The Link Between Religious Faith and Fear

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The link between religion and phobias is strong, but it's not well understood. Although a strong religious faith can bring comfort to some, certain phobias appear to have a religious component. These phobias often appear or worsen during a crisis of faith, but they may occur at any time. And they may happen to anyone, regardless of their religious background.

This article discusses the symptoms and types of religious phobias. It also explores how religion and phobias might be connected and some of the treatments that may help with religious phobias.

Symptoms of Religious Phobias

Most religious phobias would be considered a type of specific phobia, which involves an excessive fear of a specific object or situation. While some people experience fears related to religion, a phobia is more than normal fear. Symptoms of a specific phobia include:

  • Excessive, persistent, and unreasonable fear in response to a specific situation or object
  • An immediate anxiety response that is not proportional to the actual threat
  • Avoidance of the source of the fear or enduring it only under extreme duress

In order to qualify as a phobia, the fear must be life-limiting and affect areas such as personal life, school, and work. Symptoms must be present for six months or longer and must not be caused by another mental health condition, such as agoraphobia or social anxiety disorder.

Recap

Phobias are not the same as normal fear. With a religious phobia, a person would need to experience excessive fear of a religious object or situation that is out of proportion to the threat and triggers a severe anxiety response. 

Phobias With a Religious Component

There are several types of phobias that appear to have a religious component. Some of the most common include the following.

Ecclesiophobia

In some cases, people may experience a fear of churches known as ecclesiophobia. The phobia may involve a fear of the building itself or a fear of what the building represents. 

In some cases, this fear of church might be related to a fear of specific practices associated with religion that have led to feelings of distrust and fear. Sexual abuse by priests and emotional abuse by churches that support homophobia and harmful practices such as conversion therapy, for example, might contribute to fear of churches or other religious buildings.

Doomsday Phobias

Doomsday phobias can be loosely defined as phobias that involve the end of the world. They tend to fall into two basic categories: technology phobias and fears of the "End Times."

Both types of doomsday phobias may be triggered or worsened by religious belief, particularly if you have begun to question your faith. Astrophobia, or fear of space, may be related to doomsday phobias.

Death Phobias

Death-related fears are extremely common among people of all cultures and religious backgrounds. Thanatophobia, or fear of death, is the most common of these phobias, but many people also fear the symbols of death such as tombstones and ghosts. Mythophobia, or fear of legends, may also be related to the fear of death.

Numerical Phobias

Numbers can carry religious and cultural significance. Although belief in the power of numbers is often dismissed as superstition by modern science, belief in the power of numbers can be extremely strong. Two of the most commonly feared numbers are 13 and 666.

Recap

Some types of phobias may be related to religion. This includes phobias that are focused on the end of humanity, death, and superstitious beliefs.

Connections Between Religion and Phobias

Religion does not cause phobias. While the exact causes of phobias are not entirely understood, factors such as genetics and experiences play a role. Difficult or traumatic experiences sometimes contribute to the formation of phobias, so traumas related to religion or religious experiences could potentially lead to the development of a religious phobia.

While religious beliefs and experiences may influence the development of religious phobias in some, many people draw comfort from rather than fear from their religious faith. Additionally, the phobias listed above often occur in those who do not identify themselves as religious. Instead, it seems that personal religious beliefs may be a small component of a larger picture.

As science has not yet conclusively proven what happens after death, fear of the unknown may be the ultimate driver behind the religious component of certain phobias.

Certain emotions or other phobias may contribute to some aspects of religious phobias. For example, studies have found that specific types of disgust might be related to religious fear. The research found that sexual disgust was linked to a fear of sin while pathogen disgust was associated with a fear of God.

Recap

The exact causes of phobias are not fully understood, but genes and life experience play a part. It is likely that a number of different factors contribute to the development of religious phobias.

Treatment for Religious Phobias

If you feel that religion might play a role in your phobias, you might consider a two-pronged approach that incorporates mental health treatment and religious counseling. It is important to consult with a trained mental health professional, who will treat your phobia from a scientific perspective.

There are a number of highly effective treatments that can help relieve symptoms of phobias. Common treatments include talk therapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, and medications.

Psychotherapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is usually the first-line approach to treating phobias. CBT works by identifying the underlying patterns of thinking that contribute to fear and then helping people develop new coping skills that can reduce the fear a person experiences.

Exposure therapy is a component of CBT that can be particularly effective when treating phobias. This technique works by gradually and progressively exposing people to the source of their fear in a supportive environment. At the same time, people practice relaxation strategies that help soothe their fear response. The combination of being repeatedly exposed to the fear object or situation and learning how to relax when experiencing symptoms of anxiety can gradually lessen the fear that people experience.

Medications

Medications may sometimes be prescribed to help people cope with feelings of anxiety. Anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants are two types that may be prescribed. Medications may be used alone, but they are most effective when combined with psychotherapy.

Religious Counseling

If you live with a religious phobia, you may also benefit from counseling with a religious leader, particularly if you are undergoing a crisis of faith. They can help you explore your beliefs and examine your concerns within the context of your faith. While traditional therapy is action-oriented and focused on removing the fear, religious counseling can help you resolve the underlying conflict.

Recap

Treatment for phobias often involves psychotherapy. Medications can also be useful. For phobias that have a religious component, counseling with a religious leader may also be helpful.

A Word From Verywell

The connection between phobias and religion is not fully understood, but certain phobias do appear to focus on religious themes. If you are experiencing symptoms of a religious phobia, talk to a healthcare provider. They can evaluate and diagnose your condition and recommend treatments that will help.

If you or a loved one are struggling with a phobia, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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