It’s only fear, book 2

A year ago, I was annoyed.

Today, I am appalled.

I heard an interesting lecture recently – it was in a recording of the “Lead Like Jesus” presentation hosted by Ken Blanchard, Bill Hybels, and Rick Warren. The point emphasized by one speaker (I’m sorry I don’t remember which one, I was driving my car so I didn’t take notes) was that there are two fundamental motivations for human action; love or fear.

Maybe that’s an oversimplification, but I can get behind it in most cases. I mean, if I think deeply about other motivations – greed could be defined as “fear of not having enough,” arrogance as “fear of appearing insufficient,” etc. So, okay – working hypothesis, for this essay at least – love and fear are fundamental motivators of human action.

From my Christian worldview, the only motivation supported or endorsed by study of the scriptures is love. Specifically “love the Lord your God” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” What are we LOSING, as Americans, Christians, citizens of a democracy, when we take or tolerate actions motivated by fear?

On my way to work this morning, I listened to a podcast of an old (well, two months old) debate on Intelligence Squared – one of my favorite new iTunes podcast addictions. If you are not familiar with it, it’s Oxford-style debating on political topics, two on two, some of the most prominent political analysts and officials in the U.S. So, the one I listened to this morning was on the topic “It’s Time to End the War on Terror.”

Both sides made intelligent, well-reasoned arguments. And by the rules of the program, the “Against” side one – that is, they swayed the most members of the live audience to their side. Good to go. But one member of the against team, in his opening argument, absolutely shocked me. His rationale was that, as long as we remain legally in a “declared” state of war, we have the right to use strenuous interrogation tactics, order drone strikes on whoever the president names, detain prisoners for years with no constitutional rights to speedy trial, and carry out operations like the killing of bin Ladin. In fact, one of his principle talking points was that the way that operation was carried out – an armed military person shooting an unarmed, unresisting man – would have been either murder or assassination if we were NOT at war. Therefore we should remain at war, so that we can kill opponents in those situations instead of apprehending them and bringing them to trial. And by “strenuous interrogation tactics” – for now, apparently, we only mean waterboarding. But it does leave the door open for other options. Think about it. Are we who we say we want to be?

I read a news article this morning. In this one, former Baltimore police lieutenant Charles J. Kelly, who wrote the department’s use of force guidelines, called pepper spray a “compliance tool.” He was defending the UC Davis officers who sprayed that line of seated, passive students. COMPLIANCE TOOL? I’ve heard pepper spray defined in terms of self-defense, and of riot control. A non-lethal tool to divert a violent attack. But a “compliance tool?” Does that freak anyone else out? Or does it only depend on who is being asked to “comply,” and with what?

And why are we afraid of the “occupy” movement, anyways? Because we disagree with them? Because they may fizzle out and give up? Because they may cause actual policy change in some areas of U.S. infrastructure that have become sacred cows? Or because we just don’t want to have the conversations that they are starting, about whether “the way we’ve always done it” (since about 1990-ish, anyways) is actually the best way to do “it.” Whatever “it” is, take your pick. Taxation, public education, administration of social programs. Why are these occupiers so scary that they need to be silenced at any cost? If they are wrong, they aren’t scary, maybe just annoying and inconvenient. If they are right, they aren’t scary, but other things are. There is a way to handle annoying and inconvenient. I don’t object to arresting someone who is breaking the law. You block the public roadway, violate noise ordinances, stop workers from getting into their offices, or raise your fist against police (or anyone else) – you should go to jail. And stand trial. But this…?

The Patriot Act. Consenting to all but a prostate exam in order to travel by airplane. Defending a declaration of war as necessary to avoid having to allow suspects constitutional rights. Are we motivated by fear, or love? If it is to be love, what are we going to do to stop our fear from dragging us any further down its path?

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