The new President's team is preparing a budget. If a budget reveals something about the heart of the budget-maker, what it reveals is that we live in an age of fear. Most of the budget priorities, including building a wall along the southern border speaks to the fear of the other. Expanding the military, ICE, and the border patrol, while cutting funds for the arts, humanities, and restoration of the Great Lakes is a sign of fear. The travel ban, which is in its second edition, whether or not it's explicitly directed at Muslims, is an expression of fear of the other. We can blame the President for the response, but as they say where there's an itch, there will be a scratch.
I'm in the processing of reading a relatively brief book that addresses our culture of fear. Michael Kinnamon, a Disciples of Christ theologian and ecumenist (he served as the Executive Secretary of the National Council of Churches). The title of the book speaks volumes: The Witness of Religion in an Age of Fear. When I finish the book I will write a review, but as I pondered the state of our nation and world, the image of "the age of fear" seems like an appropriate designation.
Kinnamon notes that "fear has a legitimate, even vital, role to plan in human society." It serves to keep us alert to danger and marshal resources. He notes that religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, along with residents of low-lying Pacific Islands have reason to fear. They are in danger. But, when fear "becomes excessive or misdirected" it "becomes dangerous." That is because "it can lead us to misperceive the world around us and can undermine our willingness to interact constructively with others." [Witness of Religion in an Age of Fear, pp. 2-3]. That seems to be our issue. We misperceive the danger, so that even as crime rates fall to rates not seen in decades, we're told the story of an "American carnage." So instead of building bridges we build walls that further deepen our fear and anxiety.
Kinnamon argues in the book that religion can be a constructive presence in the midst of this age of fear. It's not that we've taken up this calling with any resolve, but there is the potential in all our religious traditions to change the tone of our conversations. In the Christian tradition, there's no better statement of this than the words found in 1 John: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear" (1 John 4:18). Kinnamon invites us to join together in facing down the forces of fear that cast a shadow over the land. We can do this because "we have resources in our sacred traditions that can counter the fear that is so rampant in contemporary America---if only we will identify and use them." (Kinnamon, p. 8). To this I say amen.