I have been thinking about fear. The presidential campaign seems to foist fear into our consciousness. Fear is a tremendous motivator when it comes to getting people to vote. When someone who is different from us does something that is threatening, we can get exorcized and strike out to destroy or exclude. But, if someone like us acts in a threatening way, we are inclined to ignore it or accept it as behavior that we simply have to live with.
In a recent article in Foreign Policy, David Rothkopf reflects on how odd we humans are when it comes to fear. Politicians are keen on exploiting our fear of terrorism but seem paralyzed when it comes to limiting access to guns. Mr. Rothkopf points out that between 2004 and 2014, 303 Americans were killed by terrorists. During the same period 320,000 Americans were killed by guns of family members and fellow citizens. Because of the fear of terrorism, Americans cancel trips abroad. But we seem to have no trouble passing laws for people to carry guns in public places.
Now if fear were rational, one would think that we would spend more on controlling guns in America than we would in fighting terrorism. But, we can’t seem to generate much energy for the former and have no trouble authorizing billions to fight the latter. It seems that fear of the stranger can generate millions of Americans to vote for walls to keep others out while at the same time we can’t get enough votes in congress to limit guns.
Fear indeed is powerful. Fear of the stranger seems to exacerbate it.
Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) The book of I John says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18a) I doubt that I will ever have perfect love, but I think the world might be a safer and better place if we prayed for our enemies and grew in allowing love the overcome our fear. We might even come to appreciate the strangers more if we didn’t fear them as much.