If you type the words "fear Hugh Mackay" into Google you will get about 318,000 pages of results. Hugh Mackay is a social researcher and well-known commentator in Australia.
More than a decade ago, long before the Islamic fundamentalists unleashed terrorism into our lives on September 11, 2002, Mackay had been documenting that anxiety levels had been generally rising in society at large. Collectively, we seem to be becoming more fearful - we fear the pace of change and our ability keep up, we fear because there is less employment security, we fear because all around us marriage and other relationships are "breaking down" at a rate that is unprecedented and we wonder whether our turn is next.
Today we do live with the very real threat of global terrorism in our cities and unprecedented communal resources are poured into endeavouring to provide a sense of communal security against the actions of a tiny minority we share our planet with who have no conscience with blowing up innocent people in order to try and impose their ideologies or theologies on all of society.
The changing nature of the ways
What has been interesting about Hugh Mackay's research though is his observations of the changing nature of the ways in which we cope with fear in our lives. Back in the third and fourth decades of the twentieth century society was engulfed by the fear generated by first the Great Depression and this was followed by the Second Great World War. But the fear then was a "global fear". People felt they were all in the same boat. It created feelings of solidarity as people came together sharing their fear and seeking to overcome the causes that were generating fear. Today, Mackay observes, we tend to experience fear as a more individual thing. The whole of society isn't experiencing being thrown out of work but individuals and their families find their breadwinner retrenched and the anxiety this induces is a much more individual experience.
Mackay observes a curious phenomenon that in amongst the general rise in anxiety one of the ways young people in particular are coping with it is by confronting it in the face. The rise of what are called "extreme sports" seems, sociologically or psychologically, as some "coping mechanism" through which we say "well there might be fear out there but this is my personal response to it. I have no fear!" I have no doubt you have all seen that popular bumper and window sticker that many younger people display on their four wheel drives and hot cars "No Fear!"
I have myself been writing on this theme for some time now. As well as Hugh Mackay sparking my interest in the subject the other major source motivating me was the late Pope John Paul II's constant encouragement for us to "Be Not Afraid!". It was the theme song of his pontificate but rather than encourage us with an holistic response my own increasing disillusionment with John Paul is that he himself seemed encouraging of a new Catholic form of fundamentalism - the precise opposite of what we really need if we are to "Duc in altum - put out into the deep".
Linked HERE you will find an address I drafted and which my then local Archbishop, Barry Hickey, adapted and delivered at the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Dinner of the Newman Graduate Society of Western Australia on September 30 1999.
In researching this article todayI went trawling back through some of the discussions we have in the past on the CathNews discussion board on this subject. There were interesting comments by many contributors, including some of you who are now part of this new initiative. Of all the things I read though I think that address I wrote in collaboration with Archbishop Hickey best sums up my own perspectives on this issue of fear and the part Jesus Christ might play in our lives, both as individuals and a community, in overcoming our fear.
This present initiative is very much, a logical development of virtually all that has motivated me for the past decade and a half. All the major institutionalised religions of the world seem to be becoming more fundamentalist - trying to offer forms of false hope, false security in laws, structures, rubrics, social conformism, Orwellian sloganeering, rather than the "real, tangible hope" that is found in "the Mystery of the Divine" alone. What we are presently engaged in is a "heart-in-hand" endeavour where we are trusting in Providence alone for the substantial amount of funding we require to make this initiative really "sing" to that wider sector of society whom we hope to serve who have lost heart in the institutional Church and left — or who are that part of the remaining 15% who are still poised to follow the 85% who have already left.
An alternative to fundamentalist responses...
What we hope to offer is an alternative to fundamentalist responses. We are hoping to point towards the real hope and "peace of heart" that is offered by Jesus Christ alone — not these "false hopes and false gods" where laws and rubric are dressed up as 'little gods" and some substitute for "the real thing".
Over the weekend I'd like to lead off the discussion with further comments in our forum and by republishing some stuff that previously appeared back on the CathNews board back at the time before that forum was seemingly overtaken by the fear that seems to characterise a lot of its public face today.
We welcome your thoughts in response to this commentary in our forum.