Fear and faith

Fear and faith

Fear and faith

Septermber 11 - Trade Towers
Septermber 11 - Trade Towers

Following September 11 social commentators observe that a new
social consciousness of vulnerability pervades the United States and indeed the
first world.

The realities of fourth generation warfare-terrorism and the
media continue to expose the public to threats of 'war' and ultimately to
its bitter companions, namely death and pain. In times of tribulation and
crisis, whether pending or actual - people find themselves asking fundamental
questions, about faith, purpose, meaning, and hope? How does one make sense of
what has been called the 'banality of evil'?

We are confronted with both the 'problem of evil' and the
psychological dynamics of fear and trauma. Consider what one Jewish historian
and philosopher, commenting on post-holocaust reflections has poignantly
suggested, "No statement, theological or otherwise should be made which could
not be made in the presence of burning children." Platitudes are of little
comfort in these times and words can sound all too hollow.

Perhaps the greatest lesson of the suffering Job, is that
life is difficult, and faith, not theoretical or dogmatic doctrinal assertions,
is the only useful response. However, living statements can and have been made
in the lives of those who continue to love and show compassion in spite of evils
visited upon them.

What is considered essential, honourable and noble, the
cornerstone values of civil society are revaluated in the aftermath of crisis.
Faith in the midst of tragedy is often revisited, challenged, renewed, and
sometimes abandoned.

As America reeled, the public expression of faith, prayer and
sacrifice became increasingly evident. The division between the secular and the
sacred becomes more blurred as individuals seek explanation and mutual comfort.
Even the most anti-religious may respect, at least temporarily, the human need
to be comforted. Celebrities, politicians, the pubic services and the general
public momentarily set aside the contrivances of social status and renown to
find ways to work together for the common good. Incessant busyness is put aside
to reconsider priorities and needs are often more easily discriminated from
merely wants. Crisis thus invites us to explore the dynamic between fear and
faith.

People from many walks of life are involved in the helping
professions or agencies which primarily deal with alleviating and comforting
those suffering. Many have developed very compassionate and empathetic attitudes
and practices. Theologians, pastors, ministers, elders, the diverse 'church'
and faith communities, religious fanatics and political extremists, military and
political leaders, mental health professionals, sociologists, social workers,
counsellors may approach 'crisis' from diverse perspectives. Each
perspective calls for an emotionally intelligent 'faith' not a dry academic
treatise or simplistic religious or other rationalisation. A response of faith
to crisis is not anti-–intellectual, it is implicitly intelligent and becomes
inherently practical.

It is written that 'Perfect love castes out fear.' This
is a relational concept not a statement of individual piety. Perfect love, is
not experienced by observation alone it is outworked in community. To suffer
alone is unbearable, only another's companionship makes suffering bearable.
The absence of such companionship thus magnifies suffering. We are designed as
social beings, and faith is outworked in the community by caring not condemning,
discerning not judging rashly, forgiving not holding resentments, and building
genuine trust not manipulating loyalties. So fear is cast out as trust is
rebuilt, burdens are shared, friendships are grown and as every caring person
knows, this may take years to mature. I have met many people who wished for
overnight spiritual 'maturity' and believed they were entitled to it. I also
know many people whose struggles and sacrifices have contributed to wider social
well-being and consider it a privilege to be so involved in the lives of others.
The faith that Christ imbues in us declares that we are all works in progress.

