When I was in Catholic school, right before we had our Confirmation (the Catholic equivalent of a bar mitzvah), we had specific instruction in Catholic dogma and catechism. Unlike the horror stories that I’ve heard from some others, all of the Catholic schools I attended were fairly secular, save for the mandatory religion class and the prayers during the morning announcements after the national anthem. We didn’t, for example, get fire and brimstone during science class or disciplined by dour nuns. To my recollection, we didn’t even get much by way of instruction in the Catholic beliefs on sexuality. Of course, it was elementary school, so that was likely due to squeamishness over the topic rather than evidence of the enlightenment of the instructors.
In any case, we were taught about the seven “gifts of the Spirit“, which are distinct from the seven virtues, which are themselves a counterpoint to the seven deadly sins – please believe that Catholicism is well steeped in the same numerology that defines the quirkier aspects of Judaism. Wisdom, understanding, counsel, piety, counsel, knowledge, fortitude… sure. Even at thirteen these seemed pretty self-explanatory (even if they were plainly not evinced by those who claimed to be “strong in the Spirit”). But it was the seventh that gave me trouble…
Fear of the Lord.
My catechism teacher tried to convince me that this simply meant ‘awe’, and a recognition that Yahweh was much greater than we were. Fine, I said, but why not just use ‘awe’? Why ‘fear’? If Yahweh was benevolent and loved us and all that jazz, why would it be right to fear him? After various attempts to explain that ‘fear’ was a metaphor (the Catholic dodge for just about everything), I was simply told to ignore the ‘fear’ language as an anachronism. Of course, once I learned about Stockholm Syndrome in undergraduate psychology, the anachronism suddenly made a lot more sense.
Of course, since rejecting theist belief, I have come to understand ‘fear of God’ in an entirely different way:
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