The Witness of Religion in an Age of Fear

By: Michael Kinnamon

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Lately the fear in our American culture seems to be growing at an exponential rate, and people are often afraid of other individuals or events that may or may not pose an actual threat. It's like we're now living in an age of fear, where this anxiety has taken hold and won't let go. So what can we do about the fear rising around us? Each of the world's major religions has an answer to this question, so the author posits that for people of faith that answer should be an easy one. Drawing from various faith traditions, Michael Kinnamon shows how we can use faith as a tool to overcome fear, while offering practical solutions for faith communities to dispel fear within their own places of worship, as well as spreading this freedom from fear into the community at large.


The Witness of Religion in an Age of Fear is another one of our church book club picks, and one that is very timely in its subject matter. Fear in our society has been on the rise for quite a while now, and it only seems to have been exacerbated by the recent presidential election. While some fears are legitimate, others, when looked at critically, are not. Eg. A recent study found that nearly half of Americans are very or somewhat fearful that they or someone they love will become the victim of a terrorist attack, when in reality, this risk is fairly minuscule. One is exponentially more likely to drown in a bathtub, die in a car accident, or get struck by lightening, statistics that are detailed in the book. One thing that the book points out that I wasn't too surprised by is that studies have shown this high level of fear seems to primarily be a US phenomenon. While people in other countries have fears, too, they tend to exhibit less fear than Americans despite sometimes being at higher risk for certain situations. Another example is the recent Ebola outbreak, which had Americans freaking out, when it was the people in the affected countries or the surrounding areas who should have been the most fearful.

The author breaks his book into five chapters, the first of which takes a look at the rising culture of fear in America, which helps to put things in perspective. In many cases, it's politicians who are fear-mongering, making constituents afraid of what might happen if they don't elect a certain person to office. The media is also largely to blame, because, let's face it, reporting of bad news - a form of fear-mongering - draws viewers and/or readers, which means more money for the various news outlets. The instant availability of news via social media doesn't help matters either. So, what is to be done about this rise in fear? That's what this book tries to answer, at least with regards to people of faith. The author examines the role religion can play in easing fears and how the faith community can help spread this into the wider world. One chapter is devoted to Judeo-Christian teachings since these two religions are so closely intertwined. Then the next chapter explores other religions, primarily Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. The author endeavors to explain each religion's teachings on the subject of fear. I found it quite interesting that all of them have a similar focus on not fearing people or things that are happening in the world, but only to fear God (in the sense of awe or reverence). This served to show me that we actually share beliefs in common with our brothers and sisters of other faiths if we take the time to look for those things. The author then discusses the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a real-world example of the ways in which fear can take root and affect adversaries on both sides. Finally he wraps up with ten practical recommendations for ways faith communities "can model a world without fear by refusing to live in fearful isolation from one another."

This is a very short book with less than 100 pages of actual text. The remaining 25 or so pages cover a study guide for small groups and end notes. In spite of its brief length, this is a rather dense book that took me longer than average to read. This is because I had to focus my attention more fully as I was reading it. Some places seemed a bit more philosophical and harder to follow, which is why I knocked off the half star, but I fully acknowledge that this isn't necessarily a bad thing and that it might have just been me being overtired while reading those parts rather than a weakness of the book. Overall, this was a great read that can really challenge faith communities and people of faith to live out their religion's teachings on overcoming fear if they can open their hearts and minds enough to accept this challenge. I fully agreed with all of Rev. Kinnamon's suggestions for faith communities, and the idea that we, as people of faith, need to be leading the way in dispelling fear rather than encouraging it by marginalizing others for any reason. However, I can say that it's probably going to be an uphill battle to convince my fellow persons of faith who harbor a certain mindset to get on board with these recommendations. Despite that, it won't stop me from trying to make a difference in my little corner of the world and beyond when the opportunity arises, and I hope that other persons of faith will follow suit in promoting peace, understanding, and freedom from fear, so that we can live more emotionally healthy and productive lives.


Michael Kinnamon @ GoodReads