We all live with fear, our own private fears and the fears we share as a society, as a Church, or as people who experience rejection or exclusion from one or both of these contexts. On the whole, we prefer not to talk about how fear affects us personally or how it can colour the way we think about any number of issues, including how we do politics at home, at every level of the Church’s life and how we respond to the politics of other nations.
Although this book is written for a wide readership, I have written it out of the conviction that if Christians can own and face into their fears together, both as Church and as members of society, we have something very important to bring to the world of today. We can begin to ‘speak the truth in love’. Truth is only truth when what is being said or written is not skewed by the fears we carry around with us, the fear of the individuals, systems and, in certain cases, governments, that control human lives in one way or another. When Jesus assures his followers that he has overcome the world (John 16:33) he is talking about the systems and mind sets that imprison the human spirit by inciting fear, so rendering us incapable of love. With this premise in mind, the book looks at fear from a number of different perspectives.
It begins by making a connection between the loneliness of the human condition, as it is first experienced at birth, and as it may be experienced in the moment of dying. The first chapter looks at how loneliness is reinforced by individualism and the kind of isolation which is driven by internet technology, by the way we process information and deal with instant and ongoing news in our private screen lives. Our screens reinforce a sense of separation from the events going on around us insofar as we can click the news on or off at will. But the freedom to switch on or off at will also brings these events close up, into our very soul. In our own private inner space, the anxiety fomented in isolation and driven by the news remains with us.
Anxiety is another word for fear. It can lead to alienation of the individual on the one hand, and to a desperate need to belong, on the other. Many people experience both of these effects together. The need to belong, and the need for approval which is fed by this need, lead into other fears; the fear of failure, and the fear of hope and of love itself.
It is not only the individual who fears failure. Organisations fear it as well. So the book is also concerned with how fear erodes the life of the Church, and how it conditions faith and the world’s understanding of religion. Violent events in the recent past suggest that fear and the abuse of religion are closely linked. The abuse of religion too often results in the abuse of power, as it can also stem from confusing power with authority. I draw on the model of monastic authority as a basic template for exercising authority in the Church without falling prey to the blandishments and delusions of power which so often lead to the abuse of the powerless.
I have written this book, not only because I believe that fear damages our lives, our world and even the planet we inhabit, but because I believe this subject speaks to everyone, whether or not they are people of faith. I have aimed at simplicity of style while at the same time defending what I say by reflecting on some of the events and issues that feature in the news at this time, and will probably continue to do so, in different ways, in the years to come. I hope the book will inspire others to take heart and to hear for themselves the voice of Jesus saying to his fearful followers “Do not be afraid. It is I”.
I’m having a book launch for In Such Times at the Anglican University Chaplaincy, 61 Park Place, Cardiff CF10 3AT on 13th February 7.30pm. All are warmly invited!