Yet if the survival mandate is important, it's not the be-all-and-end-all. Charles Péguy once wondered how many betrayals had arisen from the fear of not looking progressive enough; we might equally wonder how many compromises have arisen from making survival an absolute. Survival as an absolute sometimes involves us in uncompromising flight, and sometimes flight is a lesser expression of fear than having to stay and withstand the spectacle of whatever threatens us. For example, I've no doubt the rate of converts from Catholicism to Orthodoxy is on the rise currently. At a distance, it seems like a sanctuary of mystery in the context of moral therapeutic deism that afflicts so many of our co-religionists. It is a flight, however, and the sanctuary is not as safe as we might suppose.
In this context I came across a passage of Georges Bernanos's novel La Joie. It needs little commentary and the characters' names hardly matter. I'll just leave it here (as they say these days)...
I have mocked fear too much, he admitted one day. I was young and way too hot blooded.
What? she replied, I cannot believe you are saying that to me. Are you now going to give fear entry into Paradise?
He raised his red, swollen hand as if to calm her down, laughing silently as he did.
Not so fast, not so fast! In a way, even fear is a daughter of God, redeemed on the night of Good Friday. She is not beautiful to look at - no! - sometimes ridiculed, sometimes cursed, abandoned by everyone...however, make no mistake about it: she is at the bedside of every dying person where she intercedes for man.
The courageous man is not the one who feels no fear; he's the one who holds fast, even when he is fearful. That surely is the meaning of "Do not be afraid". It is not a call for severing ourselves from the desire to flee, as if Jesus were inviting us to a condition of nursery-teatime security; it is a command not to flee when the fear comes. And it surely will.
These fragments I have shored against my ruins.