A culture of death is a culture of fear, because sin knows it invites judgment. Who does not feel that fear these days? It’s in our very air and water. We have become a people who seek to maintain our comfort via money, sex and power — and the devil’s bills are coming due.
We have become not merely a culture of death, but also the world’s leading exporter of smutty pop music, weapons, debt, zeal for same-sex “marriage,” condoms, pornography and abortion to a world that gobbles it up shouting, “Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!” as it becomes addicted to what Catholics used to call “worldliness.” Not surprisingly, then, we have, in imitation of the prince of this world, become an imperial power too: in fact, the imperial power. And with that comes, inevitably, fear. Why? Because imperial powers provoke jealousy among other fallen humans who themselves lust for power. And fallen humans do monstrously evil things in the lust of their pride — things like 9/11.
So here we are: nearly 10 years on and more afraid than ever. We are now so afraid that we willingly submit to having people put their hands down our children’s pants in airports. We are filled with fear of climate change. We fear an economic collapse and the unknown civilizational meltdown that might attend it. We fear the lack of luxury, so we put ourselves in debt we cannot repay. We fear debt, so we borrow from China to keep up appearances. We use the money we borrow to buy from the Chinese because we fear the Joneses having more stuff than we do. We send our manufacturing to China because we fear not having cheap stuff and thereby lose our jobs, so we fear the immigrants who come here and do the jobs we won’t do. We fear the mobs of shoppers on Black Friday, stabbing and trampling each other because we dread the answer to the question, “If men do these things when the tree is green, what will they do when it is dry?” We fear just how much of our freedom we will give away to some tyrant who promises us safety. We fear what judgment might be nearing the boiling point in our Empire of Fear that is built on the corpses of 53 million aborted babies. It feels like things are falling apart and we can do nothing to stop it.
An Empire of Fear reigned 2,000 years ago too. Its subjects had far fewer of the freedoms we take for granted. As Isaiah put it, darkness covered the earth and thick clouds covered the peoples. The one nation God had chosen was ruled by a baby killer named Herod who had slaughtered his own sons in fear for his crown. The religious elites were corrupt. The occupying Romans were an imperial power as contemptuous of them as an Internal Revenue Service bureaucrat is of us. Judeans lived in fear of capricious captors who could jail, enslave or crucify them on a whim. More than that, they lived with the haunting knowledge of the prophets that, in some way, they themselves were as much enslaved to sin as the Romans they hated. The world was haunted, as we are, with the thought, What if God won’t bother saving a people like us?
The good news of the Epiphany is that nothing can stop God from willing our salvation. The world was every bit as black with sin and fear when the Magi rode into Bethlehem as it is today. Yet he came, not because we deserved him, but because he is Love for the whole world. That star still shines in the darkness. Repent, rejoice and be not afraid.
Mark Shea is content manager of CatholicExchange.com
and a NCRegister.com blogger.