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Vail Daily column: Easter’s hope helps cope with fear

Jack Van Ens

When our fears hold the upper-hand, Easter makes us hopeful. That Jesus rose from the dead provides a practical benefit to ward off fear. It cultivates a resilient spirit when life proves threatening. Faith in Christ’s resurrection reminds Christians that God covers our back. He’s a guide who stays in our corner when dread settles.

After politics turns sour, we benefit from hope that springs from Easter faith. Before suspending his presidential campaign, Republican Marco Rubio criticized Donald Trump for spreading dread and increasing fear. Rubio compared Trump to “third-world strongmen.” He bore in on Trump, accusing him of spinning ideas that lacked “substance” and making money in “a career sticking it to working people.” He’s good at preying “upon people’s fears,” warned Rubio and turns political rallies into slugfests.

Contrast such fear-mongering with a welcoming attitude of the late Rev. Father Theodore M. Hesbergh, the University of Notre Dame’s president from 1952-1987. He led the university to shed its image as a defensive religious bastion. Hesbergh exuded confidence that Notre Dame would thrive when the school opened doors to new insights and cordially stood its ground in defense of Christian faith.



Note the difference in tone and outlook between how Hesbergh expressed his hope and Donald Trump digs political trenches.

Rev. Hesbergh’s Easter faith led him to believe that Notre Dame showed class by being an epicenter of hope where “all the vital intellectual currents of our time meet in dialogue; where the great issues of the Church and world are plumbed to their depths; where every sincere inquirer is welcomed and listened to and respected by a serious consideration of what he (or she) has to say about … belief or unbelief … certainty or uncertainty; where differences of culture and religion and conviction can co-exist with friendship, civility, hospitality, respect and love; a place where the endless conversation is harbored and not foreclosed.”



How would Donald Trump respond to a welcoming environment, a place where differing opinions aren’t maligned and denigrated? He’d dismiss this Easter faith as spineless and made for “losers.”

Acting on Rev. Herbergh’s conviction that hope carves a path to a dark horizon, some women on the first Easter headed to a graveyard. The dawn’s light hadn’t broken through yet. Still the women walked “ … toward the dawn of the first day of the week. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulcher” (Matthew 28:1).

Tension erupted between hope and fear in 1933 when Adolph Hitler thrilled desperate people whose previous Weimar government had failed them. Inflation rose like a rocket, eroding the purchasing power of the German mark. Postage stamps issued before Hitler usurped power featured the digits “1” or “2,” followed by a string of zeroes. It took thousands of marks to mail a letter.



Once in power, Hitler captivated Germans by promising to create a super empire, the Third Reich. He condemned as unpatriotic anyone who disagreed with him. On Feb. 1, 1933, two days after Hitler seized power, the Lutheran theology professor Dietrich Bonhoeffer condemned this political take-over on radio, until Nazis terminated after 10 minutes his message in mid-sentence. Bonhoeffer declared that Hitler sounded and acted like a fake Jesus — an Antichrist who charmed distraught Germans with a message of salvation that excluded Jews.

Bonhoeffer’s biographer Charles Marsh writes, “With … cunning, Hitler exploited the collective humiliation (caused by World War I defeat) and ‘the great and unacknowledged void’ in the German soul. ‘Hitler’s rhetoric was religious,’ Bonhoeffer said. ‘He dissolved politics in a religious aura, and all the theological terms which has been ‘previously secularized’ had now become ‘the great standards of his appeal.’ Hitler promised deliverance and redemption, rebirth and salvation, and in so doing denounced the Reich’s enemies (such as Bonhoeffer) as godless and satanic.”

Today, similar barbed political rhetoric ruins hope. Such talk, however, appeals to constituents who feel Washington’s bureaucrats have bailed on them. They berate Beltway Republicans who couldn’t repeal the health care package. Neither did they roll back the nuclear deal with Iran. And, traditional marriage is merely an option among other arrangements. Disillusioned with Washington’s crony capitalists, Trump’s supporters feel their country has been stolen from them.

Phony religion fills a void caused by fear. Donald Trump gets Jerry Falwell Jr.’s endorsement. Falwell heads the evangelical educational empire at Liberty University. Evangelical Ben Carson sides with Trump, too. Both leaders like Trump’s bullying “macho Jesus.”

James M. Lang, in the Boston Globe, reveals how fear cancels Easter faith among people down-on-their luck — in Germany during the 1930s and today in the U.S. “Long before he envisioned the charismatic figure of Big Brother,” Lang said, “(George) Orwell argued that most people are not casting their votes for executives based on their political positions. The most successful leaders, he (Orwell) suggested, know how to manipulate the emotions of their followers: ‘The energy that actually shapes the world,’ Orwell wrote, ‘springs from emotions — racial pride, leader-worship, religious belief, love of war’” — all anti-democratic traits that lack balance.

Act on Easter’s hope. Help create a welcoming nation. Use respectful language with people of differing opinions. Practice civility. Replace fear with faith that the risen Jesus delights in all things good, especially when hope dispels fear.

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit Creative Growth Ministries.


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