Consider now, for example, the words with the suffix “phobia” and the smirk of satisfaction so often associated with the accompanying accusation. This word claims an unassailable victory. The phobic opponents have been vanquished, identified with their label, “outed”, their malevolent identity exposed. Whatever views a phobic person may hold, they can be confidently dismissed. Phobic views indicate a person’s hateful identity, their own self-hate that they wish to pass off onto others.

And so it seems that the term itself is an accusation about a hate-filled desire to oppress the “other”. This is common to its usage in regard to matters of sexuality (homo-, trans- phobia) or religion (Islamo-, even Christo-). The use of the suffix suggests a diagnostic competence to get beneath the surface of things muttered under the breath to what is actually motivating a person. 

Head to head

Confronting conversations? The accusation that someone has a phobia "claims an unassailable victory" in discussions, says Bruce C Wearne. PICTURE: Aleksandra Maur/Unsplash

 

"[W]hy is public debate about politics, sex and religion so loud, so combative, so confused and so utterly contentious? Why does“debate” so easily devolve into bitter and angry words directed personally and with pin-point accuracy, seeking maximum injury?" 

But in political debate the appearance of giving a psychological diagnosis morphs into an all-out ethical accusation - the intended recipient of the label is hateful - and the term is mixed with the linguistic concept of “hate speech” in order to engineer ongoing anxiety in this “other person”. We may want to deny the relevance of the term when it is launched at us. But with this kinds of politicised diagnostics “denial” is to demonstrate deeper guilt. So, how do we find the wisdom to step aside from this moshpit of hit ’n run contentious “prowling around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour”? (I Peter 5:8; Psalm 7).

Might it be helpful to ask: why should an admission of fear, on the part of the person thus diagnosed, particularly when talking about sex or religion, provide a critical edge to those who wish to diagnose an opponent? Why should an honest expression of one’s deeply-held fears be used as evidence that a person is filled with hate? How is it that “phobia” is equated with evil intent, with hate?


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The “missing link” in this psycho-linguistic examination of inter-personal “political warfare” is the suggestion that by holding a deep reservation about another’s claim to personal identity is to deny that person what is their “inalienable” human right. Hence, to believe other than what a person claims as basic to his or her identity, is to hold a view that can only be viewed as hate, and must be held privately, if at all, and never spoken. It will not be tolerated. It is only tolerance that is tolerated.

Having come to that view, are we any closer to understanding this culture of ours? To point out that debate is dominated by beliefs, attitudes, viewpoints, blogs and op-ed pieces, even accusations that can be labelled “politically correct” or  “politically incorrect”, does not seem to get us very far. But does not this suggest our life is dominated by a diagnostic obsession (we could even call it diagnosticosis). 

Many now experience social media discussion as a high-risk exercise. Angry struggles evolve that, even if for only a brief moment or two, take on a do-or-die complexion.

We stand back. We ask ourselves: why is public debate about politics, sex and religion so loud, so combative, so confused and so utterly contentious? Why does“debate” so easily devolve into bitter and angry words directed personally and with pin-point accuracy, seeking maximum injury?

Could it all be bluff, a game of anxious bluff, one accusing side lining up against another battalion of anxious counter-bluffers? If so, this game is committed to performance, to a demonstration that radical doubt can win the day since we have inherited the condition of incredulity to all metanarratives.

Why does political debate have to generate such heat and hate? Look around and note that all sides there is a sense of exhaustion, tiredness, an underlying sense of futility as one player aims to throw the opponent’s views back in the opponent’s face? Could it all be just to get a laugh, to get applause, to have “followers” and receive “likes”? No prize for noting how this “style” has been "Liked” by the White House incumbent. But let’s not fool ourselves; our last election saw the victory of the “least doubted”.

And jumping off the Biblical page is this statement Jesus gave to His disciples as we try to hear His advice above the din: "Set your hearts at rest and banish all fear!" (John 14:17).

