Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Motivation by Fear

This video has made the rounds on several sites I have encountered, most recently at internetmonk's. His post covered it pretty well.

During the past week, I have been struck by how frequently fear has undergirded some of the conversations and opinions I have come across. Whether it's the swine flu, questions about torture, or the economy, I think it's safe to say that the general atmosphere is a fearful one.

We become used to fear in our daily lives. The news relies on it almost exclusively to draw in viewers. If there isn't something spectacularly frightening happening, then they'll do a story on freak accidents, or one-in-a-million syndromes that you...yes, you...could be suffering from.

A little bit of fear can be a good thing. It keeps us from taking dangerous risks. It makes us think twice about our actions and the likely consequences. It reminds us to wear our seat belts and put smoke detectors in our house.

In one sense, a smidgen of fear is our friend.

Yet, have we moved past a smidgen? Are we swimming in a cultural ocean of fear?

From my perspective, it appears as if we are.

In some circles, the fear is palpable. Between Obama being elected, causing some conservatives to quake with fear, the threat of terrorism, and the general uncertainty of the very near future, people are worried. The video at the top of the post is a good example of the doomsday-ish feeling which can so easily seep in.

Even I had to mentally fight against the fear after watching it. Do I want my children to grow up in a radical, Muslim-populated future? No!  I need to start popping out more children and making sure everyone else does too!

If we stop and take a breath for a minute and try to logically assess what the video communicates, we can start to pull out a few threads and see the argument begin to fray. 

It is likely that growing Muslim populations in Western countries will begin to have lower fertility rates as they assimilate into their respective cultures. It is just as likely that Western Muslims will not be willing to relinquish the freedoms they have. People who become used to having human and legal rights are not usually prone to surrendering them.

That doesn't mean that some of the bad things we fear won't transpire.

Has bravery lost its place of honor among us?

There are all kinds of bravery. Heading into combat, knowing that you might not make it out is brave, and we respect those who do so...as we should. It's the definition which springs to mind when words like bravery and courage are mentioned.

Though we respect the virtues of courage and bravery in our soldiers, we seldom practice it in our individual lives or in our communities.

Instead, we frequently make choices as a reaction to fearful events or concepts.  Sometimes those choices don't have any negative impact on us. They don't matter one way or another. At other times, it leads us down a path of confining choices and suffocating attitudes. We don't do the things we want to because we're afraid that we'll fail. We don't speak up for ourselves or others because we're afraid of the social implications at school or work. 

For those of us who believe in Christ's message, it is to our shame that we let fear make our choices for us. We should feel secure, shouldn't we? Death has no permanent hold on us. God has declared peace with us.  Everything else in life should be a cake walk.

However, we don't walk in that knowledge. Churches can unwittingly promote a culture of fear when they continuously hammer messages of the decaying culture of society, or the schemes of the devil in people's lives. After enough of those references, we can lose our sense of peace and begin worrying about all the terrible things waiting to ensnare us.

It's easy to slip into.

When it happens..when we feel the fear closing in around us and making us anxious of the future..we must resist it. We must counteract it. We must make choices fueled by hope and faith.

Someone will say,"You can't just stick your head in the sand!  Bad things will happen. Be practical!"

Being practical is not the same as being brave. Practicality can eventually drain the value  out of the things we cherish most. 

Jesus was not practical. Think of all the people he could have ministered to if he had never faced the cross. It's not practical to be led into your enemy's den and offer yourself up willingly to those who want to kill you. Practicality would have sent him running the other way when he saw Judas approaching.

Yet...in the face of his fears...he made a most impractical, courageous choice.

May we do the same.


Anonymous said...

One of the things that has turned me off about evangelical christianity is the constant element of fear.

From the time I was young, when the enemies were communists, gays, secular humanists, liberals and so on, and as I got older and the rants were directed toward gay rights, abortions, muslims, other assorted liberals and so on, biblical fundamentalists are consumed by fear and loathing of others.

I think that underscores insecurity of the people who think that way, although it also could be that people of a certain disposition are attracted by beliefs that fit their personality. Christians tend to be more susceptible to doomsday scenarios (like the Y2K scare) that are totally irrational on their face.

Fear also doesn't fit in at all with the picture of Jesus painted by the gospels. But I would posit that there isn't much about Jesus' ideas that survive today, although that is another subject.

