In biblical writings, one of the most repeated calls found throughout is ‘Be not afraid’ or its variants. Now, many do not believe in Jesus or Christianity, and so drawing from this source may seem irrelevant at first. But considering that Christian values are pervasive at every level of Western culture, the levels of pertinence increase- it is only right to refer to something which reflects the foundation of our awareness of morality. Hopefully it can provide some much needed context to an issue which has recently become supercharged, especially among our generation.
The fact that Jesus uttered these words so long ago does not mean they lose relevance today; it’s perfectly possible to be objective and still maintain that the values he espoused reflect an innate orientation which humans seem to have. So, why are the words ‘Be not afraid’ still meaningful, whether in a secular or sacred context?
“We are obsessed with trying to defend ourselves from attack and in our defence we have turned inwards, believing the surer we are in our ‘identity’, the safer we are. This ‘identity’ is not real identity.”
The simple fact is that the human person has a complex relationship with fear. Fear of the unknown and the known, the painful and the pleasurable, the lie and the truth. And indeed, fear can be a superpower- if you hold it tight and use it, it can make you run faster, think quicker, be more efficient. But even then, you are running away from that which you are afraid of. The challenge is to face the fear and not allow it to rule you.
But this is difficult to do alone. And the reason that as a generation we find ourselves consumed by fear, is we have grown to believe that we are have no meaning external to our collective. The most offensive attack possible today is that which threatens our ‘identity’. Our ‘identity’ is under threat, our ‘way of life’, our ‘autonomy’. We are obsessed with trying to defend ourselves from attack and in our defence we have turned inwards, believing the surer we are in our ‘identity’, the safer we are. This ‘identity’ is not real identity. We are no longer defined by our capacity to do the right as we see the right- instead it becomes about how well we conform to our group ‘identity’ or by material goods.
Even with this being the current obsession of the world, I am prepared to say that the converse holds much more truth. Rather than our identity resting in ourselves and how safe we feel, perhaps we should turn our gaze outwards and make our identity in how we treat others.
A revolutionary idea, it is not- it has been espoused at various intervals throughout human history by far greater thinkers and philosophers. However, in a age in which we are so consumed by the self, perhaps it is time to lose the fear of the ‘other’ and the ‘unknown’. Whether that be an opportunity we have not grasped, or a future we are wary of. We need to be aware that we are not alone in the universe- we are not all that matters, and in fact the ‘other’ which we fear is our opportunity to be better.
This is how fear works- it gets as deep as it can and disintegrates what is life, giving from the inside out. Challenge each other and solve it- instead of letting it consume you and we run away. Fear is life’s only true opponent. It infects our reason, our senses, filling us with anxiety and doubt. Eventually it wins by making us dismiss our last two allies: hope and trust.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. The truth is simply that fear doesn’t have to make you cruel or cowardly. Fear can make you kind.
When we are afraid and the world seems bleak, if we turn to the other instead of the self, if we open up to the good around us, then our hearts will be instantly moved from fear into compassion. We are not castles, besieged by the forces of the enemy. We are also not alone- talk, communicate, enter into a dialogue! We must cultivate the individual and communal strength which affirms us in our identity as human beings to then look outwards and channel our fear into doing good. Be not afraid is not a command to never fear or be anxious. It is a command that we should not let fear rule us, and allow the Good to prevail. To live, despite fear, not under it.
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