The Cult of Safety
Podcast: Axe to the Root
Topics: Political Studies
You have heard it said that the Biblical role of the civil government is to provide safety. But is this true?
– Life Without Lawyers: Liberating Americans from Too Much Law, Philip Howard
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Welcome to Episode 80 of Axe to the Root Podcast, part of the War Room Productions, I am Bo Marinov, and for the next 30 minutes we will examine a modern cult, so prevalent in our society that even professed Christians fall for it and worship at its altar. It is a cult that follows straight from the idolatry which I described in a previous episode of Axe to the Root, titled “Fear as a Motivator.” Fear is the religion of many Americans today, and of many church-goers; and it is a religion actively promoted by the government and from the pulpits. And this religion of fear leads to the cult I will describe below. And since I said in that aforementioned episode that we as Christians should reject the religion of fear, the conclusion is that we should reject the cult that follows from it as well. But I shouldn’t get ahead of my own topic.
I was listening recently to a song by a punk rock group from Bosnia (a country on the Balkans), Dubioza Kolektiv. The title of the song is “The Anthem of Our Generation.” Now, since this is a punk rock group, you might not want to know the whole lyrics of the song (not everything in it is repeatable in a good company), but in general, the lyrics is an amazingly insightful characterization of the psychology of our generation today, and specifically of our inclination to worry about a number of irrelevant things. The conclusion of the song, expressed in the chorus, is this: “This is the anthem of our generation: We worry for a living.” Or, perhaps a better translation, “We live by worrying.” Either way, the meaning is clear: Our time is about the most secure time in history, a time of prosperity the world has never seen before, of the lowest crime rate and rapidly growing longevity, and a time when technology has made the life of billions of people so easy and comfortable that we can hardly find a single person in the West – and increasingly, in the whole world – who knows what it is to not have food, clothes, or shelter. And yet, we worry about everything: or, rather, we worry about things that to previous generations would seem ridiculously irrelevant: we worry about what kind of clothes we should wear in what situations, we worry about glaciers and the non-existent global warming, we worry about boogeymen like immigration and terrorism (when the chance of being killed by a terrorist is something like one in several million), etc. etc., etc. And because we worry so much about all these things, politicians and media have grasped that the best way to control us is to reiterate and exaggerate those petty worries we have to the level of gigantic threats, and then come and save us from them. And this, indeed, is the very tactics of modern politics: scare people into submission. To quote H.L. Mencken, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” But, of course, do not be quick to condemn the politicians for using fear to manipulate us. Remember that they only respond to what we have always adopted as our mode of operation; or, as Dubioza Kolektiv said it, as our mode of living. Namely, worry. When we as individuals are given over to constant worry, then don’t expect politicians to use anything else to control us but magnify those worries into full-scale fear campaigns.
So, what do politicians offer to solve our problems, then?
Obviously, for you to put them in power and keep them in power and close your eyes for their immorality and corruption and taxes and violations of your liberties, they need to promise you something to soothe your worries. What is that something? Safety from the hobgoblins that keep you worried at night. Once you are offered that safety, you would be willing to close your eyes for everything else, right? Thus, the cult of safety has become the largest and most cherished cult in our day; a cult that is deliberately supported by government action and by the media narratives. What is it that you want the most? Obviously, safety. What do you want the government to provide for you? Obviously, safety. What would you be willing to sacrifice for, including sacrifice your liberty? Obviously, safety. Safety is the main consideration, above all, especially safety from those imaginary hobgoblins that torment our hearts every day. Safety has become our obsession today . . . and no, don’t blame the millennials and their “safe spaces.” Everyone, including the older generation and specifically modern conservatives worship at the altar of safety. And we will see how.
But let’s first go to the Bible and let’s see where in the Bible we see the cult of safety.
Amazingly enough, the search leads us to the very beginning of the Bible, to the story of Cain and Able. Cain got jealous and killed his brother. When God confronted him for it, he remained unrepentant, so God had to declare a curse on him: “Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth” (Gen. 4:11, 12). Cain’s reply? He complained that his punishment was too great to bear. And he ended his reply with the following complaint: “. . . and whoever finds me will kill me.”
