It’s hard to deny the politics of fear on both sides of the political aisle. Republicans and Democrats regularly paint ominous pictures of what will happen if the other side wins the White House in November. This isn’t anything new. Pharaoh weaponized fear to maintain his power (Exodus 1:10). Notice the three-step pattern of the politics of fear:
1. Present a threat that arouses fear. Pharaoh says to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us” (Exodus 1:9). Suddenly, the Israelites are a threat to Egypt’s wellbeing. An “us vs. them” has been created. They aren’t like “us”—and therefore, can’t be trusted.
2. Show how vulnerable “we” are. “If war breaks out, they’ll join our enemies and fight against us” (Ex 1:10b). Classic strawman argument. “They” are trouble. By creating on a stereotype, “we” can vilify them.
3. Explain how “we” can protect ourselves from “them.” “Come, let us deal shrewdly with them” … so they “set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens” (Ex 1:10a, 11). Having established an untrue premise that “they” are bad, and even harmful, the politics of fear can successfully dehumanize “them,” making it easier for “us” to justify hatred and violence.
Note, too, how the politics of fear quickly spreads from one person (Pharaoh) to a small group (taskmasters) to an entire nation (“the Egyptians [literally] loathed the people of Israel”; Ex 1:12). Apparently, fear is not only the result of evil; evil is also the result of fear.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew the spiritual damage fear creates. “It crouches in people’s hearts,” he wrote, “it hollows out their insides … and secretly gnaws and eats away at all the ties that bind a person to God and to others.”
For those of you who don’t want your insides hollowed out during this election season, take a lesson from the midwives: they feared God (Ex 1:17, 21). The fear of God is the only thing that liberates people from the politics of fear.
“The remarkable thing about God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else”—Oswald Chambers