This was said a short time before He was hijacked by His opponents, His life subjected to the demands of a manipulated mosh-pit. 

My New Testament word book says that this “fear” (DEILIA) refers to an alarm that might arise by acknowledging our frailty. Jesus was not telling His disciples to ignore their feelings. He was saying: be at peace and don’t let any recognition of your frailty get in the way of your repentant receipt of God’s love and mercy!

He knows our frame! He remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:14) 

Or again: "Your frailty is fully taken care of...consider the birds of the air or the lillies of the field - note where you stand in God’s scheme of things." (Matthew 6: 25-26)

The follower of Christ Jesus has a firm path upon which to walk, even when the way is flooded by the unresolved anxieties that arise from a struggle that would manipulate words to establish some kind of supremacy. Indeed the Psalmist is pertinent and identifies “terror” in which the wicked entrap themselves: "They may have no care at all the welfare of God’s own fragile people, that they set about devouring, but God’s care for them provokes deep terror..." (Psalm 14:4-5)

Paul, the converted terrorist, advised his young protégé  to “flee youthful covetousness” (II Timothy 2:22). To take this seriously may mean being viewed as one who cultivates a psycho-physiological self-hatred. To be afraid of sinful thoughts or desires may be dismissed out-of-hand as a desire to repress the self-same instincts in others as a strategy to hide a malignant shame. To engage in open self-denial has to be fired by a presumptive desire to imprison others by a regime of discipline. This, then, is the inner venom of the nihilistic anti-humanism that wages war in all spheres of life across the entire globe - here, there and everywhere. 

In the early decades of the 20th century this nihilism was absorbed by the Muslim Brotherhood founders of a revived Islam. Nihilism is part of the background to the revival of Islam around the world and it is integral to the tactic of “suicide bombing”. But in this post-9/11 context, the accusation that a public expression of fear about the Quoranic teaching of submission to Allah must mean hate for Muslims is simply ignoring the ubiquitous terror. A wise response might begin by asking why, since 2001, there has been a persistent political failure among Muslim leaders to confront the Islamist phobia toward “infidels".

"God’s love in Christ puts all phobias in their place. His disciples are told they have no need to fear the consequences of their actions, since their actions are their responses to the call to display God’s love - to let their light shine before all (Matthew 5:16)."

Though “terror” may these days be a recurrent part of everyday speech; it was not Islam’s prophet, but Jesus who points in an entirely different direction: "You have heard that it was said you shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who use you as things and persecute you. This way you’ll be family of your Father in heaven for He is busy sending sun to shine on the bad and the good, the just as much as the unjust..." (Matthew 5:43-45) and "I have said these things to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world". (John 16:33)

Jesus’ disciples are taught to live within their weakness. To do so is their strength because God in Christ became fully clothed in human frailty as He went on His way to overcome the world (16:33). In His death He overcame the hate thrown at Him and it is proved for us by His being raised. This mercy is given to us by God who is at work in us, giving us a new heart, a new point in our life where God, and God alone, speaks to restore and reassure us that He is our security. John writes elsewhere: "There is no fear (PHOBOS) in love because the perfect love that God has poured into our hearts drives out fear" (I John 4:18).

God’s love in Christ puts all phobias in their place. His disciples are told they have no need to fear the consequences of their actions, since their actions are their responses to the call to display God’s love - to let their light shine before all (Matthew 5:16).

So with this encouragement shaping our understanding, let us grow wise as we note the anxiety, the deep trauma by which the ascription of fear in others (phobia - homo-, Islamo-, etc) becomes tied to an anticipated hate (as in the allegation of hate speech) that can completely disfiguring lives by words that blow up in their faces. 

The Christian does not avoid conversation. Paul, the converted terrorist, encourages the Colossians to form speech that is “salty” and “tasty”: "The words of your conversation should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, as you get to know how to respond to anyone" (Colossians 4:6).