The Illusion of Safety


I’ve avoided endorsing particular candidates on social media, and I will continue to do so. I grew up in a context where who we voted for was our own business. Truth is, as I’ve commented elsewhere, I wrestle with whether I can vote for either of the presidential candidates in good conscience.

What I did want to engage is the idea from Monday night’s Republican convention of making America safe again. There is an element of truth underlying this advocacy. It is a legitimate role of government to provide for public safety which means protecting its constituents from harm from both external and internal enemies.

What is troubling in part is that we are tempted to trade liberty for safety. Fear for our safety can be used to suspend various civil liberties. The proposal of religious tests is one of these. While the fear is of a particular type of Islam, once the door is open to this, such tests might be applied to a particular type of Christian, Jew, or even atheist. Likewise, the loosening of restraints on illegal search and seizure (notably in both traffic stops and electronic surveillance) is also troubling. It also seems that we need to find a way for gun enthusiasts and those concerned about the incredible proliferation of guns to come together to address gun violence without abridging the Second Amendment. The civil liberties we enjoy in the Bill of Rights are a rare and wonderful thing. Trading these away for safety in the end make us less safe from tyranny, the exercise of naked power.

Building walls and closing doors to immigrants may not actually make us safer unless we also close our borders to the flow of ideas. “Self-radicalization” shows us the folly of thinking that if we just keep certain people out, we can be safe. A vigilant compassion is much harder to achieve, yet it seems that on balance we are enriched by welcoming those seeking a better life in this country, as they create rather than take jobs, and contribute everything from beautiful music to technological and medical breakthroughs that save and enhance lives.

The truth is, life has never been safe in a fallen world. Our lives are set about with a host of dangers from childhood to our last breath. Any responsible person certainly does what they can to mitigate those dangers, and this ought to move us not only to self-protection but concern for the most vulnerable. But a life lived in constant fear, a life that chooses only the “safe” is not much of a life. Almost always, our heroes are those who have risked safety in some form, not recklessly, but with thought and courage for greater ends.

Ultimately, I think what Jesus said makes a lot of sense: “Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33 NIV). Only when we have something for which we can lose our lives are we “safe.” Any other form of “safety” is illusory or temporary at best.