It’s just after midnight.

I rub my sleepy eyes. I need something to help keep me awake, I think to myself. I’m on watch with a fellow soldier, looking out for enemy while our platoon sleeps. So, I grab some biscuits out of my army ration pack. They’re nothing special, but after days of patrolling in the tropics of far north Queensland, they help keep me focused.

The moon is high in the sky, and the stars are radiant. They produce shadows all around us: shadows of the rocks, trees, and other flora found in the Australian Army’s High Range training area near Townsville.

Suddenly, I see movement. The shadow I’ve been staring at is moving: a possible enemy probe.

Suddenly, I see movement. The shadow I’ve been staring at is moving: a possible enemy probe.

‘Are you seeing this?’ I whisper to my buddy.

‘What do you see?’ comes his reply. I stare some more, growing a little anxious.

‘It looks like someone is moving, 50 metres ahead, at the base of that tree.’ We both stare, rifles at the ready.

But nothing moves. It’s dead quiet.

‘False alarm’, I say.

‘Yeah, overactive imagination, Balogh’, replies my mate.

Yep, I think to myself—an overactive imagination.

Chasing Shadows In An Anxious Age

It’s easy to have an overactive imagination in the dead of night when you’re expecting danger, watching shadows. Anxiety and expectation can lead you to see threats that aren’t there. It happened to me many times at night when I was a soldier. But mistaking shadows for serious threats is not limited to tired soldiers on watch at zero dark thirty. In an age riven by COVID, by lockdowns and a decade of tectonic societal shifts—it’s easy to get a bit jittery. It’s natural to get nervous. And when we’re in this state, we tend to overestimate threats. Or even see threats that aren’t there. That’s the essence of ‘alarmism’.

Alarmism is all around us in this anxious age.

I confess I’ve been susceptible to alarmism at times. After all, magnifying fears increases page views. It creates cut-through on your messaging and can move people to action.

Unsurprisingly, mainstream and social media are rife with alarmism.

Take this tweet from prominent black conservative commentator (and potential 2024 US Presidential candidate), Candace Owens:

Looking in to what is happening in Australia and I can now confidently say that World War 3 is upon us. We are in the midst of a global, psychological warfare. Under the guise of Covid-19, governments worldwide have declared war on their people for full totalitarian control.

Evidently, she was referring to the lockdown regulations in parts of Sydney and Melbourne and the clash of protestors and police. Now I think there’s a meaningful conversation to be had about lockdowns, civil liberties and police tactics. [1] But is Australia an example of ‘World War 3;’ ‘global psychological warfare;’ ‘governments declar[ing] war on their people for full totalitarian control’?

Is that our reality here Down Under?

As I write this, Sydney has ended its lockdown for 80% of its adult population that are double jabbed (and is set to end restrictions for the unvaxxed come December). I’ve been out and about like so many others. And while Melbourne has been the most locked-down city in the world under the heavy hand of Premier Dan Andrews, even they’re now emerging from lockdown.

Overestimating threats from lockdown in this way is a classic case of alarmism.

That’s not exactly ‘totalitarian control’. (At least if the words ‘totalitarian control’ retain their original meaning).

Overestimating threats from lockdown in this way is a classic case of alarmism.

But it’s not just prominent figures on the Right that succumb to alarmism. Prominent figures on the Left have also given into the temptation to hit the panic button with an atomic elbow. United States Democratic Congresswoman Alexandra Occasio-Cortes is outspoken in her views on Climate Change and strongly pushes for political action to address it. This is what she said in early 2019:

‘Millenials, and Gen Z, and all these folks that come after us, are looking up and we’re like ‘the world will end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change, and your biggest issue is how are we going to pay for it?’ [2]

She later said her comments weren’t meant to be taken literally (though many people—including school kids—have taken such climate messaging literally). But saying humanity faces catastrophic outcomes in the very near future if we don’t act on Climate Change—is that a fair and reasonable thing to say, based on the scientific evidence?

Or is it another example of alarmism: overestimating the threat that we face?

Again, I’m not discounting the legitimate science and conversation we need to have around Climate Change. But such alarmism is problematic on so many levels. And when it spreads widely, alarmism can become dangerous.

The Problems With Alarmism

There are numerous problems with alarmism. Here are four that come to mind:

1. Alarmism Over-interprets, Or Rather Mis-interprets Reality

It sees threats that aren’t there. The problem with alarmism in all its political (and yes, religious) varieties is that it over-inflates danger. At worst, it’s like a hypochondriac that mistakes heartburn for a heart attack: yes, there might be similarities. But heartburn is not a heart attack. As author Tony Payne points out:

It’s possible to be too fearful—that is, for the level of our fear to be disproportionate to the actual threat, perhaps because we have over-estimated the threat or are misinformed about it, or because our fear-meter is on the sensitive side.

Alarmism loses touch with reality and fills us with irrational fears.

