2013: The year without fear?

Jason DeCrow AP Members of the Sikh community hold a candlelight vigil outside Newtown High School before an interfaith vigil … Continued

Jason DeCrow

AP

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.

Racism:

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:

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:

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.

Sexism:

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)

About

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • WmarkW

    Excellent ideas, so let’s combine them:

    Get blacks to lower their homicide rate to equal whites
    Muslims end gender-differential cultural practices and discriminatory laws in their homelands

    The USA and rest of the West is already the most gender-equal, homophiliac, racially diverse, and religiously-neutral part of the world. It’s everyone else who needs to catch up to US.

  • jay2drummer

    Or, you know, while we wait for the rest of the world to catch up, we can continue the process to full equality for all citizens, because we’re not there yet, and pausing would kill the momentum, and we really should focus on whether WE are doing the right thing, not whether other countries are doing it worse.

  • tony55398

    In the garden Jesus sweat fell like drops of blood. It’s Love that overcomes fear, not that fear is somehow absent from everyday life.

  • jdpetric

    First, love of God has always been a must for all humans as well as the Jews. The fact that Jesus reiterated that command (Deut. 6:4) is no surprise.

    Second, the fact that Jesus gave “new” meaning to who was ones neighbor to the Jews, was because some were not considered “one’s neighbor” to the Jew. Some Jews considered non-Jews their enemies, such as Samaritians and Romans just to mention two.

    So obviously Jesus’ words at Matthew 5:43-48 was an entirely new concept to the Jews, and a new requirement in their worship since what Jesus spoke was from God, when he said:

    “YOU heard that it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

    However, I say to YOU: Continue to love YOUR enemies and to pray for those persecuting YOU; that YOU may prove yourselves sons of YOUR Father who is in the heavens,

    since he makes his sun rise upon wicked people and good and makes it rain upon righteous people and unrighteous.

    For if YOU love those loving YOU, what reward do YOU have? Are not also the tax collectors doing the same thing?

    And if YOU greet YOUR brothers only, what extraordinary thing are YOU doing? Are not also the people of the nations doing the same thing?

    YOU must accordingly be perfect, as YOUR heavenly Father is perfect.”

    Lastly, with regards to the all the Gospels of John, that First John was actually written by John the apostle is indicated by its close resemblance to the fourth Gospel, which he unmistakably wrote.

    For example, he introduces the letter by describing himself as an eyewitness who has seen “the word of life . . . , the everlasting life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us,” expressions strikingly similar to those with which John’s Gospel opens.

    Its authenticity is attested by the Muratorian Fragment and by such early writers as Irenaeus, Polycarp, and Papias, all of the second century C.E. According to Eusebius (c. 260-342 C.E.), the authenticity of First John was never questioned.

  • Emmett Coyne

    Greatly appreciate Susan’s essay as it reinforces the thesis of my recent book, The Theology of Fear, which I wrote to reject the operative theology of my religious tradition, Roman Catholicism.

    It has a better tradition in the teaching of Jesus, “A new commandment I give you, love one another.” (His last will and testament).

    The emphasis throughout the centuries, particularly since the ‘Constantinianization of the Roman Church’ has been the use of fear to control members by overemphasizing hell, devils, mortal sins, etc that kept members in a panic state of fear. It refuses to exorcise these fear elements, despite Vatican II’s new thrust. These fear tactics remain in the ‘new’ Catechsim of the Catholic Church.

    Fear needs to be exorcised from all religious traditions by its members. As Gandhi said, “Where there is fear, there is no religion.”

    Secular societies and politicians are not free from enforcing fear. Bush’s ability to rally citizens in his war on terror induced fear.

    Fear is essentially an emotion whereas love is essentially an act of will “Perfect love casts out fear,” to me means the triumph of will over emotion.

    Yes, love is connected to justice directly as the moral theologian, Bernard Haring, stated, justice is the minimum demand of love..

    The RCC desperately need to renew is theology, eliminating the enforcement of fear to control, and return to Jesus’ challenging command to love which is liberating to embrace all, even one’s enemy.

    Unfortunately, the hierarchy of the RCC is not receptive to my examination and resorts to inquisitional efforts to induce fear in me I wrote the book as an exercise in overcoming fear. Stay tuned to their retaliation.

    Thank you, Susan, for this most signitficant essay. Hopefully, in 2013, it will broaden the dialogue among people of good will everywhere.

    - http://www.emmettcoyne.net

  • quiensabe

    Doing away with the 2nd Amendment will ameliorate fear and replace it with love, Susan?

  • jade_alpha

    I must not fear.
    Fear is the mind-killer.
    Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
    I will face my fear.
    I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
    And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
    Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
    Only I will remain.

