The Power of Fear

Fear has been a major component in the 2016 political campaign and continues to be a tactic of the Trump team as they prepare for him to take office.  All of us need to understand how fear can cause us to make bad choices. But we also need to learn how to combat it. What follows is an excellent video that demonstrates how fear was used as a tactic in the campaign.  The remainder of this post is remarks about Fear and Faith shared by Marguerite Chandler, my spouse, at the Newtown Friends Meeting this morning.

Marguerite Chandler on Faith and Fear

“Darkness can’t drive out darkness.  Only light can do that.  Hatred cannot drive out hatred.  Only love can do that.”  (MLK, Jr.’s Nobel Peace Prize speech)  Right now there’s a pervasive sense of fear.  Fear in the future.  Fear about what’s going to happen next.  Fear for our democracy.faithfear

Cosmologist and peacemaker Joanna Macy has often spoken about these years as the time of the Great Turning.*  Three dimensions of the Great Turning are “actions to slow the damage to Earth and its beings. . . analysis of structural causes and the creation of structural alternatives. . . and a shift in consciousness”—and we need people working in all three areas. (see below for more details about the Great Turning from Joanna’s website)

Recently, I’ve been reading about Quaker history, how we’ve evolved over the hundreds of years since we were founded.  I’ve noticed that sometimes we Quakers have gone in a wrong direction, made a choice that in retrospect was a weaker choice, and then prophetic voices arose among us to lead us to stronger choices, choices that have made us more courageous and more inclusive.

Van Jones speaks about how, in times of great change, we either turn towards each other or against each other.  Just this past week, a few calls were made to urge people to meet here at Newtown Friends Meeting to discuss creating a network of activism in Bucks County to confront the issues that we’re concerned about.  To the amazement of the organizers, 50 people showed up—some in their 20’s, some in their 90’s, and many in between; people concerned about drinking clean water, breathing clean air, and earth that grows healthy food; people who are politically experienced and people who have never gotten involved who feel that have to do something; people who are concerned at the increase in hate crimes, people who are disturbed at the sexism, racism, and homophobia, people who want healthy, safe neighborhoods.   Our passion to come together seemed to come from a sense of fairness and what we really love—the beauty of our communities, the future of our children and grandchildren, equality, justice, peace.

Perhaps a corollary to that first quote is, “Fear cannot drive out fear.  Only faith can do that.”  Singly we can easily be defeated and discouraged.  But when we come together and act on the basis of our faith and our moral convictions, miracles can happen.


* Three Dimensions of the Great Turning — Joanna Macy

(click the title above to visit the author’s site.)

  1. Actions to slow the damage to Earth and its beings

Perhaps the most visible dimension of the Great Turning, these activities include all the political, legislative, and legal work required to reduce the destruction, as well as direct actions–blockades, boycotts, civil disobedience, and other forms of refusal. A few examples:

  • Documenting and the ecological and health effects of the Industrial Growth Society;
  • Lobbying or protesting against the World Trade Organization and the international trade agreements that endanger ecosystems and undermine social and economic justice;
  • Blowing the whistle on illegal and unethical corporate practices;
  • Blockading and conducting vigils at places of ecological destruction, such as old-growth forests under threat of clear-cutting or at nuclear dumping grounds.

Work of this kind buys time. It saves some lives, and some ecosystems, species, and cultures, as well as some of the gene pool, for the sustainable society to come. But it is insufficient to bring that society about.

  1. Analysis of structural causes and the creation of structural alternatives


The second dimension of the Great Turning is equally crucial. To free ourselves and our planet from the damage being inflicted by the Industrial Growth Society, we must understand its dynamics. What are the tacit agreements that create obscene wealth for a few, while progressively impoverishing the rest of humanity? What interlocking causes indenture us to an insatiable economy that uses our Earth as supply house and sewer? It is not a pretty picture, and it takes courage and confidence in our own common sense to look at it with realism; but we are demystifying the workings of the global economy. When we see how this system operates, we are less tempted to demonize the politicians and corporate CEOs who are in bondage to it. And for all the apparent might of the Industrial Growth Society, we can also see its fragility–how dependent it is on our obedience, and how doomed it is to devour itself.


In addition to learning how the present system works, we are also creating structural alternatives. In countless localities, like green shoots pushing up through the rubble, new social and economic arrangements are sprouting. Not waiting for our national or state politicos to catch up with us, we are banding together, taking action in our own communities. Flowing from our creativity and collaboration on behalf of life, these actions may look marginal, but they hold the seeds for the future.


Some of the initiatives in this dimension:

  • – Teach-ins and study groups on the Industrial Growth Society;
- Strategies and programs for nonviolent, citizen-based defense;
- Reduction of reliance on fossil and nuclear fuels and conversion to renewable energy sources;
- Collaborative living arrangements such as co-housing and eco-villages;
- Community gardens, consumer cooperatives, community-supported agriculture, watershed restoration, local currencies…
  1. Shift in Consciousness

These structural alternatives cannot take root and survive without deeply ingrained values to sustain them. They must mirror what we want and how we relate to Earth and each other. They require, in other words, a profound shift in our perception of reality–and that shift is happening now, both as cognitive revolution and spiritual awakening.


The insights and experiences that enable us to make this shift are accelerating, and they take many forms. They arise as grief for our world, giving the lie to old paradigm notions of rugged individualism, the essential separateness of the self. They arise as glad response to breakthroughs in scientific thought, as reductionism and materialism give way to evidence of a living universe. And they arise in the resurgence of wisdom traditions, reminding us again that our world is a sacred whole, worthy of adoration and service.


The many forms and ingredients of this dimension include:

  • – general living systems theory;
- deep ecology and the deep, long-range ecology movement;
- Creation Spirituality and Liberation Theology;
- Engaged Buddhism and similar currents in other traditions;
- the resurgence of shamanic traditions;
- ecofeminism;
- ecopsychology;
- the simple living movement.

The realizations we make in the third dimension of the Great Turning save us from succumbing to either panic or paralysis. They help us resist the temptation to stick our heads in the sand, or to turn on each other, for scapegoats on whom to vent our fear and rage.