We see however in the suicide bomber something other than
this kind of faith. We see an erosion of humanity and a loathing of others in
the guise of a pseudo-faith. We see a belief based on fear which instructs them
that if they do not act the infidels evil will persist. Believing in the
righteousness of the cause, he/she prepares to murder others to restore his/her
perception of a just society and to somewhat selfishly earn the right to enter
paradise. 'I am not a 'murderer' but a freedom fighter' they assert. 'I
must sacrifice myself and the lives of others for a greater good' they
believe. The tools are fearsome and the outcome is perpetual 'horror' upon
which no civil social order can be sustained. Such actions are founded on this
lie -that civil society is built on tyranny or that tyranny can or will sustain
peace and justice. This lie is a favourite of the principalities of the unseen
order and the religious and political extremists in the mundane world. Violence
will beget violence because it is by its very nature driven to reproduce not
diminish itself. Political, cultural, religious and spiritual despots understand
this dynamic. To maintain their grasp of power one must exercise sufficient
might and control. Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Hussein -– types of antichrist -
demonstrated it. Their vision of how society works was built fundamentally on
fear not faith - on maintaining power over not power for. Fear has always been
the weapon of tyranny. Hitler's Nazism was possible because of the ability,
not to just inspire 'national pride' and racism but to terrorise those that
would oppose his will. Judas was zealous about the cause of freedom for his
people from Roman occupation but feared what was becoming of his leader. And
Judas betrayed Jesus, perhaps not so much because of 'greed' but because he
feared Jesus was not who he wanted him to be. In other words, Judas realised
that Jesus would not become the servant of his own political aspirations.

On the eve of the long awaited report to the United Nations
by the Chief UN Arms Inspector, President Bush and Colin Powell announce that
they will lead the world and if necessary, go it alone, to rid the world of the
Hussein-Iraq threat. International Legal experts are concerned that this is
quite simply a breach of International Law. In essence, the Bush administration
is asserting a moral justification in going to war claiming that this will
protect the world from a greater evil. They will continue to claim the
righteousness of using a lesser evil to prevent a greater one. The Nuclear Arms
Race and the Cold War was maintained on this premise. However, the moral
justification argument will not hold any water with the international community,
if weapons of mass destruction are not discovered. Nevertheless, the Bush
administration will claim that Jesus and God is on their side, and Jesus is used
once again as a servant of someone's political aspirations. And the Islamic
extremists will claim that Allah is on theirs. We do well to remember that Jesus
Christ died and rose again because of his great love for every Arab, Jew and
Gentile.

So we face again real prospects of war, of economic recession
and possibly depression and to whom do we turn for peace? Many economists,
knowing the fragility upon which capitalist system is built, are silent, fearing
that if they assert their concerns they will escalate the problems. Apprehension
is felt by every parent (perhaps with patriotic pride) for his or her sons and
daughters who will enter the field of battle not to mention the soldiers
themselves and the civilians who will be considered collateral damage.

Religious conflict exposes the very foundations of our
meaning and identity. The Islamic revolution and revival has been made possible
because of 'oil' and the economic leverage which this returned to Arab
nations. The theological mission of Islam is to win the world for Allah. While
moderate Muslims the world over have decried the terrorist actions and have
called for tolerance not radicalism the battle lines have been clear demarcated
and much of the Middle East conflict must be seen in this light. Faith will be
tested, and simple platitudes, Christian, Jewish or Islamic will abound to
justify both the means and the ends of conflict.

Faith is not the absence of anxiety or stress, it is the
certain confidence that we are not alone, that our burden is shared. Faith which
is built on the reality of God, here with us, who will not abandon us even in
the depths of despair. In the midst of any traumatic experience, the eyes see
what is immediately present. As Jesus walked on water to the panicking disciples
in the rough sea they perceived a ghost, which escalated their emotional and
psychological distress. They reacted with great fear to this perception, a
behavioural response to a threatening event and the drive wired into our
neurological impulses to flee or fight that which threatens us. Faith however,
does not see with this natural sight. Faith is fundamentally a vision of the
spirit enlightening the mind.

And so, I ask, where will you find peace today, the peace
that surpasses understanding. And where will your joy be found? In the
comforting of others perhaps. And where will your hope be secured? In the truth
that knows no darkness. The Bridegroom is coming. Prepare the way of Lord and be
not filled with fear or fatalism for the things which are coming must happen
until the divine consummation of the ages. There is one commandment and one
preparation -– love one another.