Members of the Sikh community hold a candlelight vigil outside Newtown High School before an interfaith vigil with President Barack Obama, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Newtown, Conn.
We are not going to be able to address a gun culture that makes the United States the most heavily armed nation in the world, unless we also counter a fear culture that is deeply emotionally rooted in our society.
What is powerful enough to counter fear? Biblically speaking, it is love that casts out fear. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)
Yet, we need to realize that the love that conquers fear is not a sentimental love ethic that leaves practical issues unaddressed.
Clearly strong legislation is needed now. The key to a “year without fear,” however, is also wrestling with the emotions that make many Americans afraid of other Americans.
There is an industry of fear that drives some Americans to stockpile weapons. Especially since the election of President Obama, a network of conservative pundits has driven a fear-based message on gun control: “Obama is planning to, in the words of Glenn Beck, ‘slowly but surely take away your gun or take away your ability to shoot a gun, carry a gun’ or have suggested that a government effort to ban guns is likely”
A gun culture and a fear culture mutually reinforce. Why else would gun sales go up after the gun massacre in Newtown, CT, unless driven by fears of coming gun control as well as the idea that “more guns” will make you safe?
A fear culture is remarkably impervious to facts. The “more guns will keep you safe” belief is the driver of the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre’s argument that the solution to gun violence in schools is more guns in schools. It’s not rational, but it can speak to the fear and look like control. There was an armed guard in Columbine High School, and that school massacre occurred anyway. To a fear culture, such facts literally do not matter.
The best way to address a fear culture is not with facts, but with an equally powerful emotion, and, from a biblical perspective, clearly that emotion is love.
Sounds great, except how do we get there? Love in the abstract is not the way. That can easily become feel-good rhetoric that accomplishes nothing.
Just as the fear culture focuses on specifics such as guns to drive away fear, a love culture must be very, very specific. Below are some of our worst fear triggers, and concrete suggestions for the work we need to do to get from fear to love.
American racism has its roots in the idea of “out group bias,” a way to organize the world and identify who can be trusted and who cannot. But American racism is not merely a psychological effect; it is an historically and economically organized system that shifts benefits to dominant race Americans (identified as white) from those who are deemed racial/ethnic minorities.
Deep change on race relations will have to come “from concrete actions that shift power relations.”
As the famous Christian theologian, Paul Tillich, suggests in his important work, “Love, Power and Justice: Ontological Analyses and Ethical Applications,” love is not exclusively emotional. Love is related to power relations and how these do or do not manifest justice. There is, he argues, a basic unity to love, power and justice.
Thus, I believe if we want to actualize love in relation to race, we will need to do it with changing power relations in the direction of justice.
Homophobia, that is, fear of those who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender may be less an “out group” phenomenon and more a fear based on one’s own sexual identity. Whatever the root, however, homophobia has been shown to be considerably reduced and even to disappear with positive experiences by heterosexuals with those who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender.
The way forward on homophobia is clearly the biblical injunction to “love the neighbor as oneself.” (Mark 12:31) Christian evangelical scholars Letha Scanzoni and Virginia Mollencott asked (and answered) this question nearly a quarter century ago in “Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?” Their answer was “yes.”
I believe the emotional connection we need to make to reduce homophobia is both loving ourselves for who we each are, and respecting the sexual other as my “neighbor.”
Islamophobia is also a largely manufactured fear these days. There is a fear industry run by a few well-funded pundits as the report, “Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America” documents. What can look like “spontaneous” push back on interfaith relations, then, is the fruit of this fear-mongering, as was the case with a Muslim conference held this fall at an All Saints Church in Pasadena, CA.
The interfaith solidarity, and sturdy Christian witness exhibited by All Saints in going ahead with sponsoring the Muslim conference, perfectly exhibits how fear of Muslims is reduced through long-term trust-building among those of different religious faiths in this community.
I believe love includes long-term trust building. Long-term trust building does, indeed, cast out fear in a practical way. While such love is not always perfect, it does work quite well to reduce fear.
2012 was the year of the so-called “War on Women” that was so hurtfully manifest as sexual shaming of women, denial of women’s conscience, questions of “legitimate” rape hurled at women who had become pregnant from sexual assault, and casual objectifications of women job candidates as captured Mitt Romney’s comment on “binders full of women” as a few of its manifestations.
Why so many attacks on women? Wolfgang Lederer’s study, “Fear of Women,” suggests that women’s child-bearing capacity inspires both awe and fear, and is the deep root of the fear of women and the desire to control them.
The desire to control women is an important part of each of the indicators of the so-called “war on women,” and especially control of their reproductive capacity. Women’s reproduction may be more regulated today, Shannyn Moore suggests, than guns and ammunition. “Birth control and reproductive health services are harder to get than bullets,” she observes.
Sentimentalism about “love” is particularly useless in addressing the systematic fear of women’s reproduction that manifests itself in such regulatory aggression. Paul Tillich’s theological observation that power and justice are inextricably related to love is very helpful in this regard as well. For women, equality in terms of power and justice in society are central to what love means in terms of sexual relations. This equality must include the totality of women’s being: spirit, mind, and body. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood ), put it best. “No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body.”
I believe love, power and justice are the emotional connections we need to make to end the “war on women” and achieve equality of dignity and worth for both women and men.
2013: A year without fear?
Will love be able to be made perfect in 2013? No, of course not. But love, especially when understood as encompassing power and justice, as well as trust, is a concrete way we can better connect emotionally and resist the lure of fear and alienation in our society.
“There is no fear in love.” (1John 4:18)