Friday, September 24, 2010

Jeremy Kidwell on the purpose of fear

[W]e may also grant [our fears] overriding control over our moral lives. Thus, if I fear the financial crisis, i.e. my own financial ruin, at the root of this fear is my own love of money and the economy which secures my wealth. Similarly, fears of environmental destruction may reflect an underlying worship of the patterns I am familiar with, such as a ready supply of tropical fruits or an abundance of consumer products without any indication of their source or true cost. In short, my fear may reflect an underlying reluctance to see change, whatever the source.

A Christian response to such fear, I think, is the act of repentance. In this, we identify the underlying idolatries (or distorted loves) that generate our fears and express regret for the destructiveness these misguided attachments have caused. Next, we detach our loyalties from them, and place our trust instead in the only thing which can correspond to our highest aspirations: the personal God who created us. This redirection offers an entirely new orientation by which we can respond to bad news and conceive of our life within changed circumstances.

- Jeremy Kidwell, "The purpose of fear".

This post by my friend and New College colleague Jeremy makes some very good points about the ways that our fears can reveal our distorted loves. By reflecting on what it is that we fear losing, what we love comes into focus.

Yet not all the loves that are thereby revealed are necessarily distorted. Sometimes, we may discover a new love through becoming aware of a threat. For instance, it is only fairly recently that I have learned how much I love phytoplankton. While some of our fears may uncover the shallowness of our loves, some of the things under threat are not so obviously trivial: the lives and livelihoods of millions of people, the existence of myriad species and scores of ecosystems, the social fabric of trust and co-operation, a functioning healthcare system (and more importantly a functioning sewerage and garbage system), the rule of law, and so on. Of course these too can be loved inordinately, but simply to ignore the fact that these more significant goods are also threatened is (or may be) to once again allow fear to set the parameters of my moral vision, since I may be refusing to see the full extent of the threat lest it disrupt not just my convenient idolatries, but things of real (though still secondary) worth.