~ Matthew 10
In my blog last week I began my consideration of the politics of fear by laying out a New Testament and Early Church context, especially noting the similarities of that society and ours. (Hint: don’t let the differences in technology fool you.) The most notable characteristic of the first Christians was their absolute, unshakeable confidence in God and in the divine purposes.
This week I want to uncover the sources of the politics of fear (albeit briefly) and state what I think a true Christian response to the world’s crises can be.
In my view there are at least two main types of religious charlatans in the world. The first group claims special knowledge not available to others, and their claim to authority is their possession and ability to interpret [for you] such special knowledge. The second group tends more toward the day of reckoning knowledge. That is, in a curious way they have the answer to all the ills of creation which if you do not follow and obey them will lead you to you-know-where. There are other types, but these two, especially in contemporary American culture, are the more prominent.
What drives both of these types is anxiety. That anxiety can be expressed in many ways, but think about these: the end of the world is coming…and by the way you and your behavior are the cause of it; American society is sick and soulless and doomed, all because of those [fill in the blanks]; you must not come in contact with those [fill in the blank]s because a) they are evil, b) they are really evil, and c) they will corrupt you and turn you into one of that Godless horde. (The latter is one of the reasons zombie movies are so popular these days.)
Interestingly, the more anxious they can make you the more likely you are to become one of their followers. (At this point, read power, influence, and money.) What I see and hear from these sorts is unrestrained, unresolved, and unrecognized (or not admitted) anxiety. The source of that anxiety is likely that person’s own history, especially their family of origin and its dynamics. People with unresolved anxiety use others as living garbage bags into which they can pour and unload their feelings without taking responsibility for the consequences.
So, what do I mean when I talk about “the politics of fear”? By that term I mean those in our political life who are constantly blaming others (for whatever), who are claiming special knowledge (“I KNOW how to fix this economy! Just elect me and I’ll show you how!”), and who are addressing more and more narrow groups of listeners who now become the “in” group (the saved, the righteous, the good guys, the Christians vis-à-vis Muslims or whatever) and who have identified the true sources of our society’s ills and problems. Black and white thinking is one of the most obvious behaviors of anxiety-ridden people. Us/them. White/black-brown-yellow-red. Christian/non-Christian. Good/evil. Their thinking lacks nuance, subtlety, and discretion. Mostly, it is always somebody else’s fault (whatever “it” is).
It should be clear that a more sound (healthy, good, effective…) life is one in which the person can take responsibility for the consequences of their actions (without needing to take responsibility for things that are indeed not their responsibility). It is one in which appropriate anxiety (as a good therapist once said, there are good things in life to be afraid of) is owned and dealt with. It is a life in which there is the ability to discern the gradations of good and bad in everything and in everybody. It is a life in which all sorts of “others” are welcomed and appreciated. It is a life in which offense is not taken when it is not meant.
It is, in other words, a life of confidence.
Christians need not fear nor be anxious. They need to be caring and care-full. Christians have special knowledge of the divine life and divine purposes—and are more than happy to share it (see the quote at the beginning of this article). Christians are generous, hospitable, respectful, and (generally) happy. Christians understand the vagaries of this life, and accept them for what they are, within the larger context of the Kingdom of God. Christians live with confidence in the constant presence of a God who loves and cares for them.
A bit of background about the author. The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook has a Masters in Divinity, the professional degree for Episcopal clergy, which includes rigorous studies of scripture, tradition, and reason. He holds a Doctor Philosophy degree in Political Science, with a concentration in Public Administration. His primary academic interests are how values guide and justify decision making in organizations, and the sociology and psychology of individual action in organizations.