By Tom Ehrich

As a blizzard works its way up the East Coast, TV meteorologists are in full hyperbolic flight. Politicians are orchestrating an odd panic, declaring states of emergency and preemptively warding off criticism by explaining how many pieces of equipment they have ready. Citizens are responding by cleaning out store shelves.

Thus, in our fearful times, does a normal winter event become a catastrophe. When leaders compete to instill fear among voters -- because fear motivates but doesn't ask probing questions -- everything becomes alarming.

Normal events like immigrants approaching our border or parents not quite getting it together or teenagers getting anxious or people losing jobs or some products failing or unbalanced people skirting the rules -- normal stuff becomes abnormal, ominous, dangerous. "The sky is falling!"

With so much riding on the abnormal and the alarming, this can't be just the first snowstorm of the season. It has to be epic. People desperate to control their world prepare to pounce on weather forecasters and government officials. When the epic proves merely irritating, let the pouncing commence.

In our fearful times, new ideas seem threatening. Going outside the box to mull and ponder draws harsh criticism from defenders of the box. A college professor who sought a fresh way to address Christian-Muslim relation gets pilloried.

Meanwhile, those who stoke fear mock anyone who responds with fact and reason. "There they go again, those out-of-touch intellectuals." Who needs perspective? Fear sells. The epic sells. They call it the "Chicken Little syndrome," after the folk tale of Henny Penny (a/k/a Chicken Little), and it leads to a despair and passivity that prevent the audience from acting.

Yet another reason why we need to remember that Jesus gave only one new commandment: "Do not be afraid." Fear loses touch with reality, fear produces despair and passivity. Now even winter becomes dread-filled. Better to move the shovel up to the house and be prepared to use it.

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