What are people afraid of?

I was having a conversation with a woman last night about the event in France, a truck crashing into a crowd and killing 84 innocent people. We agreed that these are fearful times. Where can one go that is safe? She said, “People in some other countries don’t have the same sense of the value of human as we do in America.”

“The acts of terrorism that have been happening here have been done by our own citizens,” I said.

“But it is the influence of those other nations,” she said.

I didn’t know what to say. I knew she was afraid. I have fear, too. But I am not inclined to attribute the cause of my fear to any one person or group. The only way I can imagine the source of such horror is to call it evil. Sometimes people put a face on evil and give it a name, Satan or the Devil. However you imagine it, it seems like there is some kind of force that is powerful and scary, that has the power to take over someone’s thinking and drive them to do awful things.

When people assume that evil exists particularly in a person or in a nation or neighborhood or a religion, I think they are trying to gain some kind of control. If they can say, “All Muslims are evil” all they have to do is stay away from Muslims or keep them from coming into their space; then they will be safe. This was the irrationality of the woman I was talking to. She couldn’t hear me when I pointed out that most terrorist attacks in our country are done by American citizens. I concede that they were influenced by the sick propaganda put out by terrorist groups now rampaging the world, especially the Middle East, but that is just the evil pocket of the moment. Terrorists of the past would have used a different ideology to justify their terror. In my thinking, evil occupies a space or mind wherever it can find an opening, then it will grab onto any ideology to get its victim to do evil acts.

Sounds like spirit possession, doesn’t it? I guess that is, in a way, what I am saying. I imagine evil is some entity that is floating around like a disease-carrying bacteria and looking for vulnerable human beings to attach itself to. It takes many forms, hate being one. Others are fear, anger, judgement, self-righteousness…sin might be a good name for that sort of thing.  Acts of terrorism are symptoms, like the rash that breaks out over the skin or the pain that grips the gut. These are my thoughts this morning. Gruesome, huh!

Well, if I am going to go the route of looking at evil as a disease, I might as well go a step further and think of the solution as an antibiotic an antidote. First of all, we need to understand the disease. To realize that cancer may be effecting only one part of our body is important. This is true of evil. Only a small number among human beings are vulnerable to become terrorists. Who are these people? Many folks are working on identifying them and have found that they are usually young disillusioned men or women who are also suffering from mental illness. They usually have a predisposition to violence and have access to and knowledge of weaponry.

As for Muslim terrorism, one antidote I am seeing is the work being done in mosques around the country to reach out to their youth teaching them the tenets of their faith that promote peace and hope. I saw a similar effort during the 60’s and 70’s when religious cults were rampant. Churches and other organizations stepped forward by creating groups where young people could experience a sense of belonging along with education. Another is communities that are trying to help Muslims, especially new immigrants, to find a place in society by opening the path for education and meaningful work.

As for an antibiotic, I suggest Love. Like Evil, Love can have a face. For me that face is God. Love looks for openings to come in just as Evil does. It doesn’t force itself on anyone. I believe Love is more powerful than Evil, but it doesn’t seem so. Fear and anger grab our emotions in such a way that they feel much more powerful and make us lose faith in Love’s ability to overcome Evil. The power of Love can be seen in action, but one has to be still to see it. That doesn’t fit the image of power. Power, in our way of thinking, holds a gun or pushes someone aside. Love, as we have heard is patient and kind and forgiving. Where is power in that?

For me, I have to choose to love rather than hate. It doesn’t make logical sense so I can’t enter a debate about it. I can only act using Love in any given situation. I can make an effort to listen when people speak hateful words to hear the fear or the distortions and address them if I can.

Evil yearns to take residence in me but so does Love. I know what Evil looks like because it once dwelt in me. I try to avoid it or I try to stand firm in love when confronted by it. Not easy. If I let Evil take up residence in me, it is the same as allowing cancer to jump from one organ to another. It will eventually take over the whole body. I will do my best to keep that from happening. I believe that others, too, are working to let Love reign in them. This is where my hope lies.

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