10 February 2010

fear, faith, and public policy

In a well-researched and well-written article for The New Yorker, award-winning journalist Jane Mayer reports on “The Trial: Eric Holder and the battle over Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.” She speaks of the ongoing debate about the Attorney General’s decision to try the self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9-11 terrorist attacks in civilian court. She begins by noting the protest on December 5th in lower Manhattan and some of the events that transpired. There were shouts of “traitor” and “lynch Holder.”

“One protester, Carolyn Walton,” Mayer says, “who works for a water-filtration company in Manhattan, told me that Holder was ‘a Marxist mole.’ She asked, ‘How can someone who is not an American have any right to our rights? Holder wants to help the terrorists.’”

Despite the obvious logical disconnect between linking Marxism and Islamic fundamentalism (worldviews that have very little in common), there is, in my opinion, an almost willful ignorance of the very foundation of American jurisprudence. Our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, indeed, America at its best, has always insisted that everyone has equal rights—regardless if one is the bearer of a US passport. If not, then that means that my wife, a Turkish citizen, doesn’t enjoy the same rights that I do.

Mayer addresses the charge that the Attorney General is doing something dramatically different. “Holder, despite the controversy he has inspired, has not actually pushed for radical change. Indeed, critics in left-leaning legal circles have complained that he has kept too many of George W. Bush’s counterterrorism policies in place…Even some former members of the Bush Administration see more continuity than change. Bradford Berenson, who served as a White House lawyer when the Bush Administration was forging its controversial legal approach to terrorism, told me that ‘from the perspective of a hawkish Bush national-security person the glass is eighty-five per cent full in terms of continuity.’” On more than one occasion, I too, have made similar observations.

At root, these aren’t political issues. They go deeper. Mayer reminds us, “In a debate with his Democratic opponent, Martha Coakley, [Massachusetts Senator Scott] Brown declared, ‘We’re at war in our airports, we’re at war in our shopping malls. I have to be honest with you, folks…I’m scared at some of the policies I’ve heard.’” She notes later something that Elisa Massimino, the president of Human Rights First, told her. “‘Politically, these issues are poisonous.’ But, she added, ‘You can’t finesse it, and you can’t spin it. The President just has to lead the American people away from fear.’”

That’s a tall order for anyone to do. It’s easier to appeal to the worst in human nature. We have no shortage of figures, political and otherwise, who have been filling people with fear. When people themselves are fearful, it’s pretty hard for them to lead others out of fear. Fearful people can do atrocious things.

In the book I’ve been reading, Harry Emerson Fosdick’s The Meaning of Faith, which was published during the First World War, he speaks of how fear “imprisons” and “paralyzes.” (p. 186) “The shame of our fearful living,” he observes, “is that it circles about self, is narrowed down to mean solicitudes about our own comfort, and is utterly incapable of serving God or seeking first his Kingdom.” (p. 193) Fosdick sees faith as the opposite of fear.

Of course, some of the most fearful people—and fear-inducing people—consider themselves to be people of faith. But we have to ask, what kind of faith? “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love” (1 John 4:18). Just as with love, the same is true with faith that has open eyes and open hearts.

This is a faith that doesn’t jettison the best wisdom of the ages. It doesn’t assume that the rule of law can simply be dismissed—no matter how many fearful voices assert the opposite.

1 comment:

Ian Eastman said...

'Lil Abner did a parody of Dick Tracy called "Fearless Fosdick." I wonder if there was any connection?