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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 2/15/11

Guarding the Mosque, Church, and State Divide

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With popular uprisings toppling governments in the Middle East, it's time to understand more clearly the mentality of people who can't separate mosque and state.

It's vital that democracy, not theocracy or new autocratic regimes, replaces corrupt governments in Egypt and Tunisia along with any others that fall to popular uprisings. The growth of democracy is a measure of human evolution. Citizens of a democracy are more likely than their counterparts in a theocracy to value reason, the rule of law, cross-cultural exchanges, tolerance, self-respect, and environmental protections.

Guarding America's church-state divide is paramount, too. We might not be able to export the wisdom that honors the separation of church and state when we're in danger of being overrun by a theocratic mentality in our backyard.  

Inner fear may be the main influence on those Americans who can't separate church and state. Inner fear, which is often unconscious, is a common ingredient in human nature. The fear is evident in the widespread worry, stress, and anxiety that plague the human race. Inner fear causes the concerns of modern life to become fearful preoccupations, as when concern about terrorism produces a fearful populace willing to tolerate the suppression of civil liberties.

Other concerns that are exacerbated through inner fear include fears of failure, impoverishment, rejection, and abandonment. Inner fear is also associated with looking bad in the eyes of others, being alone, feeling helpless, doubting one's value, and feeling controlled or overwhelmed.

Perhaps the greatest inner fear, ironically, is fear of freedom. Social theorist Erich Fromm published a book in 1942 titled, The Fear of Freedom. (It was titled Escape From Freedom when published in the United States.) Fromm's thesis states that humankind has not been able to fully acquire a sense of being separate, autonomous creatures directing our own future, despite the spirit of free inquiry and individual initiative promoted by the Renaissance, Protestant Reformation, and Industrial Revolution. We still needed conformity because we couldn't handle the anxiety of being genuine free-thinkers.

When individuals become emotionally dependent on their beliefs, they're in danger of becoming fundamentalists or fanatics. They anxiously protect themselves from the beliefs of others, or even from facts, that can bring up or threaten to bring up the repressed fear.

How does this affect the separation of church and state? Having religious beliefs is perfectly healthy and appropriate. But because of inner fear, insecure individuals can misuse religion to prop up their weak sense of self. Such individuals believe they will experience less anxiety by adopting religious beliefs that place them in the mainstream or promise salvation.

The danger is that much of their cognitive functioning is soon channeled through religious belief. They start to weigh all their positions, interpretations, and decisions--whether personal or social--against religious convictions. They have surrendered too much of their autonomy in exchange for the security of a belief system. Now they can't access their inner self, and they're bereft of the wisdom and authority needed to stand outside of religious belief to make independent decisions. If they try to make such decisions, they feel self-doubt and anxiety. It lets them "off the hook" when some "higher authority" makes decisions for them.

This doesn't resolve the inner fear, however. The inner fear is simply repressed. Often it can only be eliminated by consciously exposing its irrationality and its sources in our infantile past.

There are other ways to understand inner fear. Jumps or spikes in our level of anxiety and fearfulness occur when we're being accused or attacked by our inner critic. Inner fear hinges on whether the psychological defense we're presenting to the inner critic will suffice to keep it at bay. If one defense doesn't work, we might present another defense, one that is more self-defeating or involves more suffering, to appease the inner critic. Depending on the effectiveness of the defense we're putting up, our feelings can swing between elation and worry and then escalate from there to anxiety, fear, and panic.

Inner fear is temporarily alleviated, or creates an illusion of being dealt with, through defenses that typically produce self-defeat. In one instance, the fear is projected outward, which makes the danger appear to be external. In other words, inner fear becomes "reality" fear. In this process, people can actually heighten their anxiety and fear as they create unnecessary enemies and personality clashes.

We have other ways to dislodge inner fear from its roots in our psyche. We can associate the fear we feel with personal or social transgressions we commit. These transgressions constitute pseudo-aggressive acting-out against social mores or manners. Now we suffer with guilt and fears of the consequences of our "bad" behavior. This process is evident in the defense of pleading guilty to the lesser crime, such as when we claim, "I'm not indulging in feeling rejected. The problem is that I'm the one who does the rejecting (of others)."

The best way to rid the world of inner fear, or at least to lessen its influence, is to identify it in ourselves and seek to eliminate it.

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Peter Michaelson is an author, blogger, and psychotherapist in Plymouth, MI. He believes that better understanding of depth psychology reduces the fear, passivity, and denial of citizens, making us more capable of maintaining and growing our (more...)
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