I’m getting pretty goddamn tired of fear. Like, seriously tired of it. I’m tired of hearing rhetoric about any damn subject and hearing nothing but, “If this happens, destruction.”
“If gays get married, straight marriages will be made illegal, and the Homosexual Agenda will force everyone to perform same-sex acts!”
“If Obama gets elected, the economy will collapse so profoundly that it will usher in a period of living terror, when the only currency accepted by our Muslim overlords will be the babies of white parents!”
“If Romney gets elected, the one percent will turn the other ninety-nine percent into a caste of unpaid workers who are only allowed to rest on the day of their death, moments before they are turned into Soylent Green!”
“If Rob Bell continues to say words, his demonic followers will be allowed, willy-nilly, to bludgeon old women to death with night sticks!”
I understand – we live in a scary world. Everyone needs stuff, and sometimes it’s hard to get stuff, and people might want to take our stuff, and some people eat different food than we do and wear funny clothes. It’s horrifying. I get it. But is it possible – even remotely – that maybe all of this freaking out is making it harder to do. . . well, anything productive about it?
The shootings in the movie theater in Colorado, or the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, have intensified debate about gun control. On every side of the debate, I see people reacting out of terror.
“If we don’t create stricter laws to control guns, we will never, ever, ever be safe leaving our homes!”
“If we create stricter laws to control guns, then law-abiding citizens will be surrounded by bad people who do have guns, and they’ll have no ways to protect themselves!”
I’m not saying there isn’t some room for reasonable debate about things like gun control – obviously both sides have some smart people among them, and this conversation should happen. But it won’t be a productive conversation unless people can speak logically, and civilly, and unburdened by the omnipresent terror and mistrust that, sadly, defines our current rhetoric, and has for the past several years.
The first casualty of the rhetoric of fear is common sense. Of course homosexual marriage is no threat to heterosexual marriage. Mitt Romney isn’t going to set this country on a collision course with oblivion, any more than Barack Obama is. And the gun control debate is too complicated to be conquered by a single triumphant sound bite. So why are we so damn terrified?
What makes me the saddest, when I think about how polluted the national conversation has become, is how much the Christian community has contributed to this pollution. Just the other day, I saw an article about Pat Robertson telling people not to adopt children, because they might have a history of sexual abuse or food deprivation that leads them to grow up “weird.” Seriously, he said this. He then goes on to say that of course he loves orphans – his organization has ministered to thousands of orphans across the world – but that it’s not anyone’s responsibility to rescue them. “You really don’t have to take on other people’s problems.”
Here’s a dude who has been in the “pray trade” for more years than I’ve been alive, and his response to the idea that some children have been through torture is “if you try to rescue them, they could be weird.” I don’t doubt that there is love somewhere in his wrinkled, old Grinch’s heart, but it’s been (at least in this case) overruled by fear.
The easiest explanation for the state of our current rhetoric, I think, is that it pays (other people) for us to be terrified. “Big Media” has turned the news into entertainment, and panic drives viewership, which jacks up ad revenue. And obviously the Dems and ‘pubs want to galvanize their bases, which is more easily done when the message is, “We are on the verge of the greatest disaster since the cancellation of Firefly!”
(In my head, everyone loves sci-fi.)
Of all the groups who are invested in fear to drive profits, the one that offends me the most is the one I call “Big Geebus.” The Christianity-for-profit industry bugs the shit out of me. Big Geebus wants you to fear, because fear brings you to church. Big Geebus wants you to doubt, because they sell books for that. Big Geebus wants you to see enemies in “the world”, because “the world” doesn’t go to church – which means they give no money to Big Geebus, and thus, they are not needed or wanted. The Christo-industrial complex loves the culture war, because – like the RNC or DNC – it galvanizes the base.
Paul wouldn’t approve of this message of fear. Paul was all about love, and faith, and hope. Paul didn’t hate “the world” – he dove right into it, mimicking the people of the cultures he was trying to save. Check out what he says in 1 Corinthians, chapter 9, verses 19-23.
“19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
Those are clearly not the words of someone who lived in pants-shitting terror of the people who weren’t exactly like him.
Here’s a thought exercise for today – imagine the members of the early church, around the first century. These are people who could be put to death by both Jews and Romans. They had few powerful friends, they made no political policies, and there was nary a Christian publishing company to be found. Did they fear the world half as much as Big Geebus tells us to?