Exceptionalism and alarmism
Have you ever heard the phrase, “American exceptionalism”? It is the assertion that the United States of America was uniquely formed as a democracy in an age of Kingdoms. The government was to be ‘of the people, for the people and by the people’ was revolutionary.
As the country was developing an identity, another attitude was taking hold; alarmism. At it’s root, alarmism is an ideology which promotes action to defend oneself. “The British are coming, the British are coming”, was a call to arms for a very real threat. And, once a person has been threatened, they tend to retain the reactionary tendency.
So, it has passed on from one generation to another. Many Americans are modern-day minutemen with arms at the ready for anything that threatens what they hold precious.
It’s useless trying to calm people down who are in that agitated state. They are unwilling to listen to reason. They hold to their particular ‘threat’ as a religious belief, even if they think they are not particularly religious.
The threats could be real or imagined, but often, they are exaggerated. Think of the Mayan Calendar’s supposed prediction of the end of the world in 2012. Who cares what the Mayans thought? So what, they invented the number ‘0’? We don’t follow their social and cultural behavior in other areas, so why do we care what their calendar says?
Yet, many in the U.S. have this reactionary strain living just below the surface. A virus that blooms when the slightest issue could possibly threaten them.
It could be GMO’s, Global Warming (cough, cough; Climate Change), the rapture of the Church (a modern strain of American Evangelicalism), or air conditioners. Any number of things cause people to go into a frenetic state, tipped over with the help of a fragile psyche.
And, once one threat diminishes, they move on to the next. There is an endless supply of people willing to provide threats (remember all the Y2K propaganda?): “The end is nigh”.
How is the church to behave in the midst of a culture of alarmism? Matthew reports Jesus’ words in chapter 24:
23“Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. 24“For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. 25“Behold, I have told you in advance. 26“So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. 27“For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.
In other words, don’t run around like a chicken with its head cut off. Christ has already ascended to the throne (Colossians 3:1). He’s in total control. He’s also in control of the future. In fact, He has told us what the future holds, and that He will be victorious. We are called to rest in the victory of the cross, with an eye to His final victory.
It is in the rest of assured victory that we can love the fanatics within and outside of Christ’s church. The wild-eyed zealots cannot be won over with reason alone. Their real and imagined fears can only be assuaged with love. 1 John 4:18 states:
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
It might take a while to talk a fanatic off of the cliff’s edge. They will passionately rant and rave over what they perceive as a threat to our well-being. Every once in a while, though, you can calmly drop a seed of wisdom which will grow into a tree of life. That seed is Jesus, who came into the world to save … fanatics. Even fanatics like you and me.