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Fear of God?

[ 2011-11-29 13:15]     字号 [] [] []  
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Fear of God?

Reader question:

Please explain “fear of God”, as in this passage – He was a very naughty child. He never had a father around to really put the fear of God into him.

My comments:

On surface, it appears that because the child was fatherless, there was no-one around to teach him about God, i.e. to turn him into religious person.

Religion, however, may have nothing to do with it. “Never had a father around to really put the fear of God into him” merely means the fatherless child had no-one to control him, no-one to teach him behavioral lessons and no-one to administer the occasional beating for wrongdoing.

With no such person around, the child was therefore “naughty”, i.e. he was all play and no work, rash and wild. He climbed trees and rooftops and generally did whatever he wanted to do – never having to look over the shoulder for any authority figure to discipline him.

Sounds like a happy childhood to me, I hear you say. I understand. In a way, that is a happy childhood considering the usual alternative but that is not the main point of discussion here.

The main point here is the idiom “putting the fear of God into someone”. God, capitalized and singular, suggests that this God is really somebody, I mean, not just any one of those gods people have created, deified and abandoned from time to time. This “God” is Christian, and this “God” is almighty to Christians.

“Fear of God”, therefore, is a mighty fear. Originally the “fear of God” refers to the great respect, reverence and awe the religious person has for the deity but nowadays this phrase is used loosely, widely and, amongst non-religious circles, it merely means, yeah, a mighty fear.

Hence, when a father or teacher or some other person is described as having “put the fear of God into” a child by words or deeds, they merely said or did something to frighten him.

To terrify him, if you will.

To scare him severely.

And if you are still unconvinced, check these media examples of “putting the fear of God into someone” (Examples 1-3), sometimes varied to “fear of the Lord” (Example 4), sometimes simplified to “the fear” (Example 4):

1. A teacher convicted of assault after she attempted to “put the fear of God” into a nine-year-old pupil was yesterday sentenced to 140 hours of community service and ordered to pay the boy £100 in compensation.

Catherine Brandley, 52, a supply teacher with 20 years’ experience, was convicted of assault by magistrates in Crewe, Cheshire, last month but sentence was postponed...

Mrs Brandley, of Congleton, Cheshire, was arrested after she prodded the boy in the chest and pushed him against a wall where he banged his head. The incident happened last September, five days after Mrs Brandley had started a new supply post at a school in Cheshire.

His mother told the court: “Mrs Brandley said she had not hit him or pushed him against the door frame. She did admit that she had verbally threatened him and prodded him in the chest.

“She said she wanted to put the fear of God into him and that he would be frightened of her.”

- Teacher who tried to put fear of God into pupil guilty of assault, The Guardian, July 31, 2001.

2. He could be the most hated man in the music industry, and he’s only 19.

Tech-head Shawn Fanning created Napster while studying at Northeastern University, and in the process, he brought MP3 sharing to the masses. He also managed to put the fear of God into the recording industry, which sees the new technology as an agent of outright piracy. Specific artists like Metallica and Dr. Dre, as well as the industry as a whole, have turned their legal dogs loose on Napster’s scent.

- Fanning Speaks, MTV.com, February 1, 2001.

3. Paul Hogan has lashed out at the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) again.

The Australian actor, who is best known for his role in Crocodile Dundee, branded the organisation’s unsuccessful attempts to find him guilty of evading tax payments between 2005 and 2010 as “ridiculous”.

Hogan told Macquarie Radio that he is furious at people criticising his decision to return to Australia for his son's upcoming nuptials, saying: “Some bureaucrat says I’m a flight risk and it’s stupid. I have to get permission to come back to the country to attend my son’s wedding.

“The tax office set out to make some money and they failed at that... they just want [to] make people really think about their tax, and put the fear of God into the Australian taxpayers.”

- ‘Crocodile Dundee’s Paul Hogan: ‘Tax probe was ridiculous’, DigitalSpy.co.uk, November 9, 2011.

4. In 1921 a newspaper ad inviting tourists and investors to Miami Beach read: “...practically no danger from summer storms.” If the claim wasn’t reasonable, it was at least understandable. The last major hurricane had hit Florida in 1910, “when the population of Miami Beach could be counted on one, maybe two hands.”

By 1920, the population of Miami had swelled to nearly 30,000, a 440 percent increase over the previous decade. The explosion continued throughout the ‘20s. On September 15, 1926, the National Weather Bureau issued warnings of three large tropical storms building in the Caribbean. The warnings fell not on deaf, but uncomprehending ears.

The “Big Blow” was the second hurricane to hit South Florida that season. In July 1926 a small hurricane produced heavy rain and slight wind damage. A longtime resident schooled in hurricanes’ potential danger considered July’s storm good practice for inexperienced Miamians. “We have had a beautiful time with a hurricane apparently made to order for me,” he said, “blowing with just enough energy to put the fear of the Lord into the scoffers, and very possibly make them see the light.”

- The Hurricane of 1926, PBS.org, undated.

5. Is America Broken? More importantly for investors is the question: How can I make money if it is?

As I write this article from the runway of Miami’s airport on the way to Phoenix, I have many negative thoughts. Lot’s of American infrastructure is old and broken from its highways in old urban areas that can't handle the traffic to its airports. New York City has three airports, all of them awful.

The fact that Countrywide Financial and now Bear Stearns are basically insolvent and carcasses for lawyers has really put the fear into the stock markets once again. I am mad at U.S. leaders but that won’t affect change and it sure as hell won’t make me money. This “credit crisis” is quite different from the little Internet bubble of 2000. Internet entrepreneurs were little boys compared to the grownups losing money in the financial sector.

- How to make money in a bad market, Globe Investor Magazine Online, April 7, 2008.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


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(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)