Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Editorial: Vice du jour

by Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor, Inland Register

(From the June 12, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

When it comes to the popularity of sin, you could make a good, strong argument that lust ruled the ’60s, ’70s, and even the beginning of the ’80s. They called it love – free love, even – but it was really lust. A nice long run, that.

Then we had a culture and even national leadership telling us that greed was good. Greed took over from lust as the vice du jour. Money, as the poet said, makes the world go ’round. Greed reared its ugly head and up it stayed, through the ’80s, well into the ’90s. Stock market bubbles. Corporate accounting scams. Paper profits – and not even particularly high-quality paper. If people are feeling greedy these days, likely it’s from a sense of wistfulness.

In the last couple of years we’ve seen yet another climate shift – a regime change, you should pardon the expression – in terms of the alpha dog of vice:

We’ve moved on to fear.

It’s not enough that we have enemies abroad; we must characterize them as monsters. It’s much easier to convince people to attack a monster than a human being. Everyone’s afraid of a monster.

Once we’ve won, we punish those who disagreed with us along the way to victory. Our own people who disagreed with us? They aren’t patriotic. Which means they’re traitors. Traitors are people to fear. Traitors sell out their country. Traitors give aid and comfort to the enemy, compromise our lives, our safety. We need to fear traitors – and we need to crush them, before they can crush us. Don’t associate with them. Certainly don’t do business with them.

Those who are not our people, who disagreed with us, they’re fair game, too. If they weren’t for us, they were against us. And we know how to treat those who were against us.

Fear, the vice du jour.

Why is fear a sin?

Wallowing in fear is a sin. Encouraging fear is a sin. Because we use fear as an excuse to perpetrate all manner of wrongs. Fear isn’t on the classic list of seven deadlies (lust, greed, pride, anger, gluttony, envy, sloth). But it’s a sin nevertheless. Provoking fear, encouraging fear, using fear as an excuse to pull off the gloves and treat others – anyone else – with less than the dignity, even the simple courtesy, they deserve. To engage in spite. To behave with malice. To separate. To punish.

Most of all, fear spits in the face of hope. Fear takes a perfectly good virtue – prudence – and bends it all out of shape, into a protective pretzel. It’s not, “Let’s be careful out there,” but rather, “Let’s do it to them before they do it to us,” as they used to say on Hill Street Blues.

Including neighbors. Including family. Including other nations, other races, other political parties, other religions. Including everyone. But remember: All those everyones, all made in the image and likeness of God.

Is ours an age of anxiety? Nearly any age has its reasons to be anxious. Nostalgia only works when you’re looking backward and already know how the story ends. (It’s one of the comforts of being a student of history.)

There have always been reasons to fear. But there have always been reasons to hope, as well.

And we are a people of hope. Of Easter hope. Sin doesn’t win. Death doesn’t win. Christ vanquished death and vanquished our sin. We don’t have to live in fear, ever again. In this era, or any other. Over and over again, the Gospels remind us: “Be not afraid.” A phrase often repeated by the evangelists. And with good reason.

Besides inciting us to do wrong, fear keeps us from doing good. Fear keeps us from building community. Fear keeps us from learning, from growing, from reaching out, from touching. There is so much good to be seen. There is so much good to be done.

Let’s step back from the darkness of fear. Step into the light given us by that tall, new Easter candle. The light of hope.

Virtue du jour.

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