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A Growing Culture of Hope or Fear?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises the “inherent dignity and… the equal and inalienable rights” of each human being as “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”. This freedom includes “freedom of speech and belief, and a freedom from fear.” 71 years ago this document was signed by 50 member states of the United Nations General Assembly. Yet today there seems to be a growing culture of fear in Western societies, including Australia.

One could argue that this culture of fear was exploited in the last Australian elections: threats of personal financial insecurity should Labour come into power was one of the platforms used by the Coalition Party. The Labour Party wanted to introduce significant tax reform without, it seems, the assurance of enough financial security for those who held the votes. Bill Shorten, the Labour leader at the time of the elections, conceded that the Labour Party had not explained their intentions clearly, which led to the 15% swing against Labour.

This same strategy of instilling fear in order to win votes and arguments was used with regard to asylum seeker and refugee policies. Misinformation was spread via social media, the internet, political spins as well as the news media press—as evidenced by the ABC RMIT Fact Check website run by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and RMIT University during the election.

Much has been written about this culture of fear.[1] Instilling fear by threatening the individual’s sense of safety and security, and hence, growing vulnerability, often leads the individual to reactionary violence and greed. Tribalistic nationalism can develop through this culture of fear, perhaps providing a new sense of identity, belonging, meaning and purpose—to fight those who threaten the familiar and perceived secure way of being. In reality however, nothing is ever guaranteed—health may fail, the share market may crash, or there may be a win in Tattslotto! Naming differences in race, beliefs, gender and culture as causes of threats to the individual’s security, especially if that security is hard earned, leads only to fear of difference, intolerance and the likely unfounded need for self-preservation at all cost.

There are other ways of instilling fear. The oppression of dictatorial regimes of some countries by such means as silencing or censorship of those who have a different voice, or the sudden “disappearance” of dissenters, are more blatant examples of instilling a culture of fear.

The exclusion of certain groups from involvement in decision-making for the future can be seen as yet another form of oppression. This is not unlike what the Institutional Church has been accused of in its effective exclusion of women from leadership roles, and the censorship of seemingly dissenting voices.[2]

Fear according to Brzezinski “obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue.”[3] He warns that a culture of fear “acquires a life of its own and can be demoralising.” This kind of fear is often based on misinformation, lack of knowledge, and a false sense of individualism that has no concern for others.

Whilst we are individuals with our human rights, we are also social beings constantly in relationship with all that is around us. Our existence is interdependent on others. The African concept of ubuntu—commonly translated as “I am because we are” highlights this interdependency. In this philosophy, healthy individualism involves concern for others, encourages creative solutions and inclusivity. The culture of fear engenders the opposite philosophy. Individualism, in a culture of fear, is concerned primarily with self-preservation and is likely to encourage the exclusion of others unless it clearly benefits the individual in the immediate.

Pope Francis has reminded us that “at the heart of God’s message is a “culture of hope.”[4] He saw this in such things as in the care of children and the elderly. This culture of hope involves unconditional loving, forgiveness, respect, inclusivity and a genuine concern for others, including the care of the earth. It involves creative solutions for the benefit of each and every one, including those who are vulnerable and marginalised such as asylum seekers and refugees. It is concerned with leadership that has the perspective of the individual and the whole in policy making, and has the capacity to ensure the human right of freedom from fear, rather than the engendering of fear and oppression. This culture of hope seeks courageous moral leadership—both in political and religious structures—that can bring about the right environment for human flourishing as determined by the Declaration of Human Rights… and for Christians, the Gospel. It calls for courageous and committed leadership from each person—a leadership that is informed, other-centred and seeks the good of the Whole.

[1] Writers such as Barry Glassner, Maria Helena Moreira Alves and Frank Furedi.

[2]See,, and in the Australian context

[3] Zbigniew Brzezinski, (2007, March 25), Terrorized by the ‘War on Terror’, Washington Post, Retrieved from

[4] See