic countries and western civilization. It needs to be addressed. But the best way to do this is by strengthening healthy religious expression, including mainstream Islam – not attacking or fearing Islam as a whole.

In combating this threat our greatest enemy is fear – including the type of fear that labels those whom we do not understand as deviants, and turns our neighbors into pariahs with psychological, social or moral disorders. As a Christian I have been the recipient of hateful labels that I can only describe as Christophobic (fear of Christians.)

If we continue down this path of name-calling we will eventually embody the punchline of the old joke about the Quaker who said: “Everyone is crazy except me and thee, and I am not so sure about thee.”

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