We are living in a nervous nation. Not since the terror attacks of 9/11 has the country been immersed in such constant anxiety.
Even signs of progress are tempered with an underlying sense of insecurity. There are many reasons for the increasing fear factor in America (and the world), but one thing is very clear: If we don't get out of this mode we will be destined to stay in the rut, inactive and emotionally paralyzed. That's when Satan does his best work.
In recent months an endless stream of news stories has made the situation worse. First we were told that the recession was happening, even back when it wasn't. In the midst of a seemingly endless political campaign there were people almost gleeful about the prospects of a financial downturn. When the country was hammered by a very real mortgage meltdown, bank failures and stock slides, we were told it was going to get worse… maybe a return to The Great Depression. Other disasters such as the Bernie Madoff scandal didn't help our confidence, while Uncle Sam's bailouts added more stress due to huge mounting American debts.
As a longtime member of the media, I am embarrassed by the behavior of colleagues who relish the opportunity to fan the flames of fear. Frustrating, yes, but it's the nature of the business to highlight disasters, frayed nerves and apprehension. There's a saying in the news business: If it bleeds, it leads. In other words, the top story is always that which is most shocking. And in today's non-stop information world, no single news source wants to be the first to get off of a story. There's too much competition for the most "compelling" items. So the problem feeds on itself.
After a nearly two year, steady drumbeat of, "The economy's awful, job losses are increasing and there's assorted misery" accounts, we saw the emphasis shift to health scares. "Swine Flu" (or "H1N1," so as not to offend actual swine) became the hottest item on daily newscasts. Words like "pandemic" and comparisons to the epidemic of 1918 became commonplace. (No matter that just plain-ole' basic flu kills more than 35,000 annually, way more than the Pig Virus.) The Swine Flu drama also unfolded just as the "May Sweeps" were underway… the hottest month for TV ratings. Hype equals big numbers and bucks. As a bonus, Newsweek released a cover story on a new survey trumpeting how the country is giving up on religion. Everything added up to a non-stop media message: You have nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. It's coming for you. Be afraid, be very afraid.
Americans aren't economic gurus or medical professionals. So if we hear something often enough it becomes reality. The economy has plenty of critical, real challenges, but we've now talked ourselves into believing there's no way out of our problems and this is as good as it gets. Unfortunately this is when government bureaucrats step up and offer to "fix" everything. Too often we're willing to give them too much power, hoping for instant gratification.
Yes, the whole world is in sick-and-nervous mode and we may be in this for some time. So what do we do about it? We fight fear through faith. Someone has said the acronym for fear is F-E-A-R… "False Evidence Appearing Real." Research has shown that a very small percentage of things that worry us become evident. FDR was right: Most times we have "nothing to fear but fear itself."
Christians should already have this figured out. But since we're human, it's very easy to get caught up in negative moods like everyone else. Maybe it's time to check our spiritual compass and see if we truly believe what we say we believe, starting with the hundreds of "fear nots" in the Bible. Then do a study on references to being "strong and courageous" and how God is ready to "fight our battles." Remember, the daily battles we experience are often in our heads and hearts … it's internal. In other words, we must choose to rise above it all and plug into the power source.
C.S. Lewis said, "Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted … in spite of changing moods." Oswald Chambers wrote this about anxiety: "If your heart is troubled, you are not living up to your belief." Ouch. He also noted this: "It is the most natural thing in the world to be scared, and the clearest evidence that God is in our hearts is when we do not get into panics."
There's been panic-a-plenty in recent times and always more on the horizon. Fighting the fear factor requires courage and persistence, and staying constantly connected to God.
Doing nothing allows the enemy to win … but perfect love casts out fear.
Larson is a veteran Southern California radio/television personality and media consultant. He can be heard daily in San Diego on KCBQ 1170 AM from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published, June 2009