Sequester: Be Very Afraid?

James Tonkowich | Columnist | Friday, March 1, 2013

Sequester: Be Very Afraid?

Warning! Alert! Gloom, despair, and agony on all of us! The end of life as we know it! Oh, dearie, dearie me. The sequester will eat us all!!!!!

Not really, but that’s what they’d like you to think. At this point even the Washington Post’s front page confidently proclaims, "Sequester spin gets ahead of reality."

In the article that follows that headline, reporters Karen Tumulty and Lyndsey Layton cite, “The claim by Education Secretary Arne Duncan that there are ‘literally teachers now who are getting pink slips.’”

How many and where he was asked. When pressed he remembered that there was one school somewhere in West Virginia that was laying off teachers, but, the article reported him saying, “Whether it’s all sequester-related I don’t know.”

The reporters checked with the school district. How many teachers are being pink-slipped because of the sequester? Oh, well, so far… up to the present moment, I’ve spotted nearly, ooh, nearly one. Nearly one? Er, rather closer to none.

Yet another example in which “literally” means the precise opposite of literally.

To put the sequester into perspective, something our politicians seem unable to do, but common-sense people have already done, $85 billion in automatic spending cuts is a mere 2.3 percent of the federal government’s $3.6 trillion budget. That’s like having a household budget of $30,000 and finding you had to make do with $29,301. You wouldn’t be happy about it, but the impact would be minimal.

By contrast, columnist George Will quoted President Obama’s rantings, “The sequester’s ‘meat-cleaver approach’ of ‘severe,’ ‘arbitrary’ and ‘brutal’ cuts will ‘eviscerate’ education, energy and medical research spending. ‘And already, the threat of these cuts has forced the Navy to delay an aircraft carrier that was supposed to deploy to the Persian Gulf.’”

Will’s column, appropriately titled “Apocalypse Fatigue,” ends with this: “Today… sensible Americans, tuckered out with apocalypse fatigue, are yawning through the catastrophe du jour, the sequester.”

That being said, fear is a powerful political motivator and the fertilizer that encourages the growth of government in size and scope. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, out of fear of additional attacks, President Bush formed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Since then, DHS has leapt from zero employees to somewhere in access of 200,000. The DHS budget went from zero to nearly $100 billion in 2011 and is the third largest cabinet department behind Defense and Veterans Affairs. Quite an accomplishment in 11 short years.

How did they do it? They tapped into our fear of violent attack, promising safety in return for money and control over our lives.

Some fear, of course, is healthy and it’s as normal as can be. Hilary, the fourth century bishop of Poitiers in central France, wrote: “We are afraid, or made afraid, because of a guilty conscience, the rights of someone more powerful, an attack from one who is stronger, sickness, encountering a wild beast, suffering evil in any form. This kind of fear is not taught: it happens because we are weak. We do not have to learn what we should fear: objects of fear bring their own terror with them.”

In the face of our fears, however, Jesus tells us to develop a sense of perspective. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” he said. “Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). To paraphrase: don’t be afraid of the latest manufactured apocalypse; be afraid of the real Apocalypse, the Second Coming of Christ as King and Judge.

Natural as it is, in light of the coming of Christ, most of our human fear is trivial. And our human fear gets swallowed up when we learn to fear God. When God and his power are big in our eyes, all other powers are dwarfed.

And rather than being a scary fear, as Hilary of Poitiers wrote, “For us the fear of God consists wholly in love, and perfect love of God brings our fear of him to its perfection. Our love for God is entrusted with its own responsibility: to observe his counsels, to obey his laws, to trust his promises.”

As the sequester plays itself out, expect more and more fear-mongering — and purposely annoying disruptions any time you encounter the federal government. At the same time, learn to fear God, remembering that all the kingdoms of this world end — often very badly. But God’s Kingdom, the Kingdom of love and light, lasts forever. 

Publication date: March 1, 2013