What We Fear (Plagues and Dracula)

What We Fear (Plagues and Dracula) March 10, 2020

What we love defines our best possibilities and what we fear our worst.

Love, desire, can be fuel to reason, but fear breaks down our ability to think. Fear is passion with no possibility of noble action, only of ever more evil possibilities. Love, like any virtue, can be twisted and so misused. Our charity may be false or weakened by fear or a desire for power. 

“Fear,” as I am using the word, is a terror that is pure aversion. You cannot love what you fear and perfect love will cast out all fear. There is an English use of “fear” that can mean a reverence or appropriate respect for power, the fear of the lord and of the Lord! This is not the sort of fear that kills. We should have a reverential awe when facing the power of a nuclear reactor, the Sun, or (most of all) God omnipotent.

This is reasonable.

Fear claws at us in the night and unmans us. This is, must be, the enemy of reasoned action. If we love truly, then we will do what is best for the beloved. In the time of a virus, we will keep calm, have great respect and awe for the terrible power of that virus, but we will not panic. Panic is the child of fear.

The College is reading Dracula at present in a plague year. This underrated novel, ignore all the motion pictures, is a brilliant exposition of what we fear. Dracula is an ancient terror that, the author reminds us constantly, is no longer believable until he appears and upturns the assumptions of the late Victorian era. He is a throwback, something that we believed defeated.

No. He is fully capable of darkening the light of the West.

Science is not the problem. Scientists help defeat Dracula.  A trouble for our heroes in the novel is an overconfidence in scientism, that we have nature cracked and broken, understood and reduced to a servant. We have not, because nature is not merely stuff. There is another world and if this world intersects with our world, then this may overthrow all our comfortable assumptions.

We might face an apocalypse, even if this time we probably do not. Whatever happens, we almost wish to panic as we know that this could be a forerunner for that: an anti-Baptist warning us of the soon coming of the antichrist. 

What does happen is the reverse of fear, shaking our confidence in the regular order of modern society. Dracula stands for the fearful thing for Victorians and can be used for us as well. Dracula is the unexpected, uncontrollable, that makes us panic.

How can we fight this unearthly thing?

The peasants in the early portions of the Dracula have a reverential awe of the vampire, but they have a crucifix, prayers, and a sensible view of how to avoid the evil. A few have been co-opted to become servants of evil. They are not afraid, not the way the moderns will be later in the book.

Against this Bram Stoker puts the man of reason. He knows science, can even be a scientist. He studies the problem and proposes a solution. He does so without fear, though with respect for the power of the vampire.

Be rational. Be loving. Fear not.

That is the message of Christianity in the time of Dracula.

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