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On the benefits of fear

Author's note: The following is part of a satirical series modeled on the Screwtape Letters. The writer of these letters is training an underling in the art of keeping justice out of discipleship, and, eventually, the life of the church.

Fear, my dear Schimmel, is our friend. Few things stop the transition of theology to praxis quite as effectively as fear. I suppose we could consider pride its cousin, for they work together wonderfully for us. You remember, of course, the time David was seriously considering caring for creation in joyful response to the Creator (which would have been awful) and we barely managed to stop him. If his uncle had not dominated the dinner conversation with his theory of climate change as a trap to prove Christians gullible, where would we have found the seed of fear? The fear of being tricked soon outweighed the humility that had fed his discipleship, and David went back to the status quo as we hoped.

Or think of the countless young adults that had qualms about their overseas mission trips. They could have fallen into a sustainable, just, self-sacrificing model had it not been for fear. Even the littlest fears, like being disliked, have yielded great rewards for us. Plus, my dear Schimmel, the pride that comes with money and decision-making power seems to soothe any lingering thoughts of justice.

And the very worst is when one of our subjects begins to see the life of Jesus as a model for discipleship. Rejecting money and power, associating with outsiders and misfits, looking after vulnerable people, sacrificing for someone else--these are the worst things that could possibly happen! Thankfully the fear of being ostracized, trampled, or burnt out is enough to make even the toughest subject nervous.

You know, Schimmel, we rarely have to cultivate the fear of change. In fact, that fear seems quite deeply entrenched in them. I suppose it is laughable, that humans with such newly established lives worry so much about uprooting them. Yet the fear of uncovering one's own complicity in an unjust system is enough to keep nearly all our subjects at bay. Fearful ignorance allows them to keep what they have. Fearful ignorance allows us to work all the more quickly to undo any progress towards justice as discipleship. Just think of the racial reconciliations we've been spared; the potential reforms to immigration laws; sincere apologies to oppressed communities; the treatment of marginalized people with dignity. Oh, Schimmel, fear has spared us so much.

[Image: Flickr user Németh Szilvia]

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