How Fear and Ignorance Keep Working | Sojourners

How Fear and Ignorance Keep Working

Image via Suzanne Tucker/
Image via Suzanne Tucker/

I had to check my calendar to make sure I wasn’t a month off when I read the headline on NPR’s website that read “Texas Governor Deploys State Guard To Stave Off Obama Takeover.” Surely it has to be April Fool’s Day all over again.

But it’s real.

As is common practice, the federal government has deployed joint teams of Navy SEALs and Green Berets in several locations around the country — Texas included — for routine training exercises. However, this time — according to some living in my beloved state of origin — it’s a secret government plot to disassemble state government and impose martial law.

Why, you ask? Because, as explained in the article, it’s believed that there are ISIS terrorist cells located just over the state border in Mexico preparing to launch choreographed attacks on “soft targets” around the state to foment instability. Thus the only reason the federal forces must be there, then, is to use this as an opportune time to plot some sort of reverse-coup and dismember the government in what is historically known as a fiercely independent state.

Now, to the average reader, this seems absurd. But let’s go a little further down this rabbit hole to see how far it goes. According to an unnamed Texas Ranger referenced in the article, the plot goes far deeper and has been planned for some time. According to him, there are a number of shuttered Wal-Mart buildings around the state, and rather than being closed for remodeling, as claimed by the company, they’ve actually been outfitted as prison/processing stations by the federal government.

How does this kind of mentality take hold of a state of nearly 30 million, at least to the point that the governor himself would take official action?

One word: fear. Actually two words: fear and ignorance.

Though it comes off as cartoonish and ridiculous to the typical onlooker, fear and ignorance are, in fact, powerful tools. And using fear based on a broadly shared perception — regardless of actual evidence — is something all too familiar to modern-day Christianity in the United States as well. And the reason it hangs around like heartburn after a double bean burrito is because it works.

Here’s how:

  • You establish some platform from which to garner attention. Often this has to do with maintaining a position of power, having a lot of money, or both.
  • You cultivate a sense in the group you represent (be it your church, your faith at large, your state, or even your nation) that you are part of an actively persecuted minority.
  • You rally people to defend against said persecution by fighting back, even if you're effectively shadow-boxing against an enemy that may not even exist.

It seems like an incredible waste of energy and money. Except that it works. Over and over again. We’ve seen this particularly within the present political sphere. Ted Cruz has sounded the alarm that Christian values are under attack both domestically and worldwide. Mike Huckabee went a step further, arguing that we are edging dangerously close to Christianity becoming criminalized.

Never mind that more than four out of five Americans in the United States still claim to be Christians. Like I said, facts are fairly unimportant in the face of the galvanizing forces of fear. Reality has no chance.

It’s a popular theme in Hollywood too; consider the Wizard of Oz. The fear of outside threats brought the band of protagonist misfits together, while also distracting them from the reality that the thing they were afraid of was a fabrication, with only a stuttering, feeble man shrouded by a curtain running the whole scheme. After all, who listens to a bashful old man? But when he represents everything we’re afraid of, it’s an entirely different story.

We who maintain both spiritual and political convictions have a choice, however. We give this kind of fear our power. We hand it over because it helps us know who we are, both individually and collectively. It helps us feel like we belong to something, and we have a purpose. Even if the purpose ultimately isn’t real.

And lest we think it’s solely a problem on the right, the two big political parties need each other for this very reason. Each makes the other out to be the embodiments of all evil, the source of all of our fears. So we have to pool our resources and band together to fight the good fight, or else suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

It only works if we allow it to. Enough is enough.

Christian Piatt is the author of postChristianBlood Doctrineand the Banned Questions book series, among others. He is engaged in a year-long effort called My Jesus Project to more deeply and honestly follow the life, teaching, and example of Jesus through prayer, study and action. Follow along his journey, and even join in, at

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