Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Fear is a Moral Issue

From Scott Bader-Saye's book, Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear

Do not be afraid. We live in a time when this biblical refrain cannot be repeated too often. Among all the things the church has to say to the world today, this may be the most important.

Child predators and suicide bombers, West Nile virus and avian flu: No one has to be convinced that we live in fearful times, but what does all of this fear do to us? What kind of people do we become if we are fed a steady diet of dread? How does fear affect our moral lives? ...

Fear is a moral issue insofar as it shapes the kind of people we become, and the kind of people we become has a lot to do with how we see the world around us. Our judgments about what is going on in the world and how to interpret events go a long way toward helping us define proper actions. Quite simply, how we view (or interpret) the world shapes how we act in the world...

Read Fred Clark's whole post on the subject.


Gnuosphere said...

From the book description:

"The Christian virtues of hospitality, peacefulness, and generosity are presented as the way to defeat the counter-virtues of suspicion, preemption, and control."

"Christian virtues"? Writing a book that weaves "the way" into an identity that is a direct product of fear itself is trying to have one's cake and eat it too.

Gnuosphere said...

Another gem from the book description:

"One reason we are a more fearful culture today, despite the fact that the dangers are not objectively greater than in the past, is because some people have incentives and means to heighten, manipulate, and exploit our fears."

A) How is it that we are "more" fearful today than ever before? Exactly how is this measurement being carried out?

B) Umm, I'd say the dangers objectively are greater (i.e. far-reaching) than in the past. Population, technological power combined with misuse, global warming, etc.

C) People have had the "incentives and means" to exploit fear for centuries upon centuries. To state that this is now the case is nonsense.

Tom Hoffman said...


On a global scale, we've been living under the threat of nuclear destruction for 50 years, and WWI and WWII weren't exactly a good time, although they didn't actually destroy the world.

On a personal scale, we've had plenty to fear all along throughout human history.

I don't think there is any question that we live in a more mediated culture than ever before, and that, at least in the US, that media has increasingly played off our fears, and our politicians have increasingly used and driven that phenomenon. The scale and pervasiveness of "incentives and means" to exploit fear is greater than before.

Also: "Child predators and suicide bombers, West Nile virus and avian flu" -- these things don't actually kill or injure very many people (here). But we spend a lot of time worrying about them and shaping policy around them. Fifty or a hundred years ago you could come up with a list of things that people were equally afraid of, but thousands of times more deadly. We may not literally be more afraid, but we're more afraid of less.

Gnuosphere said...

I certainly agree with what you have said. The book description however, is not particularly clear on that point.

Perhaps the book is an attempt at writing something similar to this?

Glassner's book is an interesting read. And comes without the absurdity and hypocrisy of suggesting that organized religion is a healthy way to deal with fear.

Tom Hoffman said...

I definitely don't think that the point of the book is that you should use religion to mitigate your fear. More that fear blocks people's access to higher moral purpose, which perhaps (to you and me certainly) doesn't require religion at all.

If we keep discussing this long enough we're going to have to read the book.

Gnuosphere said...

No time now. In the middle of reading "Dreaming in Code". ;)

Bill Kerr said...

Sometimes its best to be fearful and sometimes its best to take a calculated risk. In this context promotion of fear is bad when it feeds on infantilisation, the artificial prolongation of childlike, non objective maps of the world.

School, media and government (and religion too for that matter) often seem to work in concert to keep people in this infantile state, where risk-free is always seen as the best choice

I think this is done because it perpetuates the basic structures of the way things currently are, which is in the interests of School, media and government

I've order frank furedi's book which discusses the related issue political correctness, but furedi has also published a lot on the culture of fear. link