On Fear

No matter how often it happens (often!) I never cease to be amazed by how we’re all driven to our moral/ethical stances by circumstance and practice and community. This goes, by the way, for me, you, elected officials, pastors, educators, etc. No one is immune, not even (and perhaps especially) moral philosophers.

The problem is this dog-wagging is easy to spot in others and incredibly difficult to see in ourselves. After all, our cognitive bias is to assume that we’re correct, but even further, that we’re good people with good opinions.

I recently read a blog post by a pastor bemoaning the utter destruction of the church due to COVID restrictions, going on and on about how the church is being laid low by this overblown response.

Lots of problems with this. Not the least of which is trying to protect the church as an institution over and above the parishioner and clergy that make up that church, without whom there is no church.

To my eyes, this lack of wisdom on the part of this minister is astonishing. But you can see how you’d get there, right? Your livelihood depends on the church. It pays your bills. It pays the bills of others like you. How can you help but feel immediately and existentially threatened when people stop showing up?

This is the most charitable way I can read these sorts of things. I see a person who is fundamentally scared and pessimistic about the future of the church in general, and their church in particular. And that orientation drives belief.

Imagine looking at the facts, at the statistics, at the death toll for this disease, and still saying “Yes, some of you may die, but that’s a chance I am willing to take”.

Well that’s horrible. You obviously can’t do that. So instead you choose the third path: Downplay the facts, buy into the conspiracy theories, start to believe that it’s all an overblown hoax.

You believe what you have to believe.

There’s a fourth path, of course. But it’s difficult, and if you have a gloom-and-doom disposition (as clergy often and oddly seem to), it’s going to be a bit of an emotional workout. Especially if your eschatology leans toward the dispensational.

The path is faith. If you believe, as I assume you do, that Christ is the head of his church, and that your God is all-powerful and at work in the world, and that the gates of hell cannot prevail against the church, why are you so worried?

Do you honestly think this is the end of the church in the west? Do you really have that little confidence in this thing that you’ve given your life to?

I find it ironic when Christian folks talk about COVID in terms of a “spirit of fear”, because I think more than anything, their rejection of the mitigation efforts (lockdowns, masks, vaccines, whatever) is rooted in exactly that. It seems to me, rather plainly, to be a fear of tyranny, fear of the end of the church, fear of persecution, fear of government, fear of the future and on and on.

I’m choosing to take this fourth path. I think whatever emerges on the other side of the pandemonium will be the better for it. Maybe this will help us shed some of the toxicity that’s made the church, especially the western evangelical church, so hard to root for.

Maybe I only believe that because I have to. But I’d rather be optimistic and be wrong than be made a fool by fear.

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