    -Bene Gesserit litany against fear

  • jade_alpha

    Also from popular culture

    “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

    -Yoda

  • AgentFoxMulder

    Gun Control:
    Thistlethwaite’s argument seems to be, we will not have more gun control until Americans stop fearing that there will be more gun control.

    American Racism:
    What is different about American racism and racism as found in other cultures? Why single out American racism, as if it is somehow a different phenomenon from that found anywhere else in the world? Or as if racism only exists in America but elsewhere humanity has progressed beyond such nonsense?

    Homophobia:
    This is a term invented to shame or bully those who consider homosexuality to be either a sin or a deviation from what is considered normal human behavior. It stems from the brain washing tactics of political correctness.

    “Love thy neighbor” is a biblical injunction the left loves to use to guilt Americans/Christians into accepting behavior we should otherwise consider with more critical scrutiny. There is another biblical injunction one must remember: Repentance.

    Islamophobia:
    This is a term which was essentially unheard of before 9/11/01.

    Sexism:
    The “War on Women” was a marketing campaign built on the same type of paranoid fear Ms. Thistlethwaite sees in the origin of homophobia and Islamophobia.

    How any one can claim that birth control and reproductive health services are harder to get than bullets is a mystery to me. One can go to any convenience store and buy some form of birth control and it is even begin passed out for free in public schools. And the last I checked, Planned Parenthood has not reduced the number of their clinics. Again, this is fear mongering. Women of America, you have been manipulated by the political marketing machine of the left.

    By the way, in our highly sexed society, men benefit as much as women when birth control is easily available as they can have intimate relations with more women without fear of a paternity suit.

    I wonder if Kathy Griffin kissing the crotch of Anderson Cooper during CNN’s New Year’s coverage is considered progress for women?

  • Catken1

    “American Racism:
    What is different about American racism and racism as found in other cultures? Why single out American racism, as if it is somehow a different phenomenon from that found anywhere else in the world? Or as if racism only exists in America but elsewhere humanity has progressed beyond such nonsense? ”

    There is a substantial difference, though. American racism stems from American race-based slavery, which did not take root as deeply elsewhere (there was slavery, but not so much based on race, as if one group of people were innately more suited to be slaves than another). It is a different phenomenon, and leaves racism more deeply rooted in our society than in many others.

    “Homophobia:
    This is a term invented to shame or bully those who consider homosexuality to be either a sin or a deviation from what is considered normal human behavior. It stems from the brain washing tactics of political correctness.”

    Political correctness – this is a term invented to shame or bully people into not challenging the bigotry of those who deem others “sinful” just for existing as they naturally are.

    No, you do not get a pass on your bigotry because you can cite thousand-year-old scriptures written by primitive peoples in order to support it. No, it’s not bullying to challenge your ideas just because you’ve slapped the “religious” label on them.

    And no, it’s not reasonable to consider other people’s loving marriages, which do no one any harm, to be sinful and evil because of the writings of ancient tribal people with very different population and breeding needs, or to judge other people’s behavior as “immoral” just because it deviates from the majority’s behavior patterns. “Normal” is not equal to “good,” and “different” is not equal to “wrong” in any reasonable human mind. Your beliefs are not rational or sensible, and it is neither “bullying” nor “political correctness” to call them what they are – namely, sheer bigotry.

  • jay2drummer

    “American Racism”
    “What is different about American racism and racism as found in other cultures?” The fact that Post is an American newspaper, whose readers are mostly American, meaning it is American attitudes they look to influence. American racism may be no different than other cultures’ racism, but it’s still wrong.

    “Homophobia:”
    “This is a term invented to shame or bully those who consider homosexuality to be either a sin or a deviation from what is considered normal human behavior. It stems from the brain washing tactics of political correctness.” No, actually it’s a term to refer to those who attempt to shame people who are born gay for no reason other than “it goes against my religious beliefs” and “it’s icky.” It’s not about political correctness, simply correctness.

    “Islamophobia:”
    “This is a term which was essentially unheard of before 9/11/01.” Really? Because within academic circles, I’ve heard it used going back as far as in criticisms of Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of the Civilizations,” it has been used in several of Edward Said’s early writings, and Alphonse Étienne Dinet and Algerian intellectual Sliman ben Ibrahim are considered to have been the first to use the term (or a French translation of it) as far back as 1918.

    “Sexism:”
    Men may benefit also from women being able to use birth control, but the pills do more for women than stop them from getting pregnant. And efforts to block abortions or shame women who have sex, efforts to block laws dealing with violence against women, political comments about rape that make light of it or blame the victim, women making less during the length of an average life than men, these are all very real things.

