“The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one…”
Ever feel compelled to deliver bad news to a friend? If you’re like me, on the rare occasion that you act on such a conviction, doing so is never easy. One of the main reasons this is difficult is that no one likes to receive bad news, and neither do decent people revel in delivering it. Another reason is that human beings have this odd and innate capacity for denial, and we can activate it in a myriad of ways. We can reject the bad news outright. We can refuse to listen. We might also project our uncomfortable feelings outward – call the messenger uninformed, uneducated, duped, or just a flat-out liar. We can even find ways to disprove what we don’t enjoy hearing, even if the bad news that’s come to us is spot-on accurate. On such occasions, logic becomes a doomed toy suspended in a tug-of-war between two fussing sides.
Over the past few weeks since it debuted on HBO, the new Aaron Sorkin drama The Newsroom has garnered more than its normal share of Internet buzz, primarily for the opening scene of the pilot episode. Fans of the sentiments expressed by Sorkin – through the fictional character of cable news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) – have posted the clip on Facebook and other networking sites, inciting “Here here!” comments while simultaneously evoking negative criticism that mostly focuses on either Sorkin’s sanctimonious liberalism or HBO’s conspiratorial anti-American agenda.
What lies behind the outrage at this clip’s subject? Is it indignation at obvious misrepresentation of facts? Or is it akin to when a person who already secretly dreads the worst receives news that confirms his or her fears?
I’ve written before that the greatest obstacle to genuine change (whether civil, social, spiritual, etc.) is fear. I’m no historian, so I will avoid speculating where this all started (though the Bible offers an interesting story of a regrettable caprice taking place in a garden). However, I am more than willing to argue at length that a person’s greatest enemy is himself. Human beings are broken, and the unhealable wound is our struggle to act in ways not motivated by fear, whether individually or in community.
“There is no fear in love,” wrote the Apostle John to his disciples (1 John 4:18), “but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” There is another bit of wisdom expressed by John – it’s considered apocryphal but is certainly in keeping with the words of his letters. When asked by his disciples why, instead of teaching about various other theological curiosities, he always chose to speak about loving each other, he was said to have replied, “Because if you can do that, you’ve done it all.”
But there are many people who believe that love goes hand in hand with optimism, and that it spurns all criticism. After all, how can a person claim to genuinely hold something or someone dear if he or she brings flaws to light? People who define love in this way will sometimes accuse others of a lack of patriotism simply because those people had the audacity to find fault with some aspect of American life. Indeed, so much of the rhetoric found in our major political parties is couched in the false logic that to disagree is to welcome the abolition of everything that makes America great.
That isn’t love. It’s not patriotism, either. Hell, it’s not even loyalty. It’s conformity, the natural byproduct of fear. It is a fortress in which people hide, because facing the other options of uncertainty, mystery or a contradicting truth is not comfortable. It’s the bad news we just don’t want to hear.
Another Bible verse, if you please. Proof-texting is all the rage these days, so I hope my appealing to the words of a few verses isn’t just more white noise in our ears. However, this particular statement is often cited as proof that our country’s morals are skewed and only getting worse. In light of what I’ve written here, however, you might recognize my divergent interpretation:
“For a time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
The question I’m asking in this post is not, “Is America the greatest country in the world?” nor is it “What do we have to do to make America the greatest country in the world (again)?” It goes much deeper than that – deeper than the issues and debates that roil about in our country today. It’s a question that affects the American Church as much as it does the culture in which the Church finds itself. It’s not a complicated question, though providing a satisfactory answer may take a great deal of self- and communal reflection. My question is this:
“Can human beings truly experience freedom from fear?”