Be very afraid, or be really afraid! “Elevated” or “Imminent” are the two new levels of the new National Terror Advisory System being unveiled today by Janet Napolitano, the director of Homeland Security.
The old system featured five different levels that were supposed to communicate how likely we were to be attacked by a terrorist. Out of the five levels (severe, high, elevated, guarded, and low) it’s worth noting that since its implementation is 2003, we have never been at either of the two lowest levels. Combined with little to no specific information about any situation, this warning system only produced confusion and fear.
The new system is intended to improve the communication of information about specific situations to the general public through the means of social networking like Facebook and Twitter. In addition, they will only issue warnings in relation to specific events rather than maintaining a constant terror level.
But will the new “Terror Advisory System” actually address the core issues? While it is all done under the guise of safety, and implemented by an organization whose job is to make the homeland secure, one has to ask if Facebook messages about impending terrorist attacks really makes us safer or more secure.
Both of these advisory systems share the same fundamental problem: they tell us that we should be afraid of something, yet there is no real way for any of us to do anything about it. In the book “How the News Makes Us Dumb”, C. John Sommerville talks about the effect of having relatively short news stories on tragic and violent events. He makes the argument that in order to truly understand any given situation or event to the point where you feel empowered to actually do something about it, you have to spend exponentially more time learning about it that what the evening news provides. The news merely gives us enough information to know that we should be afraid of something, yet not enough information to truly understand it. In the same way, both of these terror alert systems leave us knowing that we should be afraid, yet still feeling helpless to do anything meaningful about it.
In a culture where fear is a skillfully wielded tool of manipulation, it is worth remembering I John 4:16, 18.
“God is love…There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love”
The Security Advisory Systems bring to light one of our deepest human desires, and the great failing of government. We desire to be safe and secure. It’s a basic human need. However, we’ve confused security with the desire to avoid all difficulty or tragedy. What’s more, we’ve turned to the U.S. government to provide this false sense of safety by any means necessary.
Ultimately, security is really only something that God can provide. What’s more, living with security and peace has less to do with the terror alert level and more to do with how we chose to live in this world. Living with God’s peace and security means resting in the knowledge that God’s kingdom will eventually win out. Living with God’s security is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection shows us that it’s not so much about preventing the tragedy as it is about knowing that God has the final say. As we turn toward Easter, let us remember where our security comes from and truly live without fear.
Update: Here’s the link for the version on the MWR website.