There is a fear epidemic in America. We are a people full of fear. Swapping stories of fright has become our national pastime.
If you want to kill anything in politics these days, just get people good and scared about what some action or legislation will do to them. Or better, get them to fall in love with some conspiracy theory. If you can get enough fear aroused in the human brain, it doesn’t take long before that fear dominates and takes over everything. A tyranny sets in. Imaginative capacities quickly get overwhelmed. Fear narrows our vision to a point that renders us almost blind. We start to view every new person we encounter as a threat instead of a potential ally.
Gun violence is but one example, yet an expressive one of plenty of larger and smaller fears. The more fearful we become with every new shooting, the closer we grow to hurting ourselves in the process of trying to protect ourselves. Since you can never be safe enough, conventional wisdom has it, then feed the appetite of fear. Fear is always hungry, remember, so feed it!
What is the popular answer to guns? More guns. Arm the citizenry to defend itself against itself. Look at Roseburg, Oregon, or a thousand other communities. Gun sales are climbing. Concealed weapons permits are the steady demand. More weapons on campus are the battle cry. Gosh, I can’t wait to be dining in a restaurant, reading in a library, or sitting in on a college debate class with all these people around me carrying a firearm under their shirt. Sure makes me feel safe and at ease. If you believe that, you don’t know me very well.
Fear is a terrific uniter. It holds people together like no other ideology, national symbol, or creed in our culture can ever quite manage. But what a strange way for a nation to behave – especially this nation. Fear may hold America together, and with paralyzing strength, but it also keeps us from being whole.
So, who are we as a nation?
Religiously speaking, Christians in America constitute the vast majority of believers. This hardly makes us a Christian nation, of course, if by that descriptor we mean that we are constitutionally organized around Christian scripture and the teachings of Jesus. Still, one would think that with more than 220 million adherents of Christianity, people would be sending faith to answer their door when fear keeps knocking. But that isn’t happening.
“No one seems to have an unkind word about fear these days,” says author Marilynne Robinson, “unChristian as it surely is.” What does Robinson mean by this? She is probing the absence of a Christian habit of mind. A Christian herself, she is in some disbelief over all these Christian people who are doing nothing to live the faith that very specifically trounces fear.
In the list of things that Jesus judged to be worse than death, fear holds first place. His most important work in the world was to rid us of fear. As I see it, the triumph of his resurrection offers us a freedom from fear, not freedom from death.
This thinking is getting little play in Christian America, which is both puzzling and a little sad.
– Peter Marty, senior pastor