Faith Works 4-20-13
The revelatory properties of terrorism
"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love." (I John 4:18, KJV)
If I were to get all mathematical about matters of the heart, I might wonder if you could reverse that statement. Does perfect fear cast out love?
That's the theorem of terrorism. An act so horrible, so senseless in itself but done in service of a cause, that through the inconsistencies of the human heart does not attach itself to the original intention (and to be fair, most terrorism is done in service to groups of people who would disavow the act taken in their name if they could).
Instead, the mechanism of terroristic acts is to provoke a counter-reaction that undermines the authority, moral and official, of the opposition to the terror group's agenda. You blow up the oppressor's guardhouse, the occupying force is, in response, harsher and more capricious towards the general population, which then drifts a little closer to being in your camp, whether they were against you to start or even just indifferent. Terror, terrorists like to say, reveals the "true nature" of the group being attacked, while is a regrettable necessity for those using it.
What gets complicated is when either there's no vicious response, or when the people in general turn against you for having used too much violence, or being too random, or when there are too many innocent victims.
Let's just say right now, whether it's Andrew Kehoe in Bath, Michigan in 1926, or the Unabomber in the 1990s, sometimes the person setting the explosive devices is simply mentally ill and horrifically disturbed, even if their stated concerns about taxes or the environment are shared by many. When you have a Jane Alpert in New York or a Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City, the line between psychosis and a mad passion for a cause gets blurry.
And when you have a large movement, with numbers of people involved, you reach a point where sanity seems beside the point somehow. Al-Qaeda or the Weathermen, Anarchism a century ago or the Ku Klux Klan more recently, and more locally: you can't just call them crazy. They terrorized and killed with an intent to drive public policy and societal behavior in the direction they desired.
"Perfect love casts out fear," and we might well ask, "does perfect fear drive out love?" To look at the rest of the equation as John puts it, then "one who loves does not fear punishment, but if anxiety can do the same, love might leave." Or something like that.
If terror can control our thoughts, our emotions, it will certainly guide our actions as much as TSA gets to guide us in packing for an airplane trip. That's the goal fulfilled on a small scale. We fear the impact, the inflicted punishment of another plane disaster, so we let fear guide us more strongly, and it becomes hard to even imagine another way.
That's why, in a muddle headed but somewhat understandable way, officials said after 9-11 that we should go out and shop and visit malls "because otherwise, the terrorists win." That quickly earned some well-deserved scorn, but there was a nubbin of a point to it. And the counterpart is that line at the airport, where we shuffle in our socks to the metal detector.
But we are told, if we are New Testament people, that "perfect love casts out fear." It is the only real counter-terrorism that works, in the long run. It's not hearts and flowers and candy sort of love, but the Greek root "agape" that C.S. Lewis wrote so powerfully about, a love that empties self and is open to understanding and learning and listening and yes, even forgiving.
That sort of love casts out fear. It doesn't screen for bombs or defuse improvised explosive devices, and there's no promise in this verse that if you can use love as your lens to look at "the other" you will cast out all future harm. Jesus did say something about peacemakers and those who stand for righteousness.
But if you can stand with and for and IN love, even as you are attacked, I wonder if you aren't reversing the reversal. That terror, spending itself, whatever the motivation, on those who refuse to hate them in response, might well cast itself out, and leave room for something more.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in central Ohio; tell him when fear was cast out for you at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.