The Gospel and Fearmongering

The-Gospel-and-FearI am increasingly convinced that Christians are some of the most fearful people in the United States. I meet Christians on a regular basis who are afraid of everything. They are afraid of the government, of schools, of food, of medicine and doctors, and terrorism. I can’t imagine how miserable life has to be when you are that afraid, but what concerns me more than the individual’s personal fears is the manner in which they breed fear in others. I have seen Christians participate in fearmongering of the worst kind. Through facebook posts, e-mails, and even casual conversations some Christians spread fear amongst their friends, often on a daily basis. Fearmongering has become such a part of their routine that they don’t even recognize it. This practice of spreading fear is not, however, becoming of a Christian.

The scenario can be depicted as follows. A Christian, with a particular obsession on some hot button issue, reads or hears some distressing information. They immediately proceed to engage in some high-level investigation to uncover the truth, also known as doing a google search. Naturally, they find articles that confirm their worst fears, and without hesitation they proceed to share this information as though it were gospel truth. Their facebook walls look like a running commentary on the brokenness of our world. They regularly report on the evils of the medical profession, the despicable politicians, or the immorality of “the gays.” They have conveniently listed every food that causes cancer, and every university that hates Christians. They rarely have anything positive to say, nothing good to report, nothing to inspire peace and confidence in God. They live and thrive on fear, and love to share their horrifying discoveries with others.

Are You A Fearmongerer?

The worst part about the habit of fearmongering is that it’s not always easy to identify in ourselves. We may readily recognize it in others, but when we look at ourselves we don’t see it. We evaluate our patterns and behaviors and see simply “reporting information.” Others are inciting fear, we are sharing import stories. Others compel worry, we inform. Others want to scare, we just want to provide our friends with all the information so they can make an informed decision. We are often blind to our own habits, so thinking critically about fearmongering requires us to evaluate ourselves more carefully.

A simple glance at your social media habits might be the place to start. If your facebook wall, twitter account, or recently sent e-mails, texts, all focus on reporting controversy then you are probably engaged in this habit. Out of all your recent posts, shares, or tweets how many were about “cancer causing foods,” “the liberal media,” “the horrors of public school”? Checking your social media habits is a good place to start because we generally are less hesitant to say what we really think on social media. The distance we create between us and our “followers” allows us some sense of freedom to speak our mind. So check your habits and see what they reveal.

Think too about your conversations. Do all your relationships revolve around your obsessions? Do you only relate to people when you talk about these controversial hot topics? Do you only reach out to new people, build new relationships, when you find that you can talk about your concerns and anxieties? If so you might be prone to fearmongering.

Resisting The Urge

Once we discover that we are prone to fearmongering what can we do? Obviously we need to shift our focus. We need to concern ourselves with the things of God, His character and promises. Meditating on these things will help us immensely, for our God is great and He is good and His Kingdom is sure! We ought also to find ways to get outside of our own heads. The anxieties that drive us to fearmongering thrive inside a mind consumed with itself and its own interests. The simple habit of “thinking about the interests of others as more significant than our own” (Phil. 2:3-4) can free us immensely from the burden of fear.

Other practices can help us resist the urge to share information. In general we ought to begin by checking our sources. For starters, if you only read articles where the thesis agrees with your own predetermined conclusions, then you are not really doing research. Stop calling research what is really just confirmation bias. Furthermore, random blogs should not be regarded as authoritative unless you can verify the credibility of the author. Anyone can write a blog, anyone can call themselves a doctor, a philosopher, a theologian, a scholar. If you can verify the author you probably shouldn’t spread his stuff across the internet, or share his posts with your friends. And, when you can verify the credibility of an author you should seek corroborating information. Independent writers should be regarded with suspicion. Anyone who refuses to submit themselves to peer review is not credible. Doctors, lawyers, historians, who operate outside the agreed upon boundaries of their discipline should be seriously checked for veracity against others in his field. Finally, we ought always to check the websites we read. There are loads of satirical news sites, often designed to look like the authentic thing. Know from where you are getting a story.

Beyond the basics of good fact checking, however, we ought to still consider whether sharing this information is the right thing to do. We should evaluate how sharing a story will affect our friends and family. We should consider whether this information is necessary for others. We should consider our own motives too in sharing. Is my goal to get attention, to spark debate, to convince others that I have the answers to this horrible story? True ought to be a benchmark for the stories we share, but the Scriptures call us to meditate on more than just what is true. So, Paul writes:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things .

If it is our pattern to share dramatic, fearful, and controversial stories then we are not living up to this verse. Think carefully before you share.

No Christian wants to be a fearmongerer. It is unbecoming of those who are called, in Christ, to be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9), and to promote hope and confidence in God. Often, however, our behaviors can undermine the gospel we say we believe. The gospel calls us to more than promoting fear. The gospel frees us from fear. As the Apostle Paul said to Timothy, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). The gospel is not compatible with fearmongering, and so Christians ought to resist it.

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