Hagiophobia: Defined but How Prevalent?

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One of the goals of the American Mental Health Foundation is to encourage exploration between religion and mental health, particularly in finding religious practices that enhance mental health. We always hope to do so in a nondenominational way.

Hagios comes from the Greek word meaning “sacred” or “holy.” Hagiophobia therefore means fear of God, saints, or very sacred.

When Moses stood before the Burning Bush he was commanded to take off his shoes, for he was standing on Holy Ground. Fear of the Lord is a healthy component among many religions, as in “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” But how does one separate appropriate reverence and awe from disabling fear?

Unfortunately, we have little to go on. Experts are not lining up to answer this on television shows. There is a lack of empirical research: at least, I have not found any.

Since we have a definition with no real examples, I will offer what is not yet even a hypothesis: what follows is speculation.

Perhaps the dividing line between hagiophobia and reverence occurs when a person is afraid to experience the regular and ongoing religious practices of his or her denomination. I suspect this lack of participation and support can be crippling at times. Perhaps you can think of examples within your own religious tradition? What of saintliness? Are saints exceptions to any definitions we can create? (See the William James blog on “Saintliness.”)

Is scrupulosity a subset of hagiophobia, or the other way around?

Some might argue that there is a lacking hagiophobia in modern culture. The Sacred and Holy are forgotten, ignored, or relegated to the sidelines. I am not sure about this, and such is still another area to discuss.

On a positive note, Hagiophilia signifies the love of God and of holy things, another topic worth discussing.

And to coin a word, Anhagiophilia, what about a lack of love for the Sacred and Holy? This is more indifference than fear and reminds one of Christ’s statements in the New Testament, most notably “if you are lukewarm you will be spit out of the mouth.” Anhagiophilia: lackluster, phony, or absent faith.

Might these concepts evoke helpful thinking in the mental-health field?

Thank you for considering my speculations. These are only conjectures. Perhaps these can evoke thoughts in or discussions by and among others.

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