The politics of fear
By Archbishop Colin Johnson
The politics of fear are insidious. They appeal to that place in all of us that feels unsafe and vulnerable, the part of us that needs protection. For some of us, it is a side that we try to hide from public view; for others, it is overwhelming and dominates our lives.
Of course we are afraid sometimes; it is a natural survival instinct. And fear of others who are not like us is part of that. Fear can freeze us or throw us into a fratricidal frenzy. It can be a sign of our deep love for another and lead to heroic action on their behalf, or it can isolate us or draw us into a mob.
We are meant to face our fears, not to give in to them. As healthy adults, we are to recognize what is justified and respond accordingly, and what is irrational and move beyond first impulses to react.
We have just completed a federal election where the politics of fear pointed out some very dark sides of our social psyche – a divisive appeal that capitalizes on a thinly veiled xenophobia and latent racism. It found focus in the niqab. I have been both appalled and yet thankful that it has been unveiled, because now revealed it can be addressed.
Otherness is at the heart of our faith. God is wholly Other. God – not humans – overcomes that divide by becoming one of us in Jesus. In Jesus we see the love of God revealed.
The parables of Jesus and many of his interactions reflect on the fear of others, and the twist in many of these stories is the identification of the good, the moral, the righteous in the one who is “other.” Think of the Good Samaritan, the Syrophoenician woman, the healing of the 10 lepers, the call of Matthew, the Pharisee and the Publican praying in the Temple, Lazarus and the pauper at his gate.
Jesus’ stories upset the majority. “Why do you consort with people like these?” “Tell them to stop. They are not one of us.” “Who are you to teach us? You are a sinner from birth!” “Samaritan!” “Unclean!” “Gentile.” “Stranger.” “Beelzebub.”
These are words and ideas in scripture that are balanced with other words: “Do not be afraid.” “Fear not.” “Why are you afraid?” “Go to all the world.”
The vision of the Kingdom of God in the Book of Revelation is painted as a mighty throng beyond number, whom Christ has redeemed for God “from every family, language, people and nation… to serve our God on Earth” (Rev. 4).
This is not just a vision for the end times or about a distant heaven. We are called to work towards the Kingdom values now. “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven,” is our daily prayer. In the face of “others,” we see the face of God and serve Christ as we find ourselves serving “them” (Matthew 25).
The former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the Commonwealth, Sir Jonathan Sachs, a good friend of the retired Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote that if you cannot see the image of God in the face of a person who does not look like you, then you have re-made God in your own image. That, of course, is the sin of idolatry.
Our society bears the enduring repercussions of our attempts to force Indigenous people to conform to Euro-centric cultural norms – to be “us,” not “them.” You would think we would learn!
The witness of the vastly various, and sometimes distinctly “odd,” people whom we commemorate on this month’s Feast of All Saints is just such a recognition of the diversity of God’s call to live lives of holiness and the multitude of distinct ways people across the ages have faithfully done so. We share in God’s love with those we may fear because they are “other than us” and we dare not write them off or diminish their value.
How can you and I act intentionally on our baptismal vows in the next days – repenting of our sin (naming racism for what it is); seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbour as ourselves; striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being?