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Don’t be Afraid by Cornelis J. Schilt

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Don’t be Afraid

"Elisha Bringing the Blinded Syrian Army to the King of Israel" (1613), an etching in a series entitled "Biblical Battles" by Antonio Tempesta (1555-1630), located in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

There is a little-known story in the Bible about the prophet Elisha. Having—literally—taken up the mantle of his mentor Elijah; the ‘Man of God,’ as the author of the Second Book of Kings invariably calls him, becomes a pivotal asset in Israelite politics and defence. He forewarns Jehoram, king of Israel—now composed of ten tribes, with Samaria as its capital—about the movements of the marauding Aramean army, with the Israelite forces escaping destruction twice. Upon learning why his enemies seem to know his every move, and of Elisha’s whereabouts, the Syrian king sends a significant part of his army to the city of Dothan. Early one morning, Elisha’s servant wakes up and witnesses the massive army that has surrounded the city overnight, and is scared to death, exclaiming “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” To this, his master replies, “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Because Elijah has seen something his servant has not. 

And so Elijah prays that the Lord may show his servant what he sees; namely, the reality of their situation. “Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” It seems the tides have turned, all of a sudden: heavenly armies have appeared to defend the city and avoid any harm coming to Elisha and his servant. The Arameans, however, do not get the memo; they are oblivious to their impending doom, and signal the attack. They are as blind to the heavenly host as was Elisha’s servant only moments prior. And then something extraordinary happens: Elisha asks the Lord to strike the Arameans with blindness, and so the Lord does. But it is no ordinary blindness—instead, they seem rather confused. Elisha manages to convince them that they are in the wrong place: “This is not the way, and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will take you to the man you are seeking.” And so the Arameans follow him to Samaria, where he leads them into the city. It is only then that the veil is lifted from their eyes and they find themselves surrounded by the Israelite army. Eagerly and bloodthirstily, the king asks Elisha, “My father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?” To this, the Man of God replies, “Do not kill them. Would you kill those you have captured with your own sword or bow? Set food and water before them, that they may eat and drink and then return to their master.” So it passes: the king prepares a great feast, and the Arameans eat and drink to their heart’s desire, after which they are sent back to their king. “And the Aramean raiders did not come into the land of Israel again.” Thus ends the chapter. 

The above story contains several layers of blindness. Elijah’s servant, and most likely the citizens of Dothan, only see the Aramean army that has assembled on the surrounding hills overnight, ready to come down on them with predictable results. What they do not see is the vast host of fiery chariots ready to defend the city and repel the invaders, a reality all too clear to Elijah. The Arameans, too, suffer from the same blindness, storming down the hills to obtain what they most likely consider an easy victory. Apparently, apart from the Man of God, the parties on both sides of the city gates suffer from a loss of true vision; or rather, a loss of vision of the truth, of reality. In that sense, the Arameans are no more or less blind than the inhabitants of Dothan, including Elijah’s servant. It is perhaps appropriate, then, that the Lord, through Elijah, decides to show them mercy—ironically doing so by making them doubly blind first. When they finally open their eyes, they find themselves confronted with a reality that is very true, and very scary. The hunters have become the hunted, it appears, and not just to them: King Jehoram would love to finish the job. He, too, is blind to the reality of the situation. Elijah has not brought the Arameans all the way to Samaria for them to be slaughtered. Instead, by exposing Israel’s enemies to the reality of their situation, he also exposes them to what they probably expected least: mercy. They are sat at the king’s table and share food, receiving the hospitality commonly extended to guests, indirectly signalling a peace treaty, and are then allowed to leave freely. 

This is also a story about reality. To the Arameans, to the citizens of Dothan, and, before his master’s intercession, to Elijah’s servant, reality seems quite clear: the Arameans are about to come down, forcefully make their way into the city, and slaughter everyone, prophet and servant included. To Elijah, reality is very different: the Arameans will come down, only to be totally obliterated by the forces of the Lord. And so he acts upon that reality, because he believes that what he sees is indeed real. Even if every single citizen of Dothan were to tell him that there are no fiery chariots to be seen, even if every single Aramean were to hurl shouts and insults and perhaps even spears at him, Elijah knows what is real and what is not. And those fiery chariots he sees are very real, no matter what others tell him.

Today, some 3,000 years after the events at Dothan, we are once more confronted with clashing realities; or rather, with an ever-increasing force of modern-day ‘Arameans’ preaching a different reality, descending upon a seemingly dwindling group of those who still see what is truly there. They have hijacked words such as ‘liberty’ to mean something totally different from what they meant when the first liberal arts programmes were designed, back in the Middle Ages. Back then, ‘liberty’ meant liberating one’s soul from the tyranny of desire and will, bringing them under the control of the νοῦς—the mind. Only then would one be able to lead a balanced, peaceful, and happy life. Ever since the Enlightenment—or rather, Endarkenment—liberty acquired a new meaning: human beings should give in to their basest desires and allow these free reign, with mind and will cooperating to reach a state of maximum fulfilment of these desires. What once was the lowest of all states the human soul could be found in, the pig’s trough, became its ultimate expression of liberty. 

