Life is fragile. So again we are reminded about death and terror this week. As I react to the horror of what happened at the Boston Marathon, it seems my mind is flooded with thoughts: grief at the carnage, anger at the perpetrators and the easily broken sense of security. Mostly I was thinking about how we process these deaths and the society that we live within. My last thought came as I listened to an NPR interview with a psychologist. He remarked on acts of terror and how we as a people process them. At first, after tragedy, people come together as we did after the 9/11 attack. Then they think through their own safety and the probability that this won’t happen where they live. Then curiously, he stated that people become more divided as they withdraw into their belief systems and become more suspicious of those with whom they do not share their beliefs. He noted that as a nation after 9/11 we have become more polarized than ever. The political parties have become more volatile toward one another; we are more suspicious of those with whom we disagree. Tragedy and death are a threat to our self-preservation and our sense of security. We often look for scapegoats for the insecurity we feel in our society. There is so much blame, instead of working together for real solutions. We long for a secure world where threat of harm is minimized. But our suspicions can keep us from doing just that.
It is easier to harm a stranger. We are increasingly becoming strangers to one another. We claim to tolerate each other but we do not do so well to tolerate those who are different or those with whom we disagree. As suspicion and polarized relationships increase, so does the likelihood of harm. It seems our fear of threat, death and insecurity actually increases the resentment of those who are other than us. Isolated we are at greater risk than together. Our preference for autonomy works against community connections.
The solution is to create communities that develop a new culture. Church is a community where listening and talking can occur in face-to-face communication. It can be a place of dialogue for the common good. Working for the common good can make our communities more safe, secure and even good. Christian community that takes this seriously can be just such a place to begin.