The Fear of God

I have been contemplating thoughts about educational motivation for some months now, working off this map of motivation.  I have considered external motivations, and have now worked my way through several fears, such as ignorance, materialism and other’s expectations.  So now I turn to one last fear, the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom.  As fears go, it is the most preferable as a motivating factor.

I am entering into a discussion of theology here, and must assert my lay amateur status in doing so.  I have a degree in Theology which makes me dangerous, not authoritative.  So please understand that I admit there is lots of room for error.

That being said, I understand the many passages in Scripture that command us to “fear the Lord” and state that this fear is the beginning of wisdom are aiming us at the source of truth, goodness, and beauty.  We cannot be wise (live according to the truth) if we do know the source of wisdom – God.  And we cannot rightly know God without a proper fear or reverence or awe for Who He Is.

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So this fear is not the same as the fear considered in previous blogs, as it is proper to see God as One Who is above us, beyond us, sovereign over us.  It may be a lack of courage that causes us to fear for our own well being to the point of fearing ignorance, materialism, or other’s opinions/expectations of us, but fearing God is a legitimate and virtuous thing for all people.

In future meditations I will discuss the motivating factors of love and appetite, but must state that proper love and appetite for learning originate and proceed from this fear.  Thus any teacher seeking to properly motivate learning must direct the student’s heart toward the fear of God.  I don’t think any proper learning will occur without it.  Whatever is gained through learning apart from this fear will end in frustration and ruin.

This idea, of course, can be meditated upon and have corollaries extrapolated from it ad infinitum.  But I will stick to some basic thoughts, questions that come from this concept:

  • This fear is not a call to manipulation – I don’t hold God over a child’s head to scare him into performance. That would not be a fear of God but a fear of punishment.
  • I don’t think this fear can be instilled in a student if it is absent from the teacher. It is not a science inculcated through lecture, but an art caught from observation of others, most notably the parents and teachers.
  • The integration of all learning begins in this fear – God is the source of all Truth, and its only proper end. This is, by the by, a strong argument against the current manner of public education which seeks to educate apart from any reference to God.  As I have said many times before, “Real education is illegal in the American government schools.”
  • This fear is a positive thing, not a negative thing. It comes from and adds to our love for God but is not the same concept.  Loving God includes fearing Him or rightly seeing Him for Who He is.
  • It is impossible to fear both God and man. I think many educational choices boil down to Whom it is that I fear most – God or man.

I am sure there is much more here, but those are my current courses of thought on this huge subject.

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The Monster of Materialism

Having mapped out a large number of possible motivations for learning, and having then blogged my way through the external motivations, and having started in on the internal ones by addressing the fear of ignorance, I pick up now with a second fear, that of materialism.  By this I mean the fear most of us have of not having enough money to meet our needs, followed closely but differently by the appetite to consume ever more things to find happiness.  The fear of not having enough is dealt with here; the appetitive issue of consumerism will come later.

I believe many students are motivated to learn in order to earn.  I am often faced with the question, “How will I use this in a job?” which is loosely translated into the modern vernacular as, “How can I turn this into money?”  The student is motivated by the earning power of his learning.  To the extent that he is dealing with the fact that they want to grow up and become self-supportive, this is a good motivation.  But it is shortsighted at best.  Some learning is designed to make one a good wage earner, but we used to refer to these abilities and studies as the servile or manual arts.  And they did not require a college education.  They required apprenticing to a master who already knew those specific arts.

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The kind of learning that once upon a time sent young people up into the university was the kind which demanded they pursue the liberal or freeing arts: those studies that suited them to professions of leadership, and yes, often good money.  Somewhere along the line we got confused and started thinking a college degree meant better money.  More on that later.

For now it is enough to contemplate that real learning can occur when a student wants the reward of a good job.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to be paid well enough to care for himself and those dependent upon him.  But this is a lower goal than that of seeking learning for other even higher and nobler reasons.  These internal motivations will bring about a life that should be able to “make a living” even while living for something more than a paycheck.

As far as it goes, fear of this sort is helpful for keeping a young person focused on his studies, but only as it brings obvious progress toward a good paying job.  The teacher will continue to hear the questions about how learning is associated with earning as long as this is the prevailing motivation for his learning.  Calling the student to something higher and nobler seems the best way to help both student and teacher move the lessons beyond the mere “color of money.”  Our next contemplation will be on the fear of other’s expectations.

Is Ignorance Bliss?

I am continuing a long thread of thoughts concerning the motivation to learn, started here with a chart that is central to my thinking.  The first internal motivation to learn that I wish to address is the general category of “fear.”  As this can be a confusing term, I will first define “fear” then seek to show at least four possible fears that motivate one to learn.

Fear can be both a negative and a positive emotion.  Negatively, it sparks in us the desire to either fight or flee from the scene.  This negative reaction occurs when we face some challenge or circumstance the consequences of which we believe will cause us pain or loss.  When I fearfully stare down or run from a bully, I am afraid because he might physically or socially harm me.  I am up against something capable of “defeating” me and I fear such defeat may harm me.

On a positive note, many of our fears are simply the safety mechanism by which better choices are chosen.  When I fear electrocution while seeking to install a ceiling fan, I am simply giving the power of electricity its due respect.  I would count this as a positive thing, as it is wise to respect something that can in fact harm and even kill me.  To not fear such things would be closer to a negative than the actual fearing of them.

In thinking through motivations to learning, I have listed fear as a major internal motivator.  I sense that fear is a major motivator for many of our modern choices.  I have specifically highlighted four forms of fear that deserve to each be developed with a blog post of their own:  Ignorance, Materialism or the “job fear,” the expectations of others or “mob fear,” and finally the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom.  I develop the first three as more or less negative fears and the last one as a positive.  The rest of this post deals with the first one, a fear of ignorance.

Aristotle begins his Metaphysics by claiming that “All men by nature desire to know.”  Thus, if he is true, then all men have some fear of “not knowing.”  Some have tried to shorten Thomas Gray’s line from his Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College, in which he states “Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”  They want to state that ignorance is always bliss.  I find little justification for this change, even though there are circumstances in which we would rather not know, as knowledge brings pain and unpleasant duties, nonetheless knowledge is better than ignorance, and more surely leads us to happiness.

So most men are motivated to learn by a fear of being left out, of being left in darkness, of not knowing what might be known.  This is a motivation worthy of some exploration in the classroom.  Asking compelling questions can excite this fear.  The question incites a seeking of the answer because it is something we do not wish to remain ignorant of.  I think this is what is behind a great class to some extent:  the student sees the possibilities of knowledge and is not content with ignorance, rather fears they will be left behind if they don’t find out answers to compelling or “great” questions.  While not a suitable motivation for all learning, this certainly plays its part.

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The behaviorist does not seem willing to credit this fear sufficiently.  He wants us to motivate with the fear of punishment and the desire for reward.  Perhaps we would be better served to award a student with acquired knowledge than with a proverbial carrot of some other kind.  The typical student wants to know some things, so let the teacher channel this fear of ignorance into the noon day light of knowledge.