Friday, August 29, 2008

The Culture of Fear

The other day I read an article in the Christian Chronicle (a Church of Christ publication) which was a discussion between two men, one a McCain supporter and one an Obama supporter. You can read it here.

There were some very interesting points and discussion between the two men about the level of involvement a Christian should have in politics, race, terrorism, and other such subjects. One of the most striking things to me was the final comment that both men had.
What else would you say to our readers?

BOWDRE: I would just say that it’s important for us to pray and pray and pray and then vote prayerfully.

McADAMS: Think about a Supreme Court with two or three Barack Obama appointees on it.
Look, I can understand disagreeing with someone. I can understand disagreeing with principles and perspectives on issues. But when given a chance to give readers a good reason to vote for their chosen candidate and the McCain supporter goes immediately to fear, fear of an Obama administration, I just find that sadly baffling. Maybe it's an aspect of someone not being truly satisfied with McCain, but I've found that resorting to fear to achieve an end might achieve an end, but it's a hollow victory. It was used in 2004 when mailers were sent to voters claiming that the liberals would ban the Bible if elected (link). It was rumored to be used against John McCain in South Carolina by the Bush campain (link). It's not limited to political conservatives either. The whole "McSame" or "More of the Same" talk currently about McCain, could be motivated by some level of fear about Republican policies.

For instance, if someone is converted to Christianity because of a fear of Hell, what happens when the fear is gone? When we raise our children, if we use fear as a primary motivator, what affection is left when the fear is gone?

To me, motivation from fear is empty motivation. Because truly, "...God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." Support whatever candidate you like, but if we have to resort to fear to convince people, maybe we should re-examine our support for that person.


Tony Arnold said...

I agree with you Phil, but listening to many of the speeches at the Dem. Nat. Convention, I witnessed the same thing. Maybe a bit less fear, but certainly more focus on trashing McCain than talking about Obama.

I was especially put off by the heavy McCain trashing by Dem Senators/Congresspersons. These are people that will have to work with McCain if he wins.

I hope the Republicans took a clue and will focus on rah-rahs for McCain and limit generic negatives on Obama. If they are negative regarding Obama, it needs to be limited and very specific on an issue.

However, I have little hope we will see any different from the Republican convention.

I think most Americans are tired of fear and the party that emphasises that aspect is likely to lose. Before the Dem convention, I would have said the Republicans were the most guilty. Can't say that now.

Snapshot said...
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Phil said...

Tony, I agree with your comments about some manner of fear in the DNC. I mentioned it in my post.

Snapshot, where have I ever said that my political views are that governments should do his work rather than his followers? I don't think I've ever said that. I think what I've always said is that politics is a very imperfect way to try and accomplish the goals of the Kingdom of God. Can it happen? Sure. Does it often? Probably not.

Southern Beale said...

It seems to me that for a true follower of Christ, fear is the absence of faith, and therefore fear would not/should not work as a motivator for anything.

I'm not sure the word "fear" as used in the Bible means what it does to us English speakers today ... I had one pastor go through the vagaries of the Hebrew translation with me and make the point that "fear" as used in the Bible really means "awe." Not, you know, "fear"-fear. That makes a passage like "I am fearfully and wonderfully made" a whole lot more meaningfully and, well, sensible.

All I do know is that if one believes that God is in control, if one truly believes in God's omnipotence, then there can be no fear. Because in God's hands, all is good. "It is well with my soul," as the hymnist wrote. Fear is in direct opposition to that, and is therefore the "opposer" or "adversary," which is the literal Hebrew translation of the word "satan."

This has been today's Progressive Christian Bible Study.


Snapshot said...
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Snapshot said...
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Phil said...

Snapshot, if you could show me one place where I say that I embrace the Democratic platform. I would like to see what I said that would imply that. Thanks.

Anonymous said...


Phil and I talk on a daily basis, about politics, theology, etc. Most of the guys we run with online are huge Obama supporters/democrats. Phil, for one, does not make his opinions easily known. But I can assure you this, he is always fair. He has been fair in criticizing Obama and McCain when needed. And he doesn't embrace the democratic platform anymore than he embraces the Republican one.

Just because someone doesn't agree with your psychotic fundamentalist Republichrisian agenda does not mean they are a leftist. It might just mean they are a Christian.

Snapshot said...
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Tony Arnold said...

Phil, for one, does not make his opinions easily known.

