Fear of Living

Last month, Major League Baseball decided to play games scheduled in Toronto despite concerns over the outbreak of SARS in that city. Players had expressed fear over the possibility of infection during road trips to Toronto. And Major Leaguers aren't the only ones feeling afraid these days. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, "Americans believe danger lurks everywhere." It isn't only the nervous types. A businessman from Chicago described in the article "has flown a small plane, tried bungee jumping, skied on glaciers" and has driven his sports car 152 miles-an-hour on a public road. Yet he will probably cancel a business trip to the Orient out of fear of contracting SARS. And Americans' fears aren't limited to SARS, as the recent hoarding of bottled water, plastic sheeting, and duct tape illustrates. Despite living in the "safest society in recorded history, many people feel as though they have never been more at risk." Why? There are institutions in American life that have an interest in pointing out, if not exaggerating, the risks associated with everyday life. These include researchers, trial lawyers, environmentalists, and even the government. The media, in its quest for viewers and readers, then hypes these risks -- often without any qualification or real-world context. Since most people lack the necessary skills to make sense of these so-called threats, the result is a feeling of vulnerability that is out of proportion to any actual threat. And the government declares alerts over every indication of danger for fear of being criticized that it failed to warn people. But there's another, more important reason for our increased anxiety that the Wall Street Journal doesn't address: It is a loss of faith in the biblical God, in the doctrine of providence. For nearly two millennia, belief in the biblical God helped Western man make sense of the world. People believed that someone was in charge and that He was directing the events in accordance with some good purpose. Even when bad things happened, the world wasn't deemed to be senseless. As Thomas Cahill wrote in The Gifts of the Jews, it was biblical religion, with its belief in one, all-powerful God, that gave the West its understanding of history and progress. Not only that, it provided the sense of hope. It is precisely this belief in divine providence that has been most weakened by the ascent of materialism, especially Darwinism. Although most Americans profess to believe in God, for many this God isn't terribly energetic, let alone being in charge of events. We increasingly feel that we live in a world "where no one cares and no one is in control." Every report about SARS or terrorism only reinforces this feeling and heightens our fears, despite our being, statistically speaking, safer than any generation in history. And I wish I could say that Christians are exempt from these fears. We're not, even though we ought to know better. The only way past this urge to, in the words of Scripture, "flee though none pursue" is faith in the biblical God and the worldview that engenders -- precisely the point of BreakPoint. Without this faith, the fears described by the Journal will continue to affect not only our national pastime, but our national character as well. For further reading and information: Jane Spencer and Cynthia Crossen, "Why Do Americans Believe Danger Lurks Everywhere?", Wall Street Journal, 24 April 2003. You must have a paid-subscriber log-in and password to access this article. Here is a summary. Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1999). Charles Colson and Ellen Vaughn, Being the Body: A New Call for the Church to Be Light in the Darkness(W Publishing, 2003).


Chuck Colson


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