Pay attention to what actually happened. The man had just murdered his own brother. He was just confronted by God Himself about it. Did God execute him right away as He should have done under His Law and promise? No, He gave him more life, even if that life was cursed. Cain’s eternal judgment was at stake. God just gave him more time to consider his sin and repent. And instead of showing gratitude and taking advantage of the opportunity, Cain complains that in that life on grace he is given, he doesn’t feel safe. (“Dude, seriously?”, as modern kids would say.) Justice and righteousness mean nothing to him. The man can’t see beyond his ego. Even in his disobedience to God, and even in being unrepentant for the most heinous sin a man can commit, he cares about his own comfort of feeling safe from the people around him.
Here we see the first instance in the Bible of the cult of safety. It is such a clear example of the cult that we can derive the definition of that cult from it: the cult of safety is a commitment to being free of any real or imaginary danger, over and against a commitment to righteousness and justice. Let me repeat that last part, so that you don’t miss it: over and against a commitment to righteousness and justice. This is important to remember when we discuss the cult of safety of modern America. The cult of safety is not simply seeking safety through doing the right thing. It is a very specific and deliberate religious commitment to rejecting righteousness and justice in favor of man-made safety and security. That’s what Cain did. He had committed one of the worst possible crimes and sins ever; his eternal state was to be one of the worst ever. And yet, he didn’t care about righteousness and justice. He cared about feeling safe from other humans.
God is full of grace, even to unrepentant sinners. (Although, His grace to them is rather heaping coals upon their heads.) So God granted Cain the safety he wanted. He put a sign on him (the same word as for a “sign of the covenant”) and warned the world that whoever kills him, will be avenged sevenfold. So Cain had the safety from other humans he wanted. He didn’t of course, have true safety, for his covenantal standing before God was still quite unfavorable. That “sign of the covenant” upon him was not forgiveness; he was only marked by God as his property, as in, “Leave him to Me, I want to have the personal pleasure of repaying him when the time comes.”
So what did Cain do when he received such grace from God? You would think that out of simple gratitude, he would kneel before God with a contrite heart and offer his repentance for murdering his own brother. And then try to live life as close to God’s Law as humanly possible. No. He leaves the presence of God, he goes to another land, and the first thing he does is build a walled city. No repentance, no regard for justice, no regard for his covenantal standing before God or for his eternal state – and also, no faith in the promises of God. The man was promised immunity against vengeance, while in this life. He doesn’t trust it. He must make sure he builds his own protection against his perceived threats: his own walled city.
That, my friends, is the best description of the life of a covenant-breaker. He rebels against God and commits a sin against God. Then he is confronted about it but remains unrepentant. Then he complains about the just judgment he receives. His first thought is not, “I am justly condemned.” His first thought is, “How do I get a safe space from the demons that haunt me?” God gives him temporary grace. The covenant-breaker, however, doesn’t trust it, leaves the presence of God and builds his own safe space, surrounded by walls, gates, and other immigration restrictions. Safety in his own devices, safety over justice and righteousness, safety at the expense of his covenantal standing before God. That’s the Safety Cult of the enemies of God.
The same chapter in Genesis – chapter 4 – gives us also the solution of the covenant keepers. Now, granted, Adam and Eve did break God’s Covenant, but apparently, in their judgment, there was also repentance and redemption, for they never complained about their judgment as Cain did. And more than that, they acknowledged that whatever was given to them was from God. In verse 25, Eve said, “God has appointed me another offspring in place of Abel, for Cain killed him.” Did you get that? Cain was not their offspring anymore; he was a covenant breaker. But he was still on the earth, except that he started his own line, and it was now separate from Adam and Eve who did not acknowledge him as their offspring. Cain felt threatened by Adam and Eve and their offspring; but in reality, he was the dangerous one, the murderer. Adam and Eve should have felt threatened by him. They should have taken their own measures to assure safety.
Did they? Yes. But, in contrast to Cain who demanded a special sign of protection and then went out and build his own city outside the presence of the Lord, the story of Adam and Eve in the chapter ends with, “Then they began to call upon the name of the Lord.” Our translations say, “Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord,” but the word “men” is not in the original Hebrew text. This sentence is not about all men everywhere, including Cain’s family. This sentence applies to Adam and Eve in the context of the previous passage, and it is a clear counterpoint to Cain’s measures to assure his own safety. Covenant-breakers build walled cities. Covenant-keepers call upon the name of the Lord.
