Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Religion of Fear

I won’t lie to you, things have been a little tense in sunny South Africa lately.  The recent brutal murder of a prominent (far)right winger has pushed the idea of Uhuru out of the fringes and into the mainstream.  For those unfamiliar with the concept, Uhuru (aka Night of the Long Knives, aka Operation White Cleanup) refers to an alleged plot by black South Africans to wipe out all white South Africans in one night of brutal and highly coordinated bloodshed.  Now like all good conspiracy theories, rumours regarding this have been around in one form or another for quite a while but due to recent events more people appear to be taking it seriously.  The good news is that cooler heads seem to be prevailing and so far all we have is a lot of threats, posturing in the media and smacktalk on Facebook. 

So today while discussing said internet tough talking, my cousin made an interesting observation – Uhuru has become something of a religion for some people.  This struck me as very accurate but then I realized something.  Just last night I had been arguing with someone who believed that the UN was trying to disarm the United States in order to turn it into some sort of socialist colony for the shadowy One World Government.  This made me realize that all this talk of Uhuru is really just a local expression of an international religion – the Religion of Fear.  Think I’m being ridiculous?  Let’s take a look at just how religious the fearmongers of the world have become.

Just like religion:

Fearmongering relies on prophecy
To keep the flock faithful, they must live under a continuous cloud of anxiety and naked fear.  In order to accomplish this the ministers of the Religion of Fear keep making predictions about terrifying events that are about to unfold any day now.  Peace of mind is heresy, to keep the faith is to live in constant fear of the future.  Now some of these predictions just seem like wild speculation and fantasy based on nothing more than the imagination of the person making them.  However sometimes you need more than that to make people believe the unbelievable.  That is why the Religion of Fear often claims that their dire predictions come straight from the LORD God Himself!  After all, however unlikely it may seem that the gentle lady who has been cooking and cleaning for you for two decades will one day drown your children in the bathtub, if GOD said so then it must be true.  Those who believe in Uhuru tend to do so based on alleged prophecies by the Boer prophet Siener van Rensburg.  In other cases people might not be as bold as Pat Robertson in claiming to have heard tidings of doom from God personally but they instead claim to have figured out the key to understanding obscure Biblical prophecy, which really is the next best thing.

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Sometimes a prophet can make a tidy profit!

Fearmongering relies on unfalsifiable data
Another important tenet for the Church of the Fearful is to keep as many of their claims as possible impossible to refute until after the fact.  After all, getting people to buy into your story when it is demonstrably false can be rather hard to do.  Therefore, the prophecy of terror is usually backed up by no more than the reminder that something similar has already happened somewhere at some point in history.  The rest has to be taken on faith.  Since THEY are so super sneaky and have all their evil planning meetings behind closed doors in secret locations you just need to trust the fearstokers that their alleged super secret informant is telling the truth.  The burden of proof is then unceremoniously passed to those who question their predictions.  Prove that the death of Nelson Mandela won’t be the catalyst for mass murder!  Prove that the Rapture won’t happen in 2011!  Prove that the world won’t end in 2012!  Prove that President Obama won’t declare martial law and round up the citizens into FEMA concentration camps!  If you can’t (and honestly, who can?) that just serves as further proof that fear is wise and skepticism is foolish.

Fearmongering engages in apologetics
Of course from time to time the Fear Priesthood need to deal with the fact that the horrors they prophecy have an annoying habit of never actually happening.  To handle this they have a very active apologetics ministry.  Missed predictions are explained away, reinterpreted or simply swept under the rug.  Anything from history to current events can be reshaped and reinterpreted to suit their purposes.  To an unbeliever this may not be as convincing but the point here is that apologetics is not so much aimed at those outside of the Church of Fear but rather to reassure those on the inside that they are totally still in the right and that there is a very good and semi-plausible reason why they appear to have egg on their faces.  So the Great Swine Flu Plot of ’09 never came to pass as advertised, so you stocked up on canned food and toilet paper for the civil war of 1994 that never happened, that doesn’t mean you relax your vigilance!!  The future is still totally terrible!  It turns out THEY were just scared of your preparedness that time, they are still totally waiting to strike the moment you stop being terrified!  Reality can’t be trusted!  All conflicting information is misinformation!

Fearmongers offer salvation and damnation

Like virtually all other religions, the Religion of Fear offers its faithful a path to salvation.  The priesthood promises that unspeakable horrors are about to befall an unsuspecting world and only those elect few who are wise enough to accept the gnosis they are imparting will be able to withstand the terrifying things that are coming.  Here it does more than just use the language of established religions, as many young religions have done before it wraps itself in an older one.  This lends the Church of Crisis far more gravitas.  That president is no longer just a bad leader, he is the Antichrist!  They aren’t fearmongering, they are acting as good watchmen by pointing out the impending judgement of God!  This isn’t just a crazy conspiracy theory, this is what the Book of Revelation has foretold!

Fearmongering demonizes opponents and critics
It logically follows therefore that if the Preachers of Horror work for God then the ones they warn against – the UN, the Illuminati, the Vatican, the Jews, the gays, the liberals, the Communists – are knowingly working directly for Satan (that's why they cause earthquakes and such).  It therefore becomes safe for members of this religion to simply disregard arguments made by their critics, no matter how logical and factual they may seem.  After all, how dare you trust anything from the Father of Lies himself?  The Religion of Fear isolates and insulates their members against all disagreeable reality.  Everything you don't like is actually part of THEM and their sinister agenda.  Life can therefore be repainted into comforting black vs white, US vs THEM with all inconvenient gray areas removed.  In their place the Church of Calamity gives its members grandiose hyperbole.  Everything is bigger, everything runs deeper.  Scientists don’t teach evolution because it’s accepted scientific fact – in actual fact they know evolution is false and they just teach it to destroy the Christian Faith in order to usher in the Antichrist.  Gun control activists can’t possibly have personal and sincere reasons for opposing handguns, no they must all be working from the shadowy UN playbook for worldwide socialism.  A murder on a farm is not just an act of senseless violence, its preparation for genocide.

I am only able to look at the two cultures I am most familiar with but I have a sneaking suspicion that the more cultures one looks at the more denominations of the Church of Fear one will find.  In fact it may be the fastest growing religion in the world.  Except of course in those corners of the world were there is enough real horror that the people there feel no need to invent imaginary ones.