On Sept. 23, Stephen Colbert appeared on Good Morning America. While discussing the March to Keep Fear Alive, Colbert was asked what we should be afraid of. His response: "Muslims, immigrants, gays and robots."
Robots aside, Colbert accurately represents the rhetoric currently perpetuated in our political and news media landscape. While politicians and pundits may not say it so bluntly, nor deliver it with such impressive comedic timing, the idea is the same. As Nov. 2 approaches, Americans are urged to succumb to deep-seated and dangerous fears.
With many Americans stressed and stretched by economic uncertainty, political leaders and media personalities are stoking our fears of outsiders, the perpetual "other," and whatever election-time boogiemen they can conceive. The use of fear to drive voters to the polls or away from the polls is nothing new. And in some ways, who can blame the politicians? What else are they going to talk about? The perceived failure of the bailout that the majority of both parties supported? How about all those specific programs that so many candidates plan on cutting? Politicians on both sides of the aisle really don't have too much to talk about right now, at least nothing as compelling as fear. And with so much at stake in this election, the culture of fear has gotten out of control. In fact, it has created a monster.
The Fear Monster's rants have been impossible to escape:
Immigrants bringing leprosy across the southern border!
Gay marriage threatens straight marriage!
Terror mosques being built at Ground Zero!
Some Americans respond to this fear-mongering by getting angry and engaging in the political process. Others have the opposite response, withdrawing from civic life and despairing of the future of our country.
The Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington, DC on Saturday is one response to the politics of fear. This mammoth beast, the Fear Monster, is growing and gaining followers at a frightening pace. Colbert caricatures it, while Jon Stewart lampoons it. Both are important and necessary. And hilarious.
However, the Rally will not be enough to combat this plague of fear-mongering. We all have to do our part. A creative new project from Jewish Funds for Justice is turning, for inspiration and guidance, to two other figures with something to say about fear: God and Yoda.
When the heroes of biblical times despaired, from Abraham to Moses to Hagar to the Israelites, God would speak to them. "Al Tirah! Fear Not!" God commanded. Good advice then, good advice now.
A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, Jedi Grand Master Yoda, known for his idiosyncratic object-subject-verb word order, shared this pearl of wisdom. "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."
We have all heard this wisdom before. After all, Al Tirah is the most frequently articulated commandment in the Hebrew Bible, a message God delivers 122 times. And Yoda is almost equally ubiquitous. But in the next seven days, their words bear repeating.
Today, to help deliver this message, we introduce a new monster to fight the all too common Fear Monster. Today we share with you, the Empathy Monster.
Since we are no longer operating in Biblical times, both the Fear Monster and Empathy Monster are on Facebook.
As in life, on Facebook, the Fear and Empathy Monster do not exactly see eye to eye. The Fear Monster continues to disseminate hateful and simple-minded imagery on it's Facebook page but the Empathy Monster is no slouch. Across various social media platforms you can spot the Fear Monster and Empathy Monster battling it out:
EmpathyMonster: Why is FearMonster so afraid of people who are different. Perhaps he was once mugged by a gay, Muslim, immigrant?
FearMonster: Let's just be safe and send Muslims, immigrants AND gays back to their country of origin.
The Fear and Empathy Monsters will be hitting the proverbial campaign trail in these final days leading up the elections, fueled by the voices of a rotating roster of comedic talent, from the actress/comedienne Charlyne Yi to the former Daily Show writer Rob Kutner.
The monsters premiere their short feature film on Oct. 27, so be sure to check back when Fear and Empathy come to life on the little screen. The video features Rabbi Sharon Brous, the spiritual leader of the Los Angeles-based community Ikar, and is built around an excerpt from her sermon, "A Spiritual State of the Union." In it she makes a powerful argument against the politics of fear and in support of what she calls "radical empathy." It is an important message we think should resonate with all voters, regardless of ideology or political party.
As this battle between the Fear and the Empathy Monster rages on, we need your help.
There is a lot of important work to do before Election Day to get people to the polls. All of us should do what we can to talk to our neighbors, inform people about the important issues at stake and encourage folks to get out and vote. But for those of you who aren't able to knock on doors or make phone calls, you must do something to help change the tone of our politics: Remind your friends and neighbors and classmates and co-workers that they must try to push past their despair and not succumb to fear and cynicism. Tell them, Al Tirah! Fear Not!
And then give them two buttons: one to wear, and one to pass on.
To learn more and get involved, visit the Al Tirah website.