This antithesis is quite important in the Bible, given that we see it being developed further and further. The cult of safety did not stop with Cain. It evolved to much worse and more monstrous applications. Just a few verses after Cain’s walled city is mentioned, one of his descendants, Lamech, brags to his two wives about killing a boy for striking him. And then Lamech issues a warning to the world, “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” Of course, the sentiment here is much more complex, and it’s a desire for power, but notice that at the bottom of it, there is a reaction against possible danger that Lamech expects from other people. Safety, which for Cain was simply a complaint, has evolved to a paranoid obsession with Lamech, and he is now willing to commit murder in the name of his own safety.
None of this, of course, created any real safety for Cain, Lamech, or their posterity. They all died in the Flood, and Cain’s city, named after his son, is no more. Only a remnant survived of the posterity of those who called upon the name of the Lord, and the safety of that remnant was not in what they built but the grace of God. But their own posterity didn’t learn the lesson; they continued leaving the presence of the Lord and building their own means of safety. In chapter 10 of Genesis, Nimrod became a mighty one on the earth, and guess what he did: that’s right, he started building walled cities. Why would a mighty one in a world of non-mighty people need walled cities? That’s right, because he is afraid, and he wants a safe space from all these other people. Once you abandon God, no matter how mighty you are, you are constantly in fear of other people; that’s why Deuteronomy 28:65-67 makes it clear that one of the curses for those who have apostatized from God is constant dread and trembling of heart. And more power doesn’t solve that problem; even the mightiest ones, when they have abandoned God, are paralyzed by fear day and night, and they continue building walled cities in order to cast the fear away. But, as with Cain, man-made safety never works.
Israel didn’t learn the lesson either. From the very beginning, God made it clear that the only true safety they could find was not in walled cities or mighty armies, but in their faithfulness to God. Abram was told to leave the safety of his home city and travel through different countries and live in tents, without any man-made protection, and yet, God preserved him. The same applied to his son and grandson. When Israel moved to Egypt, under Jacob, they were protected under the mighty empire of Egypt, but only for a short time. Eventually the safety the government on the Potomac . . . I mean, on the Nile, provided, turned into slavery – like all safety provided by any government. To give them real safety, God took them out of that man-provided safety/slavery and threw them in the wilderness, in the open, where all kinds of dangers lurked, and where roving bands of Amalekites, the most savage tribesmen of the time, could attack them at any time (Num. 13:29; 14:45). And yet, they were much safer in the wilderness under God than they were in Egypt under Pharaoh. And they were only in danger when they abandoned God, not when they didn’t build fortifications or didn’t have a mighty army.
And yet, once in the Promised Land, they abandoned God again. And the history of Israel from Joshua to Solomon is an example how the nation was sliding further and further away from God, and while sliding away from God, it was given over to worry about its safety and to building up armies. The Law of God forbade the king from amassing horses and chariots, that is, weapons of war; it also forbade the king from taking many wives, which at the time meant many foreign alliances. The safety and security of the Hebrew nation was to be in the hands of God, not in the hands of the king. The king was charged with justice, not with safety and security; he was supposed to judge the nation, and that’s why when Solomon prayed to God, God was pleased, because Solomon “did not ask for the lives of his enemies” but prayed for discernment to judge. Apparently, in God’s eyes, the civil government’s role is not to provide safety but to provide justice. Safety is God’s prerogative.
God even gave them an example with Himself and His own sanctuary. For many years, while Israel was still in the midst of her enemies, God still “dwelt in a tent,” to use His own expression in 2 Samuel 7:6. That tent was in Shiloh, and since Shiloh was not a big city, the Tabernacle was certainly outside the walls, in the open. God didn’t feel unsafe for His Ark of the Covenant, even in the presence of His enemies. And neither should His covenant people, if they remained faithful.
But Israel did not remain faithful. Even in the time of the Judges, some judges started amassing donkeys and then horses. By the time of Solomon, Israel had become a truly apostate state in its view of safety and security. Solomon may have been sincere in his desire to acquire discernment how to judge, but his heart was not perfectly pure before God, for as soon as he established himself in power, he started acquiring wives and started building a professional army. As if half of his heart was after God, and the other half was the heart of an apostate who was trying to steer away from God and God’s Law, and build his own kingdom. Just like Nimrod and the other pagan kings, Solomon undertook to build an empire, and in the process of building, he focused on securing that empire with man-made safety policies.
