Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A Culture of Fear

With the advent of two major hurricanes, the polar icecaps melting, the ozone hole growing, terrorism, and now an earthquake so huge it killed more than 40,000 people, it is understandable that people feel a bit skittish at the moment. And whenever the world appears especially wobbley, there are always people who jump in to take advantage of our fears, offering security, religious insight, or just a plain old scam or two. Speaking of scams, Pat Robertson added to the fun when he said that these natural disasters were likely signs of the end-times. So you non-evangelical non-Christians better wake up before you smell the sulfur.

We live in a culture of fear. It infects our churches, our homes, our language, our relationships, and our government. So fearful of Al Qaeda are we, that we tolerate Guantanamo Bay and the exporting of "enemy combatants" to torture-friendly allies. So addicted to the 24 hour news cycle are we, that we live from crisis to crisis, worshipping at the altar of the beast which is CNNFOXMSNBC, and so we are suckled by a mother with poisonous milk. So full of fear are we, that we become suspicious of our neighbor. On almost every major highway in New Jersey are huge digital billboards flashing in bright amber the words, "REPORT ALL SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITY," followed by a phone number.

When people are afraid they do foolish and regrettable things. Civil liberties are willingly surrendered. Patriotism becomes not so much a virtue, but a badge of legitimacy - "I'm okay, I'm a true American! Don't hurt me." The Indian Sikhs who sell me my gas have so many American flags adorning their gas station that it looks like its perpetually the Fourth of July. I don't blame them. Only a few years ago one was slain near here for being a "terrorist" (despite not being Arab or Moslem or a terrorist).

Is the church helping? I don't know. The church can be awfully opportunistic when it wants to be. "What is your only comfort in life and in death?" the Heidelberg Catechism asks. Does comfort fill pews? I think it empties them. And yet, I don't see people flocking to church in this age of anxiety. Instead, they watch more tv, or sedate themselves with internet porn. I heard yesterday that the church in China is asking Christians around the world not to pray for an end to persecution, because the church is growing so fast in the midst of repression. "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church," is the ancient maxim. The church likes its lambs nervous and watchful - sometimes for good reasons, and other times for selfish reasons. I think the church needs to preach courage, justice, and peace in this time of war, incivility and violence, lest we allow the culture of fear to overshadow the gospel, for then we begin to do the devil's work.


Blogger Steve said...

I disagree with some of the minor political stuff, but you are right on about a culture of fear being unhealthy.

I wonder how my life would be different if I lived like Wendell Berry.

10:52 PM  
Blogger Scribe said...

I love Wendell Berry. In fact, on my minister's profile, I list him as a major theological influence. He seems to be of a different world, a different time, and I always feel cleaner and spiritually healthier when I read him.

8:24 AM  
Blogger Greg Kendall-Ball said...

Thanks for the chuckle at the "Paranoia is Patriotic" picture. I tried to express some similar thoughts on my blog, only to be ridiculed, attacked and otherwise laughed at for thinking that maybe we should rethink some of our allegiances. Seeing that poster made me laugh a little...

2:49 PM  

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