I can't access the video, but you conflate Obama being elected with terrorism and economic uncertainty. I somehow don't think they are comparable.


terri said...


I'm not conflating them...certain groups of people are.

There are some people who are as fearful of Obama's presidency as they are of terrorism and an economic depression.

I wasn't representing my views with that sentence.

For those outside of CHristian circles, I think fear just takes a different form---global warming, pollution, , etc. I don't see the culture of fear as being exclusively the realm of conservatives.

Anonymous said...

There are rational things to fear, global warming and environmental catastrophe being among them. Pollution was a real problem decades ago, and actions such as banning certain pesticides and controlling where companies dump waste were legitimate and beneficial.

It's not rational to fear Muslim hordes overtaking America (or Christian hordes overtaking the Middle East), or that a computer bug will wreak economic havoc or that banning discrimination against a certain class of people will prompt widespread moral decay or even "destroy the world," as Jim Dobson so eloquently put it.

It's not rational to believe that there is an invisible demon trying to mess up your life and make you do "bad" things.

I'm not saying that athiests and those not conservative don't have irrational fears, but there is something about fundamentalism (of all religions) that promotes an inordinate amount of irrational fear.

The ideas that your sect alone knows the precise quirks of a supreme deity, and all others are wrong, evil, dirty or whatever, that you will be rewarded and they punished, and that the deity wants you to do something about it, those types of beliefs naturally promote a certain extremism of mind.


terri said...

I'm not saying we shouldn't be concerned about those things, but the left can be just as prone to doomsday scenarios and preying on our fears.

There are whole swaths of the political landscape, both left and right, who are unhealthily afraid of things. Not all fear is tied to a particular strain of Christianity...or any strain of Chrisitianity.

I am addressing things from my perspective, which happens to be a Christian one...but the same could be done from many angles, and in regards to other segments of the population.

Buz said...

From an earthly point of view, fear sells ...

A large section of our population is now over 60. They not only saw the greatest financial times, but also grew up when there were air-raid practice and duck-under-your-desk-in-case-of-nuclear-attack practice (yes those things DID happen in the 1950s).

A thread of fear was sewn into our emotional tapestries as we grew up. In the 1970s, fear of the cold war waned and a new fear was brought into view. We were headed towards another ice age. By the year 2010 or 2020 there would be glaciers back in North America. As the 1980s warmed up, those who were in charge of scaring us saw that we were ignoring their message, so then there was an Ozone hole, and finally global warming.

In my opinion, you can boil all the network news stories down to "we're all going to die" whether it be by bird flu, swine flu, air crash, traffic accident, cancer, AIDS, smoking, eating, terrorism, right-wing whackos, left-wing nuts, Bush, Obama, Hillary, Iran, Afganistan, etc. etc. etc. ad infinitum. And, we had better keep watching them to see which one will get us first.


terri said...


I have to say I agree completely with your comment!

especially the last paragraph!


Chris said...

There is a difference between fear and legitimate concern. Muslims are not assimilating well in Western Europe, and the demographic data indicate that they will be a majority in many European countries in a few decades.

This is not fear-mongering, this is exposing a problem that needs to be considered. Why would Muslims need to conquer a country that they can control democratically? Since radical Islam is the most vociferous component of modern Islam, it earns a disproportionate place at the table, and forces its dictates on so-called moderate Muslims by the same tactics it uses on infidels. They rule by fear. How does acknowledging that reality make me fearful?

I love the projection of the anonymous commenter. Because fundamentalists oppose homosexuality and abortion and moral degradation, then they must hate those who practice them. I have rarely seen this in practice. I find this attitude common among people who know very few Christians, and base their suppositions on others' talking points. Just because I may disapprove of some behavior, no matter how strongly, does not mean that I hate the one who behaves that way. Christ preached that we should hate the sin and love the sinner. Where is the reciprocal respect from the other side?

I also love how global warming is not considered an irrational fear. We'll see how that stands up in the next few years, as evidence shows that the present warming period has peaked some time ago, and that the sun and water vapor are far stronger drivers of the global climate than carbon dioxide. The actual scientific consensus is against anthropomorphic climate change. This is another example of the media's constant fall-back to selling fear.