Thus, today’s liberal arts institutions in almost no way resemble what, since Plato’s time, has been the true meaning of liberty. Instead, these institutions—inasmuch as they still exist in an economic climate that pressures colleges and universities to maximize their emphasis on employability at the expense of humanity—focus on the unholy trinity of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Using these terms and other newspeak, they portray a reality in which every student is welcome and is valued for his or her unique insights, or ‘lived experiences’ as they are called now, where each and every course is being taught in an ever-changing manner, or is dropped from the curriculum altogether if undesirable. Instead of students being taught how to live in an ever-demanding society, they are being taught to demand from society to give in to their every whim. C.S. Lewis once labelled the outcomes of such an education ‘men without chests,’ whether referring to man or woman. That latter distinction—man or woman—has obviously also come under siege recently. To many, biological reality is just a social construct. Instead, they adhere to gender ideology, promoting their perceived ‘gender identity’—of which there are now hundreds of ‘species’—as the ultimate truth to which all should bow. Even many in the LGB movement are growing weary and anxious about the TQ+ ideologues and their ever-increasing demands. 

Yet there are many institutions, in particular the aforementioned so-called liberal arts colleges and universities, as well as influential tech firms and government organisations, primarily in the Anglo-American sphere, who actively promote these and other equally disturbing ideologies, all under the banner of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Even more worryingly, these ideologies are not just promoted, but mandated—with those unwilling to cooperate frequently demonized and ostracized. And when you have become the hunted, there is nothing stopping the Arameans from descending upon you. Eminent linguist and classicist Joshua Katz was fired from Princeton in May of this year, allegedly because of sexual misconduct, but in reality because he did not support the university’s egregious anti-racism proposals—which in effect promoted reverse racism. Not long after, Georgetown Law professor Ilya Shapiro was forced to resign in the aftermath of a court case involving a tweet in which Shapiro criticised President Biden for selecting Supreme Court justices on the basis of race and sex. Shapiro won his case, but there was no way he could stay on at Georgetown. And there are many similar stories which frequently involve a twisting of reality. Shapiro’s tweet was misconstrued by both his university and the mainstream media, as if he had said that “the best Supreme Court nominee could not be a black woman.” Katz’s firing was couched if it pertained to a case of sexual misconduct, where it was clear to all involved that other matters were at stake. The transgender movement will tell you that biological sex does not exist or is not binary, that ‘gender’ is ‘assigned’ at birth, and if your son or daughter ever expresses any doubts about their body, they should forcefully undergo ‘gender reassignment’ surgery, also known as mutilation and butchery. This is the reality behind all these lofty and compassionate-sounding words, such as ‘diversity,’ ‘equity,’ and ‘inclusion.’ Such words often hide a totalitarian reality in which everyone is coerced to fit the same ugly mould; one in which instead of trying for each student to achieve their maximum potential, all are being relegated to mediocrity; a reality in which hard-working students of any background are being ignored, looked down upon, or actively excluded.

In a recent gathering of the Conservative Philosophers Club, Ferenc Hörcher reminisced about life under communism, with its alternate reality. Instead of giving in, he said, we decided to just ‘speak normally.’ Instead of accepting totalitarian newspeak, Hörcher and his friends would meet up and talk about how things really were, in reality. No matter how many Arameans descended upon them, they refused to ignore what they really saw or to stop using language reflective of that reality. This, then, seems like a proper recipe for approaching the new totalitarianism as it descends upon the Western world today: to not give in to its claims about reality, but instead pray that God may open our eyes to what is really out there. Just like Elijah’s servant did not see the fiery chariots, possibly because he was too focused on the imminent danger coming down from the hills, so too can our eyes be deceived, either because we are afraid to be accused of wrongthink—thus forcing our eyes to see what is not there or not to see what is really there—or because we do not see the danger at all. So much of modern newspeak seems innocuous or even appealing to our sense of justice, of charity, of love. No one could possibly be against diversity, equity, and inclusion, right? No one could possible want to deny transgender people their existence by denying their reality, correct? Already, that last question contains both the seeds and fruits of deceit, as if denying a transgender person’s perceived sex but instead identifying them as the man or woman they really are, would be a denial of their existence. But this is how it is perceived within the fake ‘reality’ created and maintained in the West today. We should refuse to give in to this, and instead, speak normally, acknowledging reality as it is. 

“Don’t be afraid,” said Elijah to his servant. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

Cornelis J. Schilt is a historian of knowledge, specializing in early modern history of science and scholarship. He is a postdoctoral researcher at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels and lives with his family in the Flemish countryside.