I’ve always wondered where the phrase “God-fearing” came from and why it should be so commonly used in this country as term of respect. To me, the last thing we need to be afraid of is the Divine, which, according to almost every spiritual tradition, is the source of universal love, and so ought to be experienced as the most nourishing and compassionate force in our lives.
But then this fear thing has always been a bit of a problem in America. From the Salem witches to the “Reds under the beds” in the 1950’s, to present day “Muslim terrorist in every cupboard”, it seems there has always been something to be afraid of. Watch any commercial break on TV these days, and you cannot miss the armies of beautifully animated but evil-looking bacteria crawling over everything from your trash can to your phone handset. Message: be afraid in your homes, the monsters are everywhere and they are out to get you.
I bring this up because the government’s official Terrorist Watch List just hit the one million mark (http://www.aclu.org/privacy/35968prs20080714.html) Yes! A million people are out to get us, or so the government would have us believe. Of course the list includes such people as Abigail Breslin, the adorable child star from Little Miss Sunshine, who may perhaps kill us with cuteness, and Nelson Mandela, whose insidious promotion of forgiveness and compassion may be a threat to peaceful citizens everywhere, along with US Senators, members of the Justice Department and acting servicemen (aren’t they the ones supposed to be protecting us?) Apart from the absurdity of such an enormous list, there is serious warning here for all of us to take heed of.
FDR famously declared “There is nothing to fear except fear itself.” And he was right. Fear creates weakness not strength. For sure, there are dangers in this world and any sensible person takes precautions against them, but spreading irrational anxiety and panic is no defense and most certainly does the opposite. Anyone who has faced an aggressive animal will know that fear only urges it on. Fear also aggravates division, both within the individual mind and the collective mood of society. It causes us to see threats where they may not exist. It takes us away from love and understanding and depreciates compassion. And it certainly shouldn't be used by government (or by religion for that matter) as a tool for manipulating collective behavior.
In truth, fear arises when we see only differences in life and fail to understand the underlying harmony. There are many beautiful flowers in a garden, each one looking different, but they all come from the same soil. Human DNA is identical whether the person’s skin color is black, white, red or yellow. Life flows from a common source but is infinitely variegated in expression. The right hand isn’t afraid of the left hand because each knows it is part of one body. There are many spiritual paths in the world but one can assume they all lead to the same God.
We ought to celebrate and respect the wonderful diversity of life rather than fear it. If our political and religious leaders won’t guide us in this direction, then it is up to each of us to find our own understanding through inner prayer and meditation. Living in fear will only make us weak. Understanding the unity of life will make us invincible.