Last week, I wrote about the importance of practicing healthy paranoia. The definition of “paranoia” is “a tendency on the part of an individual or group toward excessive or irrational suspiciousness and distrustfulness of others.” My definition of “healthy paranoia” is “the intentional practice on the part of a person to be reasonably and rationally suspicious and distrustful of people who the person is not intimately familiar with, so the person can guard against unanticipated surprises and dangers.”
My wife and I raised seven children to adulthood — one boy and six girls. Our children would tell you that while they were growing up, I was suspicious and distrustful of all outsiders, including people in the school system, the people my children interacted with in community theater, and the people who were their friends.
There can be a fine line between excessive or irrational suspiciousness and distrustfulness of others (paranoia) and reasonable and rational suspiciousness and distrustfulness of others (healthy paranoia).
There may have been a time 80 or 100 years ago when most of the people a person came into contact with had good intentions and could generally be trusted, but in today’s culture, where sinful behavior is glorified and virtuous behavior is vilified, we have to be extremely careful about who we trust. We must be willing to make people earn our trust, instead of simply trusting them because they seem to be nice and respectful, or because we’re related to them, know their parents, or have heard good things about them.
But there is a danger in practicing healthy paranoia toward others. The danger is that the line between reasonable and rational paranoia and excessive or irrational paranoia is very thin. When we cross that line, we can easily become negative and cynical, which can, over time, destroy the healthy relationships that we have with the people that we care about.
What can we do to avoid crossing that line? I’ll tell you what I do to keep myself from crossing the line. First, I follow the basic principles that I believe are required of me as a devout Catholic:
• Remain in the state of sanctifying grace at all times;
• Attend daily Mass;
• Pray a daily Rosary;
• Practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; and
• Set aside time for spiritual reading and learning more about the Catholic faith.
In my opinion, these are the basics that all Catholics should adopt for their own lives. But there is a higher level of holiness that we should all be seeking to achieve. True holiness requires that we constantly work at developing the desire and behavior that is necessary to create and maintain a more personal and intimate relationship with God.
While I intentionally practice healthy paranoia when I’m dealing with others, I remain fully aware that there is no reason to ever be suspicious or distrustful of God.
What’s the first thing the serpent did when he approached Eve? He persuaded her to be irrationally suspicious and distrustful (paranoid) of God’s motives for not wanting her and Adam to eat from the tree of good and evil. The serpent then appealed to Eve’s pride and her selfish desires by telling her that she would be like God if she ate from the tree of good and evil.
Every sin is accompanied by irrational suspiciousness and distrustfulness toward God and/or the laws of His Church, and is justified by pride and the selfish desire to serve ourselves.
There is absolutely no reason to ever be distrustful or suspicious of God. Everything that is good comes from God, including love, faith, hope, trust, happiness, and joy. He is the very definition of these virtues and attributes.
I have to sometimes remind myself that I shouldn’t see God as I see others. I need to always look at Him with wonder and awe. He is not my friend or my equal. Seeing God as a “friend” reduces His glory and majesty to the same level as a human. Because of who He is, instead of having healthy paranoia toward Him, I need to have a healthy fear of Him.
Fear of the Lord is one of the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit and was described by St Thomas Aquinas as a fear of separating oneself from God. Aquinas described this gift as a “filial fear,” which is similar to a child’s fear of offending his father, rather than a “servile fear,” which is a fear of punishment.
According to Aquinas, the gift of fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and corresponds with the virtue of hope. When a person seeks to learn and practice the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit — Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord — the person is rewarded with a desire for perfect knowledge, perfect goodness, and perfect love.
Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28.
There are people in the world who because of their evil nature and their ability to influence, bully, or manipulate others, have the power to physically, spiritually, mentally, and/or emotionally harm others. It is because there are such people in the world that we need to practice healthy paranoia towards everyone we meet.
But despite the way we view and treat others, we need to always remember to have a healthy fear of God, and to completely trust that He always has our best interests at heart.