Fear Not Trembling

Men fear change as children fear the dark, to misquote Francis Bacon. To a childScreen Shot 2016-01-29 at 10.45.00, the dark is full of hobgoblins, werewolves and nameless monsters who would do him harm, which is why I have always felt uncomfortable about the current sanitised and irreligious expressions of Hallowe’en which have slipped, like Disney, into popular culture. The dark is not merely a comforting absence of light, or the expectation of comfort where there currently is none. We live in dark times – the world is a less predictable place. Changes, especially those which happen fast, cause our balance to falter as familiar patterns of behaviour seem to us to be becoming less secure. When balance falters, errors are made. We hear a great deal now about the drift of America and Europe away from a Christian identity. Whenever there is talk of decline – as in fact there always is – the one thing that seems to be lacking is a meaningful standard of change. How can we know where we are if we don’t know where we were, in those days when things were as they “ought” to be? How can we know there has been decline, an invidious qualitative change, if we are unable to establish an appropriate timeline? If we begin to pay attention to the marked and oddly general fearfulness of Western culture at present and thus identify its sources, we are some way towards dealing with the problem. Evidence of such fearfulness is ubiquitous, from erecting razor wire at Hungarian borders, to the torching of immigrant accommodation in Sweden, to police responses to recalcitrance in schools.

In the twenty-sixth chapter of Leviticus we find a description of the state the people of Israel will find themselves in if they depart from their loyalty to God, or, loyalty to foundational principles: “The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees from the sword, and they shall fall when none pursues. They shall stumble over one another, as if to escape a sword, though none pursues.” Has Europe and the US lost sight of the laws and traditions from which the solid bulwarks of their democracies were first forged?  If so, if Leviticus is to be believed, irrational responses will be made to irrational fears. With the rise of homicidal, religiously inspired and heavily armed forces in the Middle East, intent on propagating a version of Islam which has surfaced, like a Babylonian river over the centuries, indeed from its blood-soaked inception, we do well to fear, but not to lose our reason. Fear alone, the flight of the adrenalin-fuelled prey, will not be enough to save us. Neither will a soothing call to ‘peace and safety’ because the images of black flags on the streets of Washington or Paris or in little rural villages in Germany or Belgium, is too distant and far-fetched to even contemplate.

Fearfulness obscures the distinction between real threat on one hand and on the other the terrors that beset those who see threat everywhere. One response to the latter is to arm ourselves to the teeth and just wait. During the First World War, waiting for action was one of the most mind-shattering processes to endure which of itself, generated a fear which could rapidly be used as a weapon, the same kind of fear that the suicide bomber so effectively uses against his enemy.

Let us, prejudice notwithstanding, assume for a moment that a God of justice really exists, separate from the states and institutions who proclaim his authority. If so, his wrath is turned to the devastation and horrors wreaked in his name by people who walk into schools with semiautomatic weapons and who rally behind fundamentalist, closed-minded and blood-drenched ideologies seeking to replace his justice and mercy with the flawed fascism which is Shari’a. Few actions are more harshly forbidden in the Old Testament than sacrifice to the god Moloch (Leviticus 18.21, 20.1-5). The sacrifice referred to was presenting living children to be consumed in offertory fire to Moloch – a perfect metaphor for the suicide bomber or the Palestinian driven to murderous attacks against Israelis whose inevitable outcome will be his death. Ever since then, worship of Moloch has been the sign of a deeply degraded culture and in essence is at the heart of ISIS, Hamas and all the other proponents of terror. Ancient Romans justified the destruction of Carthage because children were sacrificed to Moloch there. Milton represented him as the first pagan god who joined Satan’s war on humankind:

“First Moloch, horrid king, besmear’d with blood Of human sacrifice, and parents’ tears,though for the noise of Drums and Timbrels loud their children’s cries unheard, that pass’d through fire to his grim idol.”

(Paradise Lost 1.392-96)

If we must make war, let there be reason. Let there be an understanding of the enemy against whom we are called to fight and a measured clarity from whence we have come. Moloch has only one weapon, fear, but, ‘the righteous are bold as a lion’. (Proverbs 28:1)

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