This is the command most commonly used in the Bible. Interesting huh? Out of all the commands that we might have inherited from thousands of years of history covered by the writings in the canon of Christian scripture, this is the one that resonates most frequently. Why? It is almost as if fear has a toxicity in terms of human relations that we should no under estimate.
I was reminded again of these words when listening to More or Less on radio 4 t’other day. The programme is all about numbers – not my natural medium – but in this instance the numbers were concerned with deaths by terrorist acts in the West.
Death by unknown random malevolence has become the fear most reflected in media output and our political rhetoric. Is is strange then to note that many more people died in a previous epoch of terror in the 1970s.
There are a number of problems with this kind of fear;
- The point of terrorism is to induce fear and panic out of all proportion at a population wide level. If we allow the fear to dominate our thoughts and action then the men and women of violence win
- Death is inevitable and everywhere. Risks of untimely deaths through road travel for example are vastly higher to each and every one of us. Yet we do not fear this kind of death- it is an acceptable risk, incorporated into daily life
- Fear of terrorism justifies huge acts of violence, oppression and human rights abuses carried out by our own governments
- This kind of fear obscures other evils in our communities that might matter more; growing inequalities of wealth, health and opportunity, scapegoating of outsiders, spiritual poverty
Did anything good ever come from fear?
Of course, fear can keep us safe. At some level, healthy fear and respect of danger is an essential part of human evolution. We need to fear tigers, fire and the precipice. Translate this fear into the complexities of a post industrial society however and things become more more complex.
It could be argued that there is an epidemic of fear sweeping though western civilisation. Despite living in a time when we are living longer than any time in history, when crime levels are falling, when most of us live safe, prosperous lives, the levels of clinical anxiety appear to be rising everywhere. The Mental Health Foundation released a study suggesting that nearly half of people in the UK feel more anxious than they used to, and one in five feel anxious all the time.
Chronic clinical anxiety is a terrible thing to experience and let us not pretend that it is in any way easy to overcome, no matter the growth industry of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Lilly-the-pink calming tablets. My point here is to wonder how the underlying circumstances that lead to a population wide increase in anxiety came in to being. Is it because we have allowed a certain kind of fear to be endlessly celebrated, recycled and displayed?
My suggestion is that nothing good comes from this kind of fear. It drives wedges between us and our neighbours. It prevents us from embracing experience and passion. It denudes human experience.
It celebrates protectionism and revenge over openness and reconciliation.
It is incompatible with the way of love.
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.