The Dark Spell the Devil Casts: Refugees and Our Slavery to the Fear of Death

In light of my posts this week I wanted to make another comment about how I think The Slavery of Death explains a lot about what is going on today in American Christianity regarding our debates about accepting Syrian refugees in the US.

The Slavery of Death is a theological and psychological meditation on this text from Hebrews:
Hebrews 2.14-15
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 
In this passage the power of the Devil in our lives is described as our slavery to the fear of death. As 1 John tells us, fear is the enemy of love. Consequently, perfect love must cast out fear.

As I describe in The Slavery of Death our fear of death manifests in one of two ways, what psychologists call basic anxiety and neurotic anxiety.

In the affluent West, where our culture is characterized by a "denial of death"--a culture where we like to pretend, due to modern medicine and our technological wizardry that we are immune to death--our slavery to the fear of death is mostly neurotic. We strive, in the words of Henri Nouwen, to be relevant, spectacular or powerful in our quest to live a meaningful and significant life in the face of death. If you looked in the mirror today to check your appearance or checked your Facebook, Twitter or blog accounts to see who was paying attention to you, well, that's your neurotic death anxiety at work. That's the power of the devil in your life. That's your slavery to the fear of death.

But from time to time in the West we also face basic death anxiety. In these instances we fear death directly and straightforwardly. After the Paris terror attacks we all felt a surge of this basic death anxiety. Our fears became less about self-esteem and more about physical security.

And as the fear of death fell upon us so did the power of the Devil.

Gripped by fear our capacities for love, compassion and hospitality quickly dried up and evaporated. Perfect love, battling hard to cast out fear, is now on life-support. If not already dead and flat-lined.

And the words "cast out" are prophetically appropriate. Again, in the words of Hebrews fear is the power of the Devil. And America is in dire need of an exorcism.

As I point out in The Slavery of Death and in Unclean, love involves opening yourself up to risk. And risk involves fear and uncertainty.

There are no guarantees with love. That doesn't mean you act recklessly or foolishly. But it does mean that doing the loving thing, the compassionate thing, the humane thing involves facing down legitimate fears and a willingness to live with very real risks.

The fog of fear, legitimate and real concerns over safety and security, is the dark spell the Devil casts to bewitch the Children of Light, the diabolical alchemy that transforms gentle and kind people into the Children of Darkness.

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