2. Alarmism is Fear-Driven, not Faith-Driven

Alarmism is driven by fear.

Alarmism is a sign we’re dominated by fear in an unhealthy way.

It’s often an anxious fight or flight response due to perceived danger around us. Fear and anxiety tend to drive us toward what psychologists call catastrophising—seeing the most negative outcome as the most likely outcome (regardless of what the evidence says). We see lockdowns limiting our freedoms, so we’re driven by our fear to overinterpret the level of government control. We’re concerned about climate change, so we’re driven by fear to see the worst-case scenarios that the IPCC dishes out (Extinction Rebellion, anyone?).

Alarmism is a sign we’re dominated by fear in an unhealthy way.

3. The More We’re Driven By Anxiety and Fear, the Less We’re Driven by Reason

Physiologically speaking, the more we’re anxious, the less we’re able to reason well. The rational part of our brain grows weaker when we’re in an anxious fight/flight state. This may help explain why there’s so much heat and so little serious conversation around today’s hot topics, whether lockdowns or Climate change: people are in an anxious mindset where reason has taken a back seat.

And if we’re driven by fear more than reason, we’ll make some less than wise choices.

4. Alarmism Flattens the World Into Good People and Bad People

Of course, if we give into alarmism and see existential dangers around us—whether government control or cataclysmic climate change—how will we feel toward those we deem responsible for those dangers?

We’ll more likely reduce them to their (dangerous) political/cultural/religious/scientific views: climate deniers; bigots; bad and dangerous people. And the result, of course, is a fracturing society like never before.

Why Faith is Better Than Alarmism

While we face many real dangers in this life, Christians don’t need to be alarmists. Yes, we Christians might feel all sorts of anxieties around challenges we face, such as religious freedom, environmental problems and political concerns. But our fears need not dominate us, or drive our response to these issues.

Here’s the reality above all realities: Christ Jesus has risen. He’s in control.

Because here’s the reality above all realities: Christ Jesus has risen. He’s in control. And so, while we’re to be alert to the real and present dangers around us (e.g. 1 Peter 5:8), we don’t need to fear. And so, instead of getting alarmed at what’s happening around us, here’s what we should do instead:

1. Be an Ambassador First, Before You Tackle Cultural Battles

Remember the real battle we’re in: our priority is winning people before winning battles.

Alarmism takes legitimate concerns such as heavy-handed government control or climate change and makes them ultimate. It tempts us to forget the real battle we’re in: not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Eph 6:12).

Cultural concerns are valid and important. But they’re not the most important concern that Christians should have. We need to remember that first and foremost, we are ambassadors for Christ—we are here to hold out the eternal gospel to those around us. People that oppose us are not to be crushed and cancelled, but to be won for the Lord Jesus Christ.

(Even when we speak up about issues that rightly concern us).

2. Look at Reality Truthfully: Don’t Misinterpret or Catastrophise

We worship the God of truth, who demands we live truthfully. Thus, we should work hard to interpret reality accurately. We do this by being evidence-driven, not narrative-driven. Rather than cherry-picking data points that match our preferred narrative (e.g. around totalitarian government control or climate apocalypse), we need to work hard to suspend our narratives and see what the evidence says. In other words, we need to let reality do the talking.

We need to let reality do the talking.

This means, we should be careful not to draw conclusions or make predictions about potential calamities that go beyond the evidence. And one way to do that is to listen and understand those who have differing viewpoints to us, in a James 1:19 way:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

3. Respond Faith-fully

Alarmism is driven by fear, but as God’s people, we need not fear. Instead, we’re to be driven by faith. Yes, there will always be dangers that we need to be alert to, such as government and cultural opposition. These are realities that God’s people have often had to live with. But we should look at these realities through the lens of God’s Sovereignty: the God who works out all things according to the purposes of his will (Eph 1:11). And as God’s people, we know that all things work together for our good (Rom 8:28).

Thus, we don’t need to be driven by fear and anxiety. Furthermore, we have the example of our Saviour to follow, who, even during the deadly opposition that led him to the cross, did not panic or lose his mind to fear but entrusted himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23).

If we drink deeply from these truths, our response to the dangers around us will be marked by sober-minded rationality, rather than emotion and anxiety.

Or, in other words, we’ll be less alarmist.

The Stakes are High

If we’re driven by alarmism, we won’t honour the God of truth or love our neighbour as he demands.

But if we see the world through the eyes of faith, we’ll see that Christ is working out all things according to his good plans. We’ll more likely see reality as it is, rather than over-interpreting or misinterpreting threats and concerns.

And we’ll join Christ in his work as ambassadors, seeking to win people rather than seeing them as enemies.

First published at akosbalogh.com

[1] I’m with journalist Peta Credlin who has called for a Royal Commission into our various government’s responses to the pandemic—not least, so we can learn and get better for next time.

[2] Emphasis added.