You can tell a lot about people by what they are afraid of.
I was under the impression that we lived in a relatively safe place and time. We have spent billions of dollars on making our country secure, making our travel secure, sanitizing and double-locking every aspect of our lives that we can.
And yet, we are still afraid.
I’ve been following the story, as I’m sure you have, of Ahmed Mohamed, the teenager whose clock was mistaken for a bomb at his school.
I don’t really care to write about the positive attention he’s received since then, although people have been surprisingly divided by it. Bill Callen from Top Right News tried to point out all the white kids who get suspended “for no reason,” like the second grader with ADHD who chewed his pop tart into the shape of a gun. “Where is his invitation to the White House?” he asks, incredulous.
Well, that kid didn’t invent something. He was still a privileged, bratty kid causing a disruption at school. So even if a suspension was overkill, that comparison fails pretty hard.
No, what I am more interested in is why the device caused such an uproar in the first place, and what it says about us as a society.
The Affluent Suburban American god of Fear
Why is it that on the off chance that a brilliant student brings a unique device to school, he is handcuffed and suspended from school?
Why is it that the character or history of the student did not seem to be of particular importance in determining if he was a threat?
And why did administration seem unable to exercise any sort of discretion in how they treated their student?
Because we are a fearful, suspicious, untrusting people.
We have been taught to be this way.
We have been taught to worship fear. We have been taught that fear and distrust should be our natural, baseline lens through which we view the world. Our fear is a ravenous hunger.
It is from this lens that we cultivated policies like zero tolerance. No discretion needed. Just fear.
The letter that the school sent home to the student body is extremely telling.
“Even though that particular item did not pose an immediately dangerous situation to the school, we cannot allow items on campus that can be perceived to pose a threat.”
Did you catch that?
A Threat Is In the Eye of the Beholder
You know that fear is what a society worships when fear is the barometer by which events are measured.
The clock posed no threat.
It was not intended to pose a threat.
But it may have been perceived as a threat. So Ahmed has to go. The letter goes on to imply that Ahmed broke some school rules, by reminding students and parents to review the school’s code of conduct.
So now we are a society that convicts and punishes people based on suspicion and perception and the terrible reality is just how terrible the dictatorship of fear and suspicion can become. Literally anything can be perceived as a threat, especially if people are keyed up to seek out threats. And now that people are empowered and validated for being fearful, everyone is guilty until proven innocent.
Little by little, bit by bit, we have sacrificed so much to the false god of safety.
How many millions have we spent to make air travel safe? And what is the result? The god of airline safety is just a hoax, an illusion.
Parents keep their kids indoors, isolate themselves from their neighbors, refuse to get to know people. Are we any safer? Was there ever any danger to begin with?
Something tells me there is far less danger out there than we have been taught to believe.
We Are Not Called To Be Afraid of Our Neighbors
Of course, anyone who has experienced a traumatic event could refute that last sentence. But fear is an insatiable false god. No matter how safe we really are, the news will tell us that we are in precarious danger, that the god of safety demands more.
And so, we will give in.
We will arrest teenagers.
We will shoot citizens.
We will sacrifice our communities and social fabric in the name of almighty safety. And yet, we will never feel truly safe.
Christians, I hope you have realized that we have not chosen to follow a safe God. Our faith is not meant to enhance our security, or make us more isolated. It is not meant to enable us to ignore our neighbors or shut out the world.
Our faith is supposed to prompt us to reach out. We are supposed to reach out to people whose skin is a different color. We are supposed to reach out to people from the other side of the tracks, from a different part of our city. We are not supposed to be surrounded by people who look and act and believe just as we do. We are not supposed to stay in the bubble which we so love.
We are not called to live in fear, but in boldness.
We are called to be countercultural.
Perhaps the most countercultural thing we can do today is just be brave.