Friday, September 26, 2008

THE ONLY THING WE HAVE TO FEAR IS FEAR ITSELF

The daily drumbeat of negative economic and geopolitical news over the last few months has taken its toll on the nation’s collective psyche. And now, we are told, our economy teeters on the brink of total collapse. Even the President has unceremoniously exclaimed, “This sucker is going down,” if Congress can’t agree on a federal mortgage bailout by the time markets open on Monday.

All of this is exceedingly troubling, but what is more troubling is our collective panic response. We have, I’m afraid, become a people who value security more than independence and who fear discomfort more than evil. At this moment in our history we would be wise to heed the words of FDR as he embarked upon his first presidency in the darkest hours of the Great Depression:

I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.


We may disagree from the distance of some seventy-five years on whether the policies set forth later in his address were right or wrong. However, we must all agree that FDR was correct that our only real enemy is fear, because it is profoundly true that fear paralyzes and converts advance into retreat. Fear causes difficulties to loom larger than they are and make us feel small and impotent when we are not. It causes us to make short-sighted and wrong decisions. Fear is the enemy, and opposite, of faith, in God and in our own ability to find solutions and prevail when we humbly call on him and trust him to help us. Fear causes us to shrink back when we should run to the battle lines.

If the signers of the Declaration of Independence had yielded to fear, we would not have our republic today. It sounds cliché, but it is important to remember at times like these. In the face of almost certain defeat, they traded fear for courage, knowing they were risking, as we’ve heard from childhood, “their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.” Perhaps we’ve heard this so often that we need to recapture just what that means. They understood that life—not just the money and material comfort that lay at risk for us today—was too small a price to pay for a free nation founded on the principles of self-government under God that they envisioned would become a beacon to lead the world from despotism to liberty.

This is our heritage of courage and their legacy to us. We have squandered that heritage. We have become fat and soft in the pursuit of comfort, materialism, and moral relativism and have forgotten what stern stock we spring from. But this would be a perfect time to remember who we are as Americans and set our hearts to reclaim the guts of our Forefathers, as FDR called Americans in his time to do.

Should our economy in fact collapse, it would be no more devastating than what the colonists and their leaders faced in 1776. We may well face this, and other hard times the likes of which have not been seen in our times. But if we will conquer fear and be calm and resolute in the face of each challenge, as FDR said, we will endure, revive, and prosper. Perhaps we need these trials to shake us out of our complacency and pettiness and remind us of what really matters in our personal and national life. May God help each of us and our leaders, and may God bless America.

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