It is noteworthy that throughout the history of Israel, God never told them to build new walls. To the contrary, when Jericho was taken and destroyed, God warned against re-building it – even though Jericho was a fortress situated in a very strategic place, and its rebuilding would have protected Israel militarily, if God cared about it. In Joshua 6:26, Joshua pronounced a terrible curse upon anyone who took up to rebuild Jericho: that he would lay the foundations with the death of his firstborn, and he would set up the gates with the life of his youngest. It was double the curse on the Egyptians who only lost their firstborns. And yet, despite that curse, in the time of Ahab, Hiel of Bethel rebuilt the city (1 Kings 16:34). And, of course, he lost his firstborn and his youngest. Apparently, when Israel was at her lowest moral state, the cult of safety trumped love for one’s family members.
There was only one exception to building walls, and that was the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem under Nehemiah. However, what is notable is that there was no direct command from God about it, even though God was favorable to Nehemiah’s undertaking to rebuild the wall (Neh. 2:18). Of course, that rebuilding of the wall of the earthly Jerusalem is used by the modern worshipers of the cult of safety, but there was something very interesting happening while the wall was being rebuilt: God was promising something else. God told the prophet Zechariah, in Zechariah 2:4, that “Jerusalem will be inhabited without walls.” Zechariah the Prophet is very important for us in this story, given that he was the main prophet during the Ezra-Nehemiah period, when the Temple and the wall were built. He was prophesying of the coming Christ and the Church. In his own time, Christ was symbolized by the High Priest Joshua (the same name as Jesus): in the third chapter of his prophecy, Zechariah sees the High Priest Joshua (Jesus), lifted before God in filthy garments, and Satan trying to accuse him. God rebukes Satan, and then clothes Joshua (Jesus) in festal robes, and declares to Joshua that he would rule over God’s House, a clear reference to Hebrews 3:6 where Christ is appointed over God’s House. And if the symbol is not clear to some, God specifically declares in Zechariah 3:8 that the High Priest Joshua is a symbol of the coming Branch, who is, obviously, Jesus. So, if in chapter 3 God was saying that Zechariah’s prophecy was about Jesus and the future Temple of Jesus’s redemtion work, then in chapter 2 Jerusalem is the New Testament Church. And it is about the New Testament Church that God said, “Jerusalem will be inhabited without walls, because I will be a wall of fire around her, and will be a glory in her midst.”
Everything you are doing here is temporary, God was telling the generation of Ezra and Nehemiah. Your weakness is temporary. Your need for protective walls is temporary. Even your need for a Temple is temporary; very soon, this Temple won’t matter and the whole religious system based on it won’t matter anymore. Everything you are building here is good but it is only the last leg of the journey. You will soon be home, and this all will be demolished. Through Zechariah, God was telling Ezra, Nehemiah, and the High Priest Joshua that they were building the last stage of the Hebrew civilization. They were just a holdout, a last stronghold of a world that was passing away, and in order for them to not lose heart, God was giving them their purpose in His plan: to serve as the last symbol and herald of the coming glorious world in Christ.
Which also means that their building of the wall of Jerusalem was to be only a temporary symbol. And just like Joshua the High Priest was to be only a symbol of the coming Great High Priest, Jesus, so also the wall around Jerusalem they were building was to be only a symbol of God’s wall of protection around God’s people in the new world. In the new world, there would be no more earthly high priests, no more earthly temples, and no more earthly, man-made walls. God would be all in all.