Yeah, and it frustrates the heck out of me at times! :-)

Usually because, although I am open minded about hearing other's opinions and love discussion, I tend to be pretty open mouthed about my opinions.

Which probably frustrates the heck out of Phil. :-)

Tony Arnold said...

From Phil's post: To me, motivation from fear is empty motivation. Because truly, "...God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." Support whatever candidate you like, but if we have to resort to fear to convince people, maybe we should re-examine our support for that person.

Joking aside, the above is a firm opinion, clearly stated.

And Amen brother, preach on!

Jeff said...

Phil, I continue to agree with you these days on your "undisclosed opinions".

However, while I agree that the words you refer to in the New Testament encourage us to not live a life in Christ because of fear, I think those that use those fear tactics have somewhat of a precedent in the words we see in the Old Testament, supposedly straight from the mouth of God Himself. All you have to do is read Leviticus 26 and all of the rewards for obedience and punishment for disobedience, and is there any wonder why that approach is used? And you can talk about old dispensation and new dispensation all you want-I think there would be some general themes about God that would be consistent.

Again, I agree with what you're saying, but I struggle with how to make it all work together.

Phil said...

Hmmm... I always thought that my opinions were widely known. Isn't that why all of you read my blog? ;-)

Actually, I recognize that I'm pretty circumspect in my opinions, especially in the political realms. One might think that that's because I can often see validity in both sides of a discussion; someone else might think that it's because I can't really decide what I think and that I'm easily persuaded, depending on my mood. I'm often not quite sure which one it is myself, and often it's both.

I'll say this: Whether or not I agree with a plank in a political platform is not often a big deal honestly. What I do want to do is understand why someone would think along the lines that they do. And if I can do that, I can have a conversation with them about their beliefs and thinking, without coming across as condescending or belittling, but respectful of the reasons that someone thinks the way they do. That's really my main goal.

Kenneth & Victoria said...

I couldn't agree more with you, Phil, about your insight of how we should fear as our motive for action. Especially for Christians, we should recognize the powerful love that protects us, be willing to accept the risk of reaching out to the world, and accept the responsibility of being a beacon of hope.

I don't agree, however, that portraying the other party in a negative light, or pointing out serious and worrisome flaws in their policies or practices is fearmongering. I reject the notion that "both parties do the same thing" because they both point out problems with the other side. It's one thing to "go negative," another to sow fear, and a third to point out shortcomings in your opponent's political record or plans. Almost every DNC speaker had high praise for McCain's service (in direct contrast to the GOP stoking the flat-out lies of the Swiftboat Veterans Against Truth in '04). No one questioned McCain's integrity. But they did point out problems with his voting record (votes which he often can't explain himself), and they did poke fun at his being wildly out of touch with economic reality in America--which you might view as a negative attack but I felt it was well within bounds given the unsubstantiated arguments against Obama that he's somehow "elitist." But that's still not relying on fear.

Likewise, I don't think reminding voters that the nature of the Supreme Court's at stake is necessarily using fear as a motivator. I don't think it's a valid Christian argument (Why's it better to take an expansive view of the 2nd Amendment to put handguns into the hands of gangbangers than to give women the right to have an abortion? Both enable, but don't necessitate, the ability to wrongfully take someone's life). But Obama's Supreme Court choices likely WOULD be a major negative for someone who might like his economics but disagree with his social policies, so it's a valid concern.

I think Dick Cheney telling Americans that he expected an imminent terrorist attack if the Democrats is an abuse of fear, and it's indicative of the use of fear that I oppose. It's the insistence that we must sacrifice our personal liberty and privacy and commitment to the rule of law to the administration so they can protect us from unseen enemies within and without. It's the willful use of discredited intelligence to threaten us with nuclear annihilation from Iraq, in order to facilitate a rush to war. It's the subtext of the Republican message ever since Reagan: We live in a fundamentally unsafe world against which we must do battle, and the machinations of democratic government are too unpredictable and unreliable to meet that threat, so we must rely on powerful strongmen willing to break the rules to fight for us--often in secrecy.

That's the message you should watch for in the Republican Convention. May God help our country to reject it.

bb said...

"Fear" has become the main objective since 9/11.

Interesting to see you've deleted "Snapshot's" posts. That what he/she does to me when I say something that doesn't go along with his/her agenda.

Phil said...

I did not delete her posts. In general, I try not to delete comments. I can only assume that she did herself.

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