In the early 1800's the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard defined modern humans with one word - angst. It is part of the human condition to know fear. But angst is what lives in our bloodstream, a dull anxiety that accompanies people out of bed each morning with the realization that life is not perfect, or even safe, and that we are all vulnerable.
In 1995, with the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City that killed 169 people, terrorism came home to the U.S. and opened up a whole new avenue for angst. Those in the growing "patriot movement," whose thinking mirrors the motives that lit the explosion, like Bob Fletcher of the Militia of Montana, have said, "Expect more bombs."
Watchdog groups, like the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama, have identified 441 armed militia groups in all 50 states. They describe the movement as a "hydra," the mythological beast with many heads. When one head was cut off, it was replaced by two others. Although many of these heads, recline in comfortable armchairs, never taking up a gun, the hatred and distrust of those who are "other" can spew forth a particularly strong venom. It is the kind of poison that may have fueled the burning of some of the black churches that have been destroyed throughout the nation.
But not all the hatred is homegrown in the ranks of the militia groups. The bomb that shook the global celebration in the Olympic Village in Atlanta this summer, killing one woman, has been hinted to be the act of one person who had a deadly point to make.
In 1993, a group of Muslim conspirators detonated a homemade bomb under New York City's World Trade Center. Four months later, nine Islamics were arrested on charges of conspiring to blow up such landmarks as the United Nations and the Lincoln Tunnel. The motivation, news reports said, "were essentially religious and without any discernible goal: they were simply attacks on the U.S., the Great Satan."
Investigators are still uncertain about the cause of the crash of TWA Flight 800, but terrorism has been suspected. And recently, U.S. airplanes bombed Iraq in an attempt to curb aggression of Saddam Hussein. Hussein is a fuel that can feed anyone's angst. In the past, he has shown little regard for world opinion and he reportedly has a stockpile of modern weapons and willing terrorist factions at his command.
One only has to think to the poisonous gas attacks in the subways of Japan in 1995 and the ultimate urban horror can be conjured up in a variety of scenarios.
But while most Americans acknowledge the fact that terrorists could strike a U.S. city with a nuclear, chemical or biological weapon, few let that fact turn to worry.
According to the findings of a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, 72% of those interviewed believe there is a chance that terrorists could use a weapon of mass destruction to attack a U.S. city, but only 13% worry a great deal about this and 27% are somewhat worried.
What has Americans more concerned is the threat of crime. While violent crime statistics in the U.S. have gone down, national officials report that "four out of five Americans can expect to be a violent crime victim at least once in their lives."
Admittedly, most people don't carry these fears around in their daily routines, but such knowledge does tend to seep into the heart, along with fear, and distrust, and vulnerability. The truth about one's safety becomes subjective. And so, we place alarms in our cars, warn our children about the dangers that lie beyond the doors, and walk just a little bit quicker through the streets at night.
It's angst that quickens our pace. But how do we keep from falling victim to the fears that lurk in the shadows? Again, Kierkegaard responds. We must take that "leap of faith," so the goodness of humanity outweighs the evil that stalks through the headlines.
We are called, as people of faith, to live out the words of the poem by Merianne Williamson:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, "Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?"
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone.
And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
When an angel appears in the Bible the message is simple, "Fear not." In today's world, responding to that message requires a recognition of the evil, and a leap of faith that carries us beyond the angst which defines us.
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