There was another manifestation of the cult of safety in the ancient world that we are seldom aware of: namely, occultism. Most of us are conditioned to assume that pagan religions are basically the same as the Christian faith, it’s just the gods they believe in are different. But such is not the case. The nature of those religions is completely different, and the motivation of their adherents is competely different. The Christian religion is a religion, first and foremost, of gratitude to God; His worshipers approach Him not as someone Who needs their service or supplications but as someone who they need to be complete as human beings, and especially as spiritual beings. They can’t even define themselves without Him, so their worship is an act of complete surrender in gratitude and joy. In comparison, in the pagan worldview, human beings can be completely independent and complete apart from their gods; but realistically, they are forced to live in a world of unpredictable and mischievous spiritual beings and forces who need to be placated, enlisted as allies, or spiritually controlled, so that they don’t do harm to humans. (Or perhaps do harm to the right humans.) In such a setting, the life of man becomes a constant struggle for safety against those spiritual beings and forces; a struggle he is supposed to wage every day and every minute of the day using special knowledge of rituals and incantations that give him special powers over the spiritual realm. The average ancient Egyptian lived his life navigating through innumerable such dangers using spells and incantations. He had a spell for waking early in the morning and another one for going to bed. He had to avoid stepping on the threshold of another person’s house; or crossing paths with a cat. He had an incantation for starting a journey (to bind the evil spirits on the road) and another one for coming back home (to prevent evil spirits that may have been following him from entering his house). Things were not different in Greece and Rome. In his study, The Ancient City (which I have mentioned many times in this podcast, and it is time for you to find it and read it), Fustel des Coulanges shows that the veneration of the ancestors that marked the classical pagan religions was motivated by fear. The spirits of the ancestors were believed to live in the boundaries of their property, and they were believed to be rather malicious and vindictive towards their posterity; thus, all the family rituals were meant as a safety mechanism to either placate them or neutralize them. The same applied to all the superstitions that were supposed to keep the mischievous house spirits, the Roman Manes, Pares, and Lares, at bay. In fact, every pagan culture believed in such house spirits, and every single culture had its own safety rules and rituals to prevent mischief from them: from avoiding certain actions (like whistling in the house) to full-fledged religious annual rituals to cast those spirits out (like the Kukeri, Kalogeros, or Capra annual festivals in the Balkans and in Italy). Amazingly, many of these occult superstitions have remained to this very day even in cultures that have been otherwise deeply affected by Christianity.
The story of the cult of safety in the antiquity is very long, but we will have to cut it short for our purposes, and move on with our topic. What is important to remember is that for paganism, the world is fraught with danger, and therefore all religious and liturgical activity is meant to be a safety mechanism against those dangers. The cult of safety in the ancient world was both religious and political; it viewed as possible danger both the stranger and the spiritual beings believed to inhabit the world. In fact, many ancient languages had similar words for “foreigner” and “evil spirit”; for example, in Cantonese, gwailou, literally meaning “ghost man,” used to the be the common term for “foreigner.”
In the context of all this, the Cross dealt a severe blow to the cult of safety. The Roman Empire was able to conquer the known world using the cult of safety and manipulating the conquered peoples: on one hand, it offered a political and religious salvation from the perceived dangers of the world, and on the other hand, it threatened death for disobedience. (“It’s for your safety,” the mantra of modern American cops.) But the new religion that came out of Palestine produced a new breed of people: men and women, and even children, who didn’t care about their own safety. They wouldn’t be moved even if they were threatened with torture and death. The doctrine of resurrection from the dead was known to produce such results, and that’s why it was especially distasteful to the Greeks, because it created people who wouldn’t obey the rulers. Rome was able to hound gigantic mobs on the Christians by appealing to the “safety of the state and the people” (a constant refrain in all edicts against Christianity), but it was never able to scare Christians into submission by appealing to their own safety. A culture where every move of every individual and of every institution was to secure them against real or imaginary dangers, suddenly met a culture where both individuals and groups despised safety for a greater purpose. The new culture, thus, was devastating to the old one; it destroyed the very foundation upon which the old culture based its social order. From being despised, Christians grew to be respected for their courage in the face of danger. A number of early church fathers mention the fact that in many places, persecutions died out not because pagans ran out of Christians to persecute, but because they developed respect for and even superstitious fear of those seemingly feeble men and women and chidlren who wouldn’t do anything to gain more safety. In fact, the church even went into offensive from the very beginning. A few years ago I pointed out in an article that by the standards of the time, Paul’s discussion on the role of civil government in Roman 13 was not, as many today imagine, a concession to the authority of the Roman state. To the contrary, it was an ideological attack on every single tenet of the Roman political theory. And it didn’t stop with Paul; Christian apologists continued assaulting both the political theory of Rome and the pagan religious doctrine that supported it. Tertullian, the most charismatic (in all meanings of the word) of the early church writers, literally mocked the pagans for their religion and superstitions, all in the middle of ongoing persecutions. The small band of Christians was on the offense exactly because they didn’t care about safety, and the mighty empire and its pagan religions was on the defense exactly because it was paralyzed by the cult of safety. In the final account, Christians won. Why? Because, “they didn’t love their lives unto death.” There is no other way to victory.
