There are over 100 places in the Bible that encourage us to “fear not.” These are words to bring to mind again and again as we are bombarded with news of terrorist attacks, mass shootings, climate change and political chaos. I truly believe that this should be our mantra, not only for our own way of being in the world, but as a model for the many people who succumb to fear and even vote against their own best interests. Some politicians ad religious leaders use fear as a tactic to further their own agenda. And we must resist their ploys and present an example of faithful living in a dangerous world.
There’s no doubt about it; there are dangers out there. And I’m beginning to wonder, despite what I just said above, that there are times when we really should be afraid. There are people of whom we should be afraid. Need I say more than: “Donald Trump?”
Yes, for a while, he was a source of amusement, e.g. David Letterman’s running commentary about “that thing on his head.” Back in July The Huffington Post made the decision to relegate news about his campaign to the Entertainment section, stating “Trump’s campaign is a sideshow. We won’t take the bait. If you are interested in what The Donald has to say, you’ll find it next to our stories on the Kardashians and The Bachelorette.”
But things have changed. In the aftermath of Trump’s call for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” the headline read: “We Are No Longer Entertained.” Referring to the ‘sideshow’ comment, Arianna Huffington wrote, ” . . . Trump’s campaign has certainly lived up to that billing. But as today’s vicious pronouncement makes abundantly clear, it’s also morphed into something else: an ugly and dangerous force in American politics.”
Responses from abroad have also called out Trump for his behavior. A petition was submitted to the United Kingdom Home Secretary to bar him from entering the country because he’s violated their hate-speech laws. The GlobalScot network, which promotes Scotland’s businesses abroad, has stripped Trump of the ambassadorial role he has held since 2006. And Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen has revoked an honorary degree because of “statements that are wholly incompatible” with the values of the university.
Here at home, journalists, bloggers and politicians have been sounding the alarm about the disturbing nature of Trump’s rhetoric. Making comparisons to pre-World War II fascism which brought about the Holocaust, they remind us of our promise of “Never again.”
Many have been circulating the poem by Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller, who was imprisoned in concentration camps from 1937 to 1945 for his opposition to the Nazis’ state control of the churches:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
We are right to be afraid of the dangers of hate language being spewed by political candidates. We have seen the evil consequences of nationalistic, xenophobic pandering to the fears of people who feel threatened by “the other.” And lest we think we are immune, let’s not forget our own country’s internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
Healthy fear lets us to know when we’re in danger. People who suffer from a rare kind of brain damage that prevents them from experiencing any kind of fear can fail to respond appropriately to life-threatening situations. At this time in our history, we can’t afford to succumb to that kind of brain damage. We need to be afraid of hateful language of any kind.
But – and here’s the big difference – we act fearlessly against it. Whether it’s commentary from a politician or a comment by a friend or relative. We cannot stand by and allow ourselves this country to be co-opted by hatred and unhealthy fear.
“Fear not” can still be our mantra. As long as we also face the very real dangers ahead. Because, remember: Never again!