The sum of all our fears

Published 10:24 pm Monday, November 30, 2015

To the editor:

If someone in 1572 had stopped and asked a hurried citizen of Paris on his way to murder thousands of Huguenots, French Protestants, to account for what he was doing, he likely would have replied that it was for the greater glory of God, that he was ridding the city and culture of heretics, making France and the world a better and safer place to live, and saving not only his soul but also that of France. No one could doubt his loyalty to the will of God as he understood it.  His place in heaven would be assured.

On Friday, Nov. 13, a different group of assassins, this time led by Muslim fanatics, killed 130 and wounded more than 350 in Paris. They, too, used similar sanctioning language. Indeed, that same rhetoric has been applied timelessly by the Roman Emperor Julian to crucify Christians and return Rome to its true pagan gods and glory, by judges who burnt and drowned witches in Salem, by Russians and Germans who feared Jews for poisoning wells and killing children, by Islamists who slaughtered heretical Yazidis in Iraq, and by those who believed a president cannot be trusted because he’s a Muslim convert and not really a Christian in a sense they are willing to accept. That same gloomy suspicion now has come into play in current politics.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

America has legitimate dangers in the world, all manifest in the time in which we live. A reactive fear muddies the distinction between real threats like ISIS, Boko Haram, Islamists, and the terrors that bedevil those who see threats everywhere, even in the faces of small children and women fleeing persecution as our Huguenot ancestors did centuries ago. Just as the French did in justifying their actions for worldly power in 1572, so, too, do many of our politicians, some the children of immigrants who fled oppression in Cuba a generation ago. The French gave Americans the Statue of Liberty in 1886 to remind us of our immigrant roots. Yet many no longer want “your tired, your poor.  Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. . . .the wretched refuse” of our time.  Indeed, Emma Lazarus’s words now seem more a curse than an opportunistic “Golden Door” we now want to close.

No more costly gratification exists than to exploit the terror inflicted by groups like ISIS to promote unreasonable fears, to stream anxieties, prejudices, bigotry, anger, and resentments into a passion that seems to those who humor them either patriotism, piety, or opportunism. Yet no one has a harsh word about fear these days, in itself fearful if you’re a Christian.

We do not make ourselves safer by stockpiling dried and canned food, by hoarding gold, by buying more weapons, or by having a Roman army to protect us from barbarians at the gates. Beware overly generalized arguments like “better safe than sorry” or “even one out of ten thousand is too many,” all designed to frighten and oppress than to resolve. Moreover, even though we have defended this country and our ideals militarily with great fortitude, courage, and ingenuity, ultimate success and victory elude us. We are no safer after 14 years of war.

Reread the Bible, especially Leviticus, to see what happens to a chosen people like we surely must be when they fall away from their God and Savior. They become so irrationally fearful that “The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees from the sword, and they shall fall when none pursues.” In fact, read all 33 verses in the Bible about fear and faith.  Our fears, real and imagined, should not erode our standards of conduct as Christians and as Americans, something not in the power of any enemy to impose.

Milton Ready
Tryon, N.C.