In his return to British television screens, Dr Who is confronted with situations that have been chosen to reflect life in 2005 rather than in the Eighties when the last series was shown. Mannequins coming to life and massacring people on the streets echoes contemporary fears about terrorism; wheelie bins, much more threatening than the older dustbins or black bags, attack people and suck them in before eating them.
We exist mostly without thinking we’re going to be violently destroyed, or eaten alive in our own garden. We could never get through life if we were constantly conscious of the worst that might happen in the commonplace situations we encounter. Films and TV programmes which deliberately set out to scare may, says one theory, provide a helpful medium onto which we can project any such deep-seated dread. Through them, we play out our fears in ways that take the sting from them.
The reality is that we do never know what might happen next. At one level of our consciousness or another, we have to find ways of facing this fundamental human anxiety. If we fail to, the basic instinct to defend ourselves can emerge in aggression or in an unnatural withdrawal into ourselves.
Christians believe that the resurrection of Jesus represents his triumph over every force which is hostile to human happiness. The things we fear won’t go away but when Jesus rose from the dead, he demonstrated that they will never have the last word.
Perhaps today we can let such good news infiltrate those deep, fearful parts of ourselves and set us free. In so doing, we become much less likely to be aggressive and much more capable of a relaxed and outward-going loving.
In a Channel 4 survey, the screen moment voted scariest had nothing to do with gore and blood or horrific special effects. It’s the moment in “The Shining” when Jack Nicholson, grinning and wild-eyed, smashes a door with an axe and shouts at his wife: “It’s Johnny”. Tonight’s gruesome make-up, ghostly fancy dress and Halloween outfits will never scare as much as more ordinary situations like when someone’s anger is directed at us or when even familiar situations feel dangerous.
A certain amount of fear is healthy – it gets the adrenalin flowing – and movies whose selling point is that they will scare us, suggest it’s an emotion people want to feel. But that’s only when our fundamental safety is not in fact threatened. Real fear can be utterly crippling.
That’s why it is so important for Christians that Jesus experienced the fear of torture and agonising death, looked it in the face, and showed by his resurrection that he was undefeated by it. He proved that ultimately, we can feel secure in God’s power and love, because with God, we can be stronger than any mental pain, physical agony or even death itself.
Real human experiences frighten us a lot more than tonight’s most effectively scary Trick or Treater. And they don’t go away after a night or two’s flurry. If today we face such fear, it would help to have the kind of underlying certainty God offers, that, though fear may be deeply distressing, it cannot ultimately overwhelm us.
“A man goes to the doctor and says: Doctor, one day I’m a tepee, the next I’m a wigwam. The doctor says: The trouble is you’re two tents”. So runs David Bowie’s response when asked to contribute to an anthology
of well-known people’s favourite jokes.
The book is to draw attention to anaphylaxis
, a severe allergic reaction that occurs when the immune system misinterprets a harmless substance as a threat. Up to a million Britons can’t eat nuts or fear insect stings because such a reaction could prove fatal.
“Experiencing something harmless as a threat” also describes a common reaction to everyday events. There are for most of us situations we appropriately fear but sometimes we exaggerate to ourselves the threatening nature of the future. Anaphylactic sufferers have good cause to be careful but clearing that mountain of paper work, meeting someone with whom you’ve had a quarrel, an interview with the boss, with these and other similar situations we often find that the prospect of what’s to come is far more fearsome then the reality.
Perhaps today we should check out that the fears we have about the future are justified. If we find some of them aren’t, our living could become a lot less in tents.
Ring 01943 604 027 for the book (£5.99); visit www.anaphylaxis.org.uk
Today an undiscovered 10th planet is due to approach the earth, reversing the magnetic pole and causing floods and tidal waves. So say the Pana Wave Laboratory, a small Japanese sect, who have tried to protect themselves by searching Japan for an area free from electromagnetic waves.
Most of us live with anxiety about the future and this sect, along with others, focuses its fears on some future cataclysmic catastrophe. I remember helping to plan a wedding; we all feared there would be some hitch, but each of us focussed our anxieties on a different aspect of the planning, one the flowers, one the vicar, one the speeches and so on.
It is the roots of anxiety that need to be dealt with, not the fruits, the deep fears, not their superficial expression. Destruction, whether the end of our lives or the end of the world, is a particularly deep fear. Jesus experienced it when he faced death on the cross and his life was destroyed. But when Jesus later came to the disciples and said, “Do not be afraid. I will always be with you.” they took his advice. If the one who was living proof that death could be defeated promised never to leave them, what, deep down, did they, or anyone else, have to fear?