The Fear Economy

Erik Cooper —  September 24, 2014 — Leave a comment

There are plenty of genuinely scary things in this world. Radical militants committed to death and destruction. The fragility of the global economy. The spread of deadly diseases. The rise in violent crime. Planes flying into the sides of skyscrapers. Wars, and bombings, and sickness, and political infighting, and money, and corrupt leaders, and dating NFL running backs.

One quick glance at today’s news headlines and there’s enough fear to script a whole new franchise of horror films. And while we undeniably live in a broken world with broken people who do broken things, it also seems that savvy minds have learned a scary truth (pun intended):

Fear sells.

If I can awaken your fear gene, trip your fear wire, make you afraid something bad will happen, that you’ll lose something of value, fall behind the masses, miss out on a big opportunity, damage the growth and development of your children (pick a category, any category), I can control you. Fear makes you take action (or paralyzes you from taking action). So if I can scare you enough in just the right places, I can get you to do exactly what I want. That is scary.

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Here are just a few messages I’ve noted lately where someone was trying to play my fears for their own purposes:

Civilization as we know it will be in jeopardy if Republicans win the senate in November.”

For centuries, politicians have attached doomsday predictions to the possible election of their opponents, scaring potential voters into taking action in order to keep them in power.

“Did Jesus reveal Barack Obama as the antichrist?”

This ridiculous YouTube video is making its rounds in conservative christian circles. Fundamentalists of this stripe know they can raise up an army against of biblically illiterate followers by scaring them with “prophecy.”

“The world is moving to solar power! Don’t be the only one of your neighbors to miss out on this groundbreaking opportunity!”

This commercial plays ad-nauseum on satellite radio, stirring my subconscious fear of falling behind what everyone else is doing. What if I miss my chance!?!?

“Don’t put your money in the Wall Street casino! Earn guaranteed, safe returns that won’t be impacted by the next inevitable market crash. Just call this number…”

I’ve read about the Great Depression. I remember the 2008 financial crisis. That’s scary stuff! Maybe they’re right? Or maybe they’re just selling something.

“If you died tonight, where would you spend eternity?”

Some of you may disagree, but this method of “evangelism” has always bothered me. It may scare people into making a decision that looks good on church statistical forms, but I’ve seen very few life-long christians who were “terrified into the Kingdom.”

Listen, I’m not trying to paint a rosy picture of a perfect world where nothing bad ever happens. Disasters are real. Tragedy happens. Suffering is an undeniable part of the human journey. But as followers Christ, I pray we grasp the scripture my mom often quoted to an 8-year-old me when I was scared to go to bed at night:

“For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
–2 Timothy 1:7

A lot of people will be selling fear today. Do yourself a favor and don’t buy.

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