The subsequent history of the church proved that truth abundantly. Whenever the chuch entrusted its safety to Christ, it was prospering and growing. The greatest mission revivals followed periods when the church cast aside all worries about its own survival, and produced men who had no fear of the unknown, and no desire to stay safe. The mission explosion in the 5th through the 9th centuries saw missionaries who willingly crossed borders previously considered dangerous (unsafe) to cross. The Crusades were a period when even talking about personal or collective safety was considered dishonorable; women filed for divorce if their husbands showed even the slightest sign of cowardice. Such was the practice later among the Puritans as well; a wife had the legal right to divorce her husband for two reasons: if he couldn’t produce offspring, and if he showed cowardice. The disasters of the 14th century, of which we talked in previous episodes, so desensitized Christendom that for the next three or four centuries, death was not considered a big deal. That freed European hearts and minds to leave the geographical confines of Christendom and traverse the world as missionaries, explorers, merchants. Samuel Johnson, one of the greatest man of letters England has ever produced, quipped in the 1760s, “Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, or not having been at sea.” The statement deserves criticism from a Biblical perspective, but the reality is, that was the mentality of most Europeans at the time; living dangerously, without regard for safety, was considered honorable even by the “lower”classes in the society. And Christendom expanded.
But in the 19th century, with the resurgence of paganism in European thinking, Europe started experiencing a reversal back to the cult of safety. It started, of course, with the return of occultism. The ideology of the ruling classes in Europe had been shifting from Christianity towards rationalist deism before the 19th century, and rationalist deism was at the foundation of both the left-wing and the right-wing Enlightenment (think France and Scotland, but also Prussia, Italy and the Americas). The French Revolution was the political culmination of that rationalist thinking. Once it was over, the European elite turned to other anti-Christian philosophies. Some turned to crass materialism, like Feuerbach, or rationalist idealism, like Hegel. But the majority of the aristocracy turned to pagan occultism and mysiticism. A lot of it came from India, China, and Japan, with the government officials who served the colonial powers in those areas. In Germany and Scandinavia, and partly in England as well, much of it came from the Romanticist movement which exalted the “ancient ways and traditions.” It laid the foundation for the later racist and nationalist movements in Europe, and was the direct ideological reason for the two world wars. But the real motivation – individual motivation – for it was the loss of pesonal sense of safety. Christianity was not accepted as a valid worldview anymore; so the sense of personal insecurity in a world that was unknown and unknowable was growing, and people resorted to the old remedies: trying to control the unknown world through occult means. “Magical protection” or “spiritual protection” became popular words in Europe, and the buzzword for a number of successful marketing campaign. Europe abandoned Christianity, resorted to paganism, and with it, resorted back to the cult to safety.
More than that, some new forms of the cult to safety appeared, this time in the church: the demonization of foods and beverages. Now, asceticism has always been a thing in the church, and there have always been excesses. But in general, most ascetics viewed fancy food and drinks as a distraction from spiritual focus, not so much as demons to fight. In Egypt, monks refrained from meat, but did not consider meat sinful per se. In Europe. Monasteries actually preserved agriculture during the dark ages of the 5th through the 9th centuries; and as a result, the fanciest foods and beverages could be found in the monasteries. But in the 19th century, a number of Protestant denominations and quasi-Protestant sects deviated into some serious paranoia about foods and drinks. It was not your regular fasting-type restriction, or recommended temperance. It was a wholesale demonization of certain foods and beverages as “detrimental” to one’s spiritual health. It was in the 19th century that Baptists started the transformation from the cigar-smoking, wine-drinking Charles Spurgeon and the bourbon-maker Elijah Craig to the modern teetotaling Baptists. Over the course of one generation, alcohol was gradually seen more and more as a substance to be avoided at all cost, because it was dangerous. Similar obsessions with foods and beverages took over the Seventh-Day Adventists, the Jehova’s Witnesses, and number of other sects. Obsession with the dangers of alcohol and tobacco was strongest, however, among the liberal elites in the large cities on the US East Coast, especially among the Universalist and Unitarian churches. It was those churches that led the crusade that ultimately ended in the Prohibition. In England, at the time, a similar crusade was rising against opium and other narcotics. Even though the addiction rate was negligible (compared to alcohol addiction levels of a century prior), different groups made gigantic efforts to make it as if all of England was going down the drain because of the Chinese opium dens in London. By the middle of the century, the Prohibition in the United States was over, but the spirit of the cult of safety simply transfered over to the new hobgoblin: the narcotics. In the 1960s, the US government started its most expensive and least sucessful war ever, the War on Drugs, which continues to this very day.
