What the Angels Said

“Fear not.” Someone should preach that sermon. Or write a book on it as a theme that runs throughout the Bible, from Abraham to Paul. The very announcement of Jesus’s birth to the shepherds begins with that assurance, “Fear not.” It’s not just a theme, but the very nature and sign of the salvation the Bible maps out.

There’s so much fear in the land today, and loss of self-confidence. Reporting the news, for me, took a measure of confidence and a certain fearlessness. Now, people are afraid of what they read in the news, and afraid OF the news. They go instead to websites that make them feel good by reinforcing what they want to believe.

But this leads to a different kind of fear. In dark corners of the web, where social media sites ooze disorganized propaganda, fear sells. Be afraid, these oozings say. Afraid of liberals. Of transgendered teens, and the teachers that coddle them. Of CRT. (I remember when that meant Cathode Ray Tube, i.e. desktop computer, then Criterion-Referenced Tests.) Of secular humanists, socialism, gays, crime, Democrats. “Them.” They are behind the inflation you suffer at the grocery stores. They are behind a “soaring” crime rate. They rig elections, open our borders to drug dealers and terrorists, promote abortion, want to take our guns.

An op-ed I read recently made a convincing argument that the big-tech social media companies like Facebook and Twitter have a huge gap in their filters against bad actors. They filter “hate speech,” but not “fear speech.” They censor comments that are deemed racist, homophobic or antisemitic, but not those comments that merely warn of the dangers that any particular group allegedly pose to your lifestyle, or life. Be afraid, they say.

I don’t know how that can be filtered without stifling healthy free speech and important intellectual grit. I’m not even sure I agree with how Facebook defines “hate,” let alone how it might take on “fear.” Still, the drumbeat of conspiracy theories and “them” feeds a culture of fear. The op-ed argued that this kind of fear speech is what led to the Jan. 6 insurrection and the Nazi death camps. The dark depths of mass fear can tip the scale of civil society into the torch-light mob of a lynching bee or to genocide.

Now, here’s one of those fears: They are coming for our guns. Heather Cox Richardson, the historian whose “Letters from an American” start my day, makes a good case for “the right to bear arms” applying ONLY to individuals who belong to a state-supported militia. That’s exactly what the Framers meant when they wrote the Second Amendment, she says, although she acknowledges that the wording is elusive (and has too many commas, in my opinion). She quotes an 1840 ruling of the Tennessee Supreme Court that makes it clear:  “A man in the pursuit of deer, elk, and buffaloes might carry his rifle every day for forty years, and yet it would never be said of him that he had borne arms; much less could it be said that a private citizen bears arms because he has a dirk or pistol concealed under his clothes, or a spear in a cane.”

How did the NRA (formed in 1871 to promote marksmanship and sport shooting after the Civil War) turn into the lobbying giant of Movement Conservatives from the Reagan presidency to today? It was a marriage of convenience – opposition to business regulations and social programs, Richardson says. And it worked on fear of “gun control,” something that had previously been a strong bipartisan consensus. And so we’re left with a greater fear – that when we send our children to school or attend a concert like the Mandalay Bay country music festival in Las Vegas (where 60 were killed), another mass shooting might take place, for no reason.

I didn’t feel any hint of that fear as we walked down the four closed-off Ponce de Leon city blocks between rows and rows of arts & crafts tents last night. Four days ago, seven miles west of here, an “active shooter” killed one and wounded four in a waiting room in a Midtown Atlanta medical high-rise. But this is Decatur, on the Square, with the kind of open yet rich community culture I wish every community had.

About Doug Cumming

Writer, W&L journalism professor emeritus
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1 Response to What the Angels Said

  1. Uhnsook PARK says:

    I th oroughly enjoyed your Blog, especially the poem of George Herbert, Love III:.
    Many years ago, I was SO fascinated by one of his poems, “Easter Wings”, that
    there was a brief period of my student days, seriously considering the poem for
    graduation thesis topic.
    Thanks a lot referring me to your Blog, I’ll be checking regularly to keep in
    touch with you. The monthly blog is available any particular date of the month ?
    Thanks again.

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