The Moral Universe – Be Fearless


It strikes me that those who are doing most to spread fear about Ebola, gay marriage, black people, poor people, and non-Christian people (mostly Muslims and especially Presidents) are the very people who are best suited to isolate themselves from all of these scary things.

It is unlikely that Tom Cotton, for instance, or Greg Abbott, or Mitch McConnell or Mike Huckabee or _____ (fill in the blank) from Fox News Network will ever be near enough to someone who has contracted Ebola to catch it from them.

It’s also unlikely that they’ll be invited to a gay marriage any time soon, that they know any black or poor (or poor black, yikes!) people, or that they regularly associate with Muslims, Hindus, atheists, Shintoists, Buddhists, etc. And since they have all pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and made a ton of money without any help from anyone else, they can hide away in their luxury homes and be pretty certain that none of these groups of people are going to come knocking on their door on Halloween (which they also reject because it’s got something to do with devil worship even though it’s really All Souls’ Day, a Christian holiday).

It must be horrible to live in such fear all the time (though isn’t this ironic: They don’t fear global warming.). Yet I don’t feel any pity for them; their fear is in their own heads and at some point they decided not to educate themselves. They seem to prefer to live in ignorance, make lots of money and decide how everybody else should live (or not live, as the case may be).

I wonder what the response would be if one of these people asked someone with Ebola what they might be afraid of.

Or if they asked a gay person commemorating the crucifixion of Matthew Shepard what they’re afraid of.

Or asked a black person who gets up every day wondering whether this is the day the police will decide that they are acting suspiciously and pull a gun on them.

Or asked a Middle Easterner in the path of ISIL what scares them.

I made a decision long ago, around the time I received a threatening phone call from an anonymous person who didn’t like the fact that I wrote a lot about Nelson Mandela in my newspaper column (he asked me what I knew about self-defense), that I was not going to be afraid of the world. I renewed that decision when I returned to my faith and put myself into the hands of Jesus Christ.

But these people scare the shit out of me. Yet, because of my faith, I have to learn not only how to not be afraid of them, but also how to love them as fellow human beings and children of God.

I heard a story recently about an astronaut who was sailing into outer space with people from other countries on board. At first, everyone was looking for their country, then their own continent, until they suddenly realized they could only see one planet, “this fragile Earth, our island home” (Book of Common Prayer). It affected him strongly, giving him a new view of himself as a citizen of Earth rather than a citizen of a particular country with its own patriotic self-importance and prejudices.

These lines are taken from An Act of Reconciliation and Sharing of the Peace at a National Service of Thanksgiving in South Africa in 1994:

“We struggled against one another; now we are reconciled to struggle for one another.

“We believed it was right to withstand one another; now we are reconciled to understand one another.

“We endured the power of violence; now we are reconciled to the power of tolerance.

“We tried to frighten one another into submission; now we are reconciled to lift one another into fulfillment.”

Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu

The prayer comes from An African Prayer Book; the prayers were selected by Desmond Tutu. I look at his picture on the cover and my own fear recedes. If he has not been afraid, how can I be?




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