The cult of safety took positions in the government policy of the times as well. It is commonly accepted today that the historical source of the modern welfare state is Marxist socialism. But that is not true. The origins of the welfare state are actually quite conservative and anti-socialist. In France, it was Emperor Napoleon III and his pamphlet, On the Extinction of Poverty, that laid the foundation for the welfare state in France. In Germany, the Prussian state developed a government “safety net” for its citizens, from government-provided education to government-provided jobs, to government provided pension system and health-care system. The Scandinavian countries adopted the same policy as early as the 1890s. Austria-Hungary adopted pension systems and healthcare systems for a significant part of its urban population in the 1870s. Even England, traditionally resistant to any such “egalitarian” measures, eventually started surrendering, and in the second half of the 19th century, different government welfare measures were introduced, including government schools and a government retirement system. All of this was, of course, with the purpose to provide “safety” for the general population; a safety which, later, will turn into slavery, as it was in the days of Israel in Egypt. At the time, however, almost no thinker opposed it. The only significant voice that did it on principled grounds was Frederick Bastiat in France; he pointed to the encroahcment of liberty that such “safety” was bringing in its wake. There were other voices, like Herbert Spencer in England, but Spencer opposed the cult of safety based on the bizarre theory of social darwinism, namely, that the unfit must be left to die so that the fittest survive; this was one of the earliest applications of Darwin’s theory to the social realm. The masses of people loved their safety, and did not understand the real loss for the society and for themselves that it was bringing.
It was in that period that an institution was established in the West, one that had never existed in Christendom: the police. I will not go into detail here, we have talked about police in a previous episode, “Should We Have Police?” Suffice to say, police was entirely the product of the Enlightenment and its secular ideology, that man can, through science, take the place of God and provide what only God could provide. And what police was meant to provide, again, was safety and security.
Safety became an obsession for the totalitarian ideologies of the 20th century. Nazism, the second most destructive ideology of the 20th century, was a clear representation of the cult of safety. As a few historians of Nazi Germany have pointed out, in the 1920s and the 1930s, the common perception in post-war Germany was that the rest of the world was determined to destroy Germany and the Germans. What Hitler promised, and what shot him up to power, was not world domination, but that he would protect Germans from the dangerous dark powers who surrounded Germany. He was offering Germany safety from the demons of anti-German conspiracy. The official propaganda language was full of phrases that presented Germany as heroically fighting for its survival against the world. Communism was no different; again, there were the dark capitalist forces out there, and here we were, the heroic Communist nations, pushing against evil. Even the GULags were officially established with the prupose of “defending the socialist order.” The Communist secret police was labeled as “safety” or “security” in all Eastern European nations: KGB in the Soviet Union, Committee for State Security, Stasi in East Germany, State Security, Securitate in Romania, etc. This paranoia of always being menaced by foreign hobgoblins remained such an integral part of the Russian mindset, and even today, Putin’s government sells its foreign wars against smaller countries as “defense against aggression.”
To see how prevalent the cult of safety has become in the United States for the last one century, one has to read and compare two inaugural addresses separated by 100 years: That of Theodore Roosevelt in 1905 and that of George W. Bush in 2005. Both were significant because each address were given after a shocking terrorist event: Roosevelt’s address was given after the assassination, on September 5, 1901, of President William McKinley by Leon Czolgosz, son of Polish immigrants; Bush’s was given after the bombing, on September 11, 2001, of the towers of the World Trade Center, allegedly by Muslim terrorists from Saudi Arabia. Both acts shocked America, and both acts were still quite alive in the thinking of the American public. But when one reads Roosevelt’s address, it contains no signs of any promise to the American public that the government would provide for their safety; Roosevelt appeals to the independent and courageous spirit of America, and expects that Americans will continue to value their liberty and will continue expanding without fear, and without waiting to be patronized by the government, Bush, on the other hand, builds his entire address on the concept that the American people are like little children who need to be protected, who need safety against the dangerous forces of the world around them, so his government is there to offer that safety and security they need and crave.
