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7/7 London Bombings: Overcoming A Climate of Fear

Mal Fletcher
Posted 07 July 2006
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On the anniversary of the 7/7 bombings in London, the world we live in gives us more than enough reasons to be afraid.

In a world of 24/7 news coverage, much of it bad (because news by definition is about the abnormal), many people face the future with apprehension or even downright terror.

Terrorism is just one item on the menu of fear. Before 9/11, most threats to world peace came from nation-states. Now we’re living in the age of the quasi-state, the suicide bomber, the small terror cell. Most of us will probably never see a terror attack firsthand, yet somehow we feel they’re a threat to us all.

Another threat to our collective peace of mind is global warming. Some scientists predict that, over the next few decades, this will lead to severe storms, rising sea levels and radically different weather patterns.

Most people assume that the scientific community is unanimously agreed about global warming, but it isn’t.

Some eminent climatologists have expressed doubts that it will happen at all. If it does, they are not sure how much of it will result from human activity, and how much is simply a natural phenomenon. And they haven’t agreed on what can be done to prevent it. Many climatologists, perhaps the majority, do believe in global warming, but school’s still out on what it will mean.

Next on the menu of fear might be the condition of life on planet Earth. To the best of our knowledge, there are a number of species that have suffered extinction in the past century alone. A number of others are threatened.

But as for future projections, we don’t even know exactly how many species there are on our planet. Some say it’s 3 million, others say 100 million. So how can we make predictions about extinction rates?

We are right to be concerned about these things; we can’t afford to be complacent. But we shouldn’t let fear overtake our pursuit of more information, or the proper use of the often limited data we already have.

Fear can be manipulated. Science and news can be politicized and sensationalised to serve interests other than those of pure research.

If knowledge is power, it is sometimes misused – usually in the name of public security.

Politicians sometimes need public fears to build a support base; governments need fear to control their citizens and raise money through new taxes. The news media need scary stories to build an audience. And special interest groups need threatening tales of impending disaster to justify their existence, to pay their bills and to enlist new volunteers.

In a social sense, there are probably some positive sides to our collective fears. A certain amount of fear makes us more alert in the face of trouble. New strains of flu virus, for example, push us to find new cures.

Fear can also help with building social cohesion: people tend to hang together when they feel threatened. After 9/11, the French President, Jacques Chirac famously declared: ‘[Today] we are all Americans.’

These benefits, though, are usually short-lived and some have a dangerous flip side. Fear of sickness can become a contributor to more sickness. Pulling together inside our social group can mean that we become suspicious of outsiders, to the point where the world becomes a place of 'us' versus 'them'. That’s the root of every form of xenophobia and racial or religious hatred. Aristotle once said: ‘No one loves the man whom he fears.’

Most of us will never see the worst-case scenarios we hear so much about. Yet many still live against a backdrop of persistent, unspoken fear.

Living in fear means living with constant tension; it wears us down. Sustained fear causes our adrenal glands to secrete more than the normal dose of certain chemicals, which exhausts our nervous and immune systems. We get sick faster – both physically and mentally.

Persistent fear reduces our self-esteem and leaves us with a paralysing sense of impotence and fatalism. It kills our confidence. We stop trying new things, we stick to the predictable instead. We stop experimenting and growing.

In the Christian Scriptures, only one kind of fear is seen as healthy for us: it’s called the ‘fear of the Lord’. The term has a special meaning. Have you ever looked up at the night sky and been awestruck at the sheer magnitude and magnificence of space? At the same time you sense just how small you are in the grand scheme of things.

That’s what the ‘fear of the Lord’ means. It also means, as one Jewish rabbi put it, living with ‘a trembling awareness that life has meaning… [and that the] Divine presence is around you all the time.’

In the Christian view of things, it was when men and women stopped fearing God that they started to fear everything else.

One of the leaders of the early, first-century church, wrote a letter to a group of Christians who were suffering persecution. He reminded them of the heroes of faith who’d gone before.

These people had faced beatings, stonings, poverty and torture, yet they were able to overcome their fears with a boldness that really defied explanation. He told his persecuted friends that they should never throw away their ‘fearless confidence’ (Amp).

The word he uses for confidence means nothing like the soft, fuzzy self-confidence we read about in self-help books. It has a hard edge to it – it’s very aggressive, in-your-face. The closest word we have in English is a word the rappers gave us -- ‘attitoood’.

He’s saying that faith gives us an uncompromising and bold confidence, even in the face of our greatest fears. I suppose that some people will equate Christianity with weakness. They’ll hark back to Marx who said that religion is the opiate of the masses.

But look at history: Christian faith has led some pretty ordinary people to change the world, often in the face of terrifying opposition.

For me personally, it’s a lot easier to find my confidence in surface issues – my status, my abilities or my possessions, for example – than it is to look outside myself for the kind of confidence the writer of Hebrews is talking about.

Self-confidence is all very nice, but it’s so fickle – because I’m so fickle. The writer of Hebrews was talking about facing fear with a very different brand of confidence, different because it’s not based on me at all.

This confidence, this ‘attitoood’ runs way deeper than my self-belief. It taps into what Christ has done for me. Yes, it’s a spiritual confidence, but it seeps out into every other part of my being. After all, if I can be confident that I’m now God’s friend and my life is safe in his hands. If I can be confident that nothing will ever separate me from his love...

If I can be confident in all that, I can be confident in my relationships, my work, my studies, in everything.

To rise above the rising waterline of fear in our world, we need to dig for something deeper than our own self-confidence; to reach higher than the fears we face.

What’s your view?

Are we right to live in fear given today's many threats?



Keywords: 7/7 | london bombings | fear | terrorism | post 9/11 | global warming | extinction | comment | Mal Fletcher

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