Fear is a prison

March 6, 2017

FEAR NOT! said Jesus during his ministry on earth, urging his disciples and followers to trust in the Heavenly Father.

Fear not! said Pope John Paul II to a million-strong crowd in communist Warsaw in 1979, and sparked a spiritual revolution which led to the downfall of communism a decade later.

May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears! declared Nelson Mandela after years spent in a prison cell where he daily chose personal hope and forgiveness over fear and revenge.

These world-changers were all messengers of hope promoting reconciliation, healing, acceptance and forgiveness.

Today however a new breed of politician has emerged preaching a politics of fear and hate.  These politicians offer simplistic solutions to the complex issues of our time. Yet they often talk of defending Christian culture and restoring traditional values. That is true, for example, of Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders.

To a degree, they have a point. For our secularised world has largely rejected Christian truth in favour of post-modern views of human autonomy. While giving lip-service to ‘European values’ of equality, dignity, brotherhood and freedom, our secular leaders reject the biblical roots from which these values stem.

Yet we must beware of politics that seeks easy scapegoats. Hitler blamed the Jews and the gypsies. Today Muslim migrants are the chief culprit. Yet many Muslim believers also see Europe as decadent and immoral.

A recent study ‘Saving the people’ (2016) reveals how populists hijack religion for their cause. They create two groups of ‘enemies of the people’: the ‘elites’ and the dangerous ‘others’ who threaten the well-being of ‘the people’. ‘Our’ country has been hijacked, we are told; globalisation, immigration and multiculturalism are undermining our ‘Judeo-Christian values’. Yet most populist parties are secularist and only pay lip service to Christianity as an identity, not as a faith.

Using Christianity as a stick to chase people away, populists deny the invitational nature of the faith. They betray its compassionate heart reflected in the story about sheep and goats when Jesus explained who may be called ‘Christian’. The sheep feed the hungry, quench the thirsty, shelter the stranger, clothe the naked, comfort the sick and visit the prisoners. Those who turn away strangers like the vulnerable refugees in the Greek camp above are the goats.

How should we respond to the fear being peddled by these politicians?

Firstly, let’s recognise that fear is lack of trust in God. We need to trust in God’s care for us. Don’t fear, said Jesus; you are worth more than many sparrows yet your heavenly father even cares for them. (Matthew 10:31)

Secondly, let’s recognise that God’s plan in the Bible embraces all peoples. His kingdom comprises many peoples. We are to seek his kingdom first, not America first, Britain first, Europe first or any other country first. According to Revelation, our destination is a multi-ethnic city!

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote about Queen Elizabeth’s role in the significant transformation of Britain during her reign into a multi-ethnic, multi-faith society: She makes (those of minority faiths) feel, not strangers in a strange land, but respected citizens at home. The Queen herself once explained that the Anglican Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in (Britain). Woven into the the fabric of (Britain), the Church has helped to build a better society – more and more in active co-operation for the common good with those of other faiths.

Thirdly, let’s recognise that fear is a prison. Fear captivates us in a web of distorted perceptions. Take Geert Wilders, for example, and his so-called Party of Freedom. Because of his outspoken criticism of whole groups of people, he is guarded around the clock at the cost to taxpayers of €2 million per year. He has not had a walk on his own or with friends in 12 years. He can’t even collect his own mail. He can’t go to the shop on his own. His policies of exclusion could only be carried out if he reduced the Netherlands to a police state. What kind of freedom can he offer the Dutch?

In contrast, I was recently walking through The Hague central railway station when suddenly a tall familiar figure brushed past me, talking into his mobile phone on his way to catch a train. It happened to be the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte. No bodyguards! Just an ordinary citizen enjoying the freedom of the open Dutch society.

Lastly, let’s recognise that love is the most powerful antidote to fear. That’s why Jesus told us to love our neighbours – even our enemies. As Martin Luther King declared: There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.

Till next week,

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