Playing on Fear

Much as I hate to admit it, I still don’t like to sleep in the dark when I’m alone in a house.  But I suspect I’m not the only scaredy cat.  Far from being an emotion to which some are susceptible and others immune, fear is a primal human instinct.  It drives us at the most basic level and as such it is a source of profit waiting to be exploited by those with an interest in shaping us


In business, politics and media, our fears are exploited, fed and used.  One need only think of the way that incidents are reported in our media: ‘here’s what happened to so-and-so; how can we stop it happening to you!’  In our politics, think of how the Iraq war was justified. Although no link was ever established between Iraq and the events of 11th September 2001, the American political machine frequently crammed elements of each into the same single alarming sentence, forcing fear of Sadam into the popular mind at a sub-conscious level.  And Hey Presto – support for the so-called war on Terror.  And Business too has much to profit from this: the language of ‘security’ has now become commonplace, and of course the more you have, the more protective you are likely to become.  


The bigger our house, the more sophisticated our security system.  The nicer our car, the more concerned we become about scraping it.  Living the American dream does not free us from fear, but entangles us ever more deeply in it, because the more we have, the more afraid we are of losing what we have.


And yet this seems to be at odds with basic Christian belief.  Although fear is part of being human, we are encouraged over and again not to be afraid.  But I suspect that the courage to overcome the paralysis caused by fear is not only related to one-off acts of boldness: making eye contact during the grace, going forward for prayer ministry, ‘letting go and letting God’ (whatever that means!)


The entire Christian life is an act of courage, not being shaped by the desire to build bigger barns.  Freed from the myth that the happy life is one where all can see the German car on the block paved drive of your five bedroom house.  To abandon the powerful forces of our day that still call us to give Ceasar more than is due to Caesar requires deep, sustained, long term courage.


Sadly, although we belong to the most privileged culture of world history, we remain ‘anxious and troubled about many things’.  In a world obsessed with security, we might do well to remember the words of one twentieth century theologian who said that “the only way to find true security is to abandon all security.”  


(Published in BT, 2008)