And indeed, 2001 was the year that changed American perceptions about safety like never before. And especially the perceptions of American Christians. As late as the 1980s and the early 1990s, for Christians and conservatives in general, America was still America the Powerful who could change the hearts and the minds of all, and bring even its mightiest enemy, the Soviet Union, to its knees, by sheer example, not by war. Refugees from Communist countries were accepted with joy, even if there was a danger that some of them could be spies. Granted, that confidence was secular, for it placed its faith in a nation rather than the faith that founded that nation; but it was still a secularist version of that earlier Christian optimism and courage about the world. Even as late as 1999, in debates with Al Gore, that same George W. Bush was still speaking in the older terms, like someone who trusted that there was no danger big enough to warrant fear and obsession with safety. (It was Al Gore who was using such language.) But by that time, the Christian faith was abandoned, and when it was abandoned, any significant event could shatter that confidence. And such event happened, on September 11th. With no true Biblical faith to support the confidence, American Christians resorted to the cult of safety almost overnight.
You ever heard the argument, “The role of the government is to provide safety”? It is the most prevalent argument these days among American Christians, right? Guess what: There is no such Biblical role for the government. Not a single Biblical verse supports such a concept. Biblically, all sins and crimes come from the heart of man; therefore, danger can be predicted only by the One Who knows the heart of man, and prevented only by the One Who can change the heart of man. The civil government can’t read men’s hearts, and can’t change men’s hearts. Biblically, it can only register actual crimes and punish actual crimes; it can’t predict who and where will commit a crime, in order to provide safety. Thus, the only way for the government to provide safety is to take away the liberty of people to act; for any action is a possible threat to safety. (Think gun control: providing safety by taking guns away from all, including non-criminals.) Thus, from the government’s perspective, the only real threat to safety is liberty; and therefore the only way for the government to provide safety is by taking away liberty. The Founding Fathers understood this concept quite well, and that was the foundation of Benjamin Franklin’s statement that, paraphrasing, “Those who would give up liberty for safety, deserve neither, and will get neither.” Only God can provide safety without taking away liberty, because only God can read minds and hearts, and change minds and hearts.
However, to understand this, one needs to be immersed deeply into the Christian faith and into a comprehensive Biblical view of the world, of man, and of man’s society. Once the Christian faith is abandoned – and it is, by the majority of the church-goers in the United States – then the safety that faith provides is lost, and man needs to build his own altar to safety, and to seek safety through his own means, or through the means of his most powerful institution, the state. And that’s how the cult of safety is born, and maintained in our nation.
From this cult of safety, we have all the modern statist practices supported by church-goers and conservatives. From the cult of safety follows the worship of politics, and the expectation that politics – especially at the highest levels, in Washington DC – will solve the problems of America. From the cult of safety follows the worship of police and other institutions of government oppression and tyranny. From the cult of safety follow all the laws regulating the use of foods and substances; and from it follow all the laws regulating economic activity; after all, after all, we can’t let people be too free in their undertakings, for that might make other people unsafe. From the cult of safety, again, follow our modern immigration laws, and, more importantly, the support for those laws by church-goers and conservatives. Look at the latest election campaign: So obsessed are they with their safety, that the whole Republican campaign revolved around the unspeakable dangers from a few thousand men, women, and children who are fleeing an oppressive government. For the modern apostate American, the world is full with the darkest demons who are out there to get him, with hobgoblins lurking behind every corner. His senses are so addicted to fear and worry that even when he is presented with facts that the dangers are overblown, he reacts violently in anger. Under the cult of safety, any mention that he is not in danger is a blow to the cult, and therefore a heresy. The perception of danger has to be maintained, otherwise the cult becomes superfluous. And modern apostate Americans – and especially church-goers – would rather keep their cult than return to their Biblical roots. Paganism has returned to American churches, in its full force.
And, to quote benjamin Franklin, because they have sought safety ate the expense of their God-given liberty, they have lost both liberty and safety. So next time you see an assault on Christian liberty, keep in mind, it is not the unbelievers who are to blame.
For reading this week, I will assign an article and a book. The article is “Terrorism: Biblical Analysis and Solutions,” on ChristendomRestored.com. Pay attention to what I say there about fear and its Biblical significance. The book is rather off-topic, for the most part, but it has an interesting treatment of the modern cult of safety, and that is where ot matters the most, child rearing – for child rearing is where the cult is first being “encultured” into the our minds. Life Without Lawyers: Liberating Americans from Too Much Law, by Philip Howard. Pay attention to the connections he makes between the cult of safety and the modern legal and political system.
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