“Nothing to fear but fear itself”

Oh great! News from Russia gives us something else to be afraid of: a meteorite explosion. The roofs of our houses could cave in, destroying our beds, our sofas, our computers and cell phones. We could be killed.

Americans already have plenty to worry about: car accidents, theater shootouts, heart attacks, cancer, homosexuals, and socialists. And a more recent one: a tyrannical U.S. government. You can buy a Hummer so you’re less likely to be killed in a car accident. You can avoid going to theaters, stay at home and rent Netflix instead. To ward off heart attacks people ingest a daily dose of aspirin, eat flaxseed, and take fish-oil supplements. To prevent cancer they eat whole grains, tomatoes, broccoli, and drink green tea. Those afraid of homosexuals picket churches and businesses who accept gays. Folks who watch Fox News can identify the socialists then write letters to the editor to warn everyone else.

Recently we’ve been hearing that to protect ourselves from intruders and a tyrannical government we should buy an arsenal of AK-47s and glocks. Where can we get hand grenades?

As I recall, my father had fears too. He feared that if Kennedy was elected, the Pope would run our country. He was scared of communists. He was positive they had infiltrated the highest levels of our government and that it would be better to be dead than Red. He worried that if I danced I’d get pregnant, and if I went to college, my professors would teach me about evolution and destroy my Christian faith. I guess he took his own life because he was afraid to live it. That’s where fear can lead.

Sure, there are appropriate times to be scared: when our lives or the lives of others are imminently threatened. We should be cautious: buckle our seatbelts, install smoke detectors, avoid dark alleys late at night. But we need to remember that demagogues gain their power by appealing to our anxieties. It is to somebody’s advantage (and not always clear whose) that we organize our lives around those fears.

What is the alternative to a life dominated by fear? One grounded in joy and trust. Joy in the life we’ve been given, trust in a higher power and in each other.

Or we can move into a bunker so that if a meteor comes, we’ll be safe. Maybe.