  • dryden01

    Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite’s piece is another mawkish tribute to the implausible sentimentality of the “politically correct” mindset in America. Short of breaking out into a year long rendition of Kumbaya, Susan needs a reality check and a better appreciation, for instance, of the values of the Roman Catholic Church. Ever heard of love the sinner and hate the sin Susan?
    After having lost over 600,000 homosexual and bisexual men to an HIV/AIDS “epidemic” brought on by the sort of promiscuity that the church advocates against, we see that new cases of HIV/AIDS in the LGBT community amounts to some 63% of all new infections according to the CDC as of 2010. The term homophobia should be a reference to LGBT concerns about killing themselves through their own sexual morality. In today’s political environment, homophobia could also be defined as that fear in the LGBT community that the heterosexual majority will not be politically cozened into paying them spousal marriage benefits to feather their financial nests at the ultimate expense of the poor and middle class. Susan could also fret about the morality and priorities of “budgetary cutbacks” in services to the poor and disabled while awarding increases in spousal marriage benefits to LGBT governmental employees
    As to firearms, Susan should work to educate Rahm Emanuel and the progressive Illinois political establishment on how he has failed to successfully introduce the concept of love to the 500 Chicagoans who died in 2012, mostly in gang related violence and to those who murdered them. With the nation’s harshest anti-gun laws, the Chicago criminals are undeterred by and immune to any benefits from Susan’s prescription of love the murderer/hate the 2nd amendment .
    God forbid that love will not be enough to persuade Islamic leaders to stop executing practicing gays and lift the oppressive dogmatic treatment of women under Islam. Perhaps Susan can rush a shipment of contraceptives and abortifacients to save all th

  • AgentFoxMulder

    There is a term missing from this article.

    Christophobia: The fear of all things Christian. it is a fear that liberal ideas will have to share the stage with Christian ideas and that Christian belief and philosophy will shine light on liberal philosophy’s empty promises and illusions. The result is the attempted cleansing of the name of Christ from all public discourse. It may also involve an actual fear of Christ (as in fear of God) though such deeply felt motivations are difficult to discern.

  • backspace1

    In order, recipe, I got a time line?
    I’ll do it since no one else in this so called non existant church will…..

    Brothers and sisters(?) children of our lord and, savior jesus Christ(?)Heresy
    In this new year we (humble servitude…) ask that you grant our new leadership with the tools and wisdom (?) necessary to lead our community. In truth (wishful thinking) and compassion ( atheisms) allow them to build bridges (don’t ask) of oneness for those” seeking” (blasphemy) their leadership.
    Please protect and guide our red and blue knights of Law and salvation. Allow their feet to be swift and batts strong. May the spirit’s graces (age/maturity-go pound sand!) lighten their path in their darkest hours, allowing them to return to family, from the trial of souls (nightmare?”).

    Lord, in closing this simplest of prayers(treasonous- acts, )though we may not be perfect, and though we may not always agree on the path (always the same)and direction, never let a shadow of doubt cast it’s “aura of division” on this community or, on those who uphold and protect the values and beliefs that so many have given their lives, in sacrifice. (is this a/the divide between community and value protections in order?)
    Can anyone tell me where this comes from? Who’s thread ? who’s responsible? Who can I blame?
    Everyone remember to do an air filter change.

  • jay2drummer

    That’s because there is no Chritophobia. In no way, shape, or form are Christians facing any form of oppression or discrimination. they simply are, as the Constitution says they must, being prevented from forcing the rest of us to live by their religious beliefs. I have a right to be Christian. Christians are not being forced to stop practicing their religious beliefs. Nobody is telling Christians to leave the country or treating all Christians as terrorists or trying to shame them into the closet. They’re just being told to keep their religious practices to themselves, and not make them part of the law that impacts all people. Of course many of us disregard Christ and any of his teachings in public discourse. It’s because we don’t believe in his teachings. That’s not oppression, unless it somehow prevents those of you who follow his teachings from worshiping.

  • jay2drummer

    And the statistical myths about homosexuals and HIV/AIDS are easily disproven when controls are applied. For instance, having multiple partners leads to higher odds of contracting the disease, something these studies don’t account for. Since marriage leads (statistically) to having fewer partners, comparing HIV stats for homosexuals in states where they cannot legally marry to the numbers for heterosexuals who have a motivation to remain monogamous skews the data. These numbers also ignore sex education. In states where sex education and proper condom use is taught in schools and people have easy access to condoms, they are more likely used. In states where condoms come with stigmas because people associate them more with birth control than STD prevention, gays are less likely to use them than gays in states with good sex education, and also less likely than heterosexuals, who have to worry about pregnancy. There’s also issues with testing, since gays who are forced to hide their sexuality from their family or community are less likely to seek testing, because they fear being outed and persecuted against. Oh, and let’s not forget that these numbers only mention HIV/AIDS, and not other STD or STIs.

  • backspace1

    diver down,
    snag,

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