Courageism Interview: From The Beginning, Scott Somerville
Agent Tim: For those who haven’t heard the story, or are still at a loss, what’s the story behind this word courageism? Where did it come from?
Scott Somerville: The word is the obvious opposite of â€œterrorism.â€ It sprang into my head along with a million other thoughts on September 11, 2001, as I stood outside in my suburban Maryland street and watched fighter jets scream overhead. I live 30 minutes away from the Washington Monument, well within the affected area of any successful nuclear attack. â€œWhat do I do now?â€ I asked myself. â€œShould I sell my house and move my family back to the depths of West Virginia, where Iâ€™m from? How can I be safe?â€
Then I realized that â€œsafeâ€ couldnâ€™t be the answer any more. The world had changed. If our goal is â€œsafety,â€ then we will always be playing defense in a game the terrorists choose. Thatâ€™s when I decided to become a â€œcourageist.â€
Agent Tim: How would you define courageism?
Scott S.: Courageism is the opposite of terrorism and the only counter to it. â€œTerrorismâ€ means different things to different people, and so, to a degree, does â€œcourageism.â€ The difference is that everybody wants to be a â€œcourageistâ€ and nobody wants to be a â€œterrorist.â€
Aristotleâ€™s definition of â€œcourageâ€ in the Nicomachean Ethics, Book III, Chapter 7
is the soundest starting place. â€œThe man, then, who faces and who fears the right things and from the right motive, in the right way and from the right time, and who feels confidence under the corresponding conditions, is brave.â€ Mere â€œbraveryâ€ is not enough for true â€œcourage,â€ though. Aristotle continues, â€œBut courage is noble. Therefore the end also is noble; for each thing is defined by its end. Therefore it is for a noble end that the brave man endures and acts as courage directs.â€
Courage means facing the right fear the right way for noble reasons. A man who jumps out of airplanes faces his fear, but skydivers jump out of planes for a passing thrill or a boost to their ego. â€œExtreme sportsâ€ push the limits of what a human can face, but not for â€œnobleâ€ ends. Real â€œcourageâ€ demands more.
â€œCourageismâ€ is not just â€œcourage, however, any more than â€œterrorismâ€ is just â€œterror.â€ True â€œcourageismâ€ involves some real risk of death or maiming, just as â€œterrorismâ€ requires more than damage to property or reputation.
Agent Tim: What’s an example of courageism?
Scott S.: The jihadists call a person who straps a bomb to his chest a â€œmartyr.â€ We call him a â€œterrorist.â€ A â€œcourageistâ€ would be a person who willingly faces the man with the bomb to try to stop him before he can hurt others.
A good fictional example would be Atticus Finch, the father in â€œTo Kill a Mockingbird.â€ He spent all night guarding his client, a black man accused of rape, from the mob that came to the jailhouse door to lynch him. He faced down the mob the right way, for the right reasons, and for a noble cause.
Agent Tim: Why do we need a new word? Why not stick with the good old “courage”?
Scott S.: Courage is a virtue; â€œcourageismâ€ is a movement. We need a movement now. A new generation is growing up into terrorism in some parts of the Middle East. Young people in the West can grow up demanding a safety that is no longer certain, or nobly face their fears.
We need a new word because conservatives and Christians too easily overlook the heroism of many ordinary Muslims who are already champions of â€œcourageism.â€ In America, if you stand up for what is right, you may suffer negative consequences but you arenâ€™t usually in any physical danger. A student may get a lower grade for challenging his professorâ€™s pet position: his professor is unfair, but not a â€œterrorist. By contrast, every purple finger in the Middle East is a genuine act of â€œcourageism,â€ and we need to draw attention to that fact.
We need a new word because nobody will call himself an â€œappeaser,â€ even though his every act is one of submission to extortion. â€œCourageismâ€ separates the sheep from the goats. â€œCourageistsâ€ believe there are things worth dying for and those who donâ€™t. Those who reject the concept of â€œcourageismâ€ act as if death were the ultimate evil. It is not!
Agent Tim: Who do you believe is an example of courageism?
Scott S.: There are too many examples to list! But some obvious categories and examples are:
* Prophets: Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Stephen the Martyr,
* Apostles: Eleven of the twelve apostles died rather than recant. Only John died of old age.
* Martyrs: Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and countless others who died under the rule of Nero, Domitianâ€¦ Stalin, Hitler, Maoâ€¦ etc., etc.
* Patriots: Every signer of the Declaration of Independence, pledging their fortunes, lives, and sacred honor for freedom.
* Nonviolent Protesters: Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr.
* Missionaries: Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, and the others who died taking the Gospel to the Aucas; and even more remarkably, Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint who went to the tribe that had murdered them.
* Dissidents: Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Germany, Aleksandr Sozzhenitsyn in Russia; the lone Chinese student in Tiananmen Square; etc.
* Police officers: Day after day, the men and women on the â€œthin blue lineâ€ risk their lives to hold back human evil.
* Firefighters: These men and women plunge into earthly hells to save humans and their homes from Natureâ€™s wrath.
* Soldiers: The â€œGreatest Generationâ€ that stopped the Nazi death machine; todayâ€™s all-volunteer army in Iraq.
* Heroes: Todd Beamer and the others who resisted Al Qaeda on board Flight 93 in 2001; Ashley Smith, the single mother in Atlanta who shard the Gospel with the fugitive who shot a judge and several other people and then took her hostage in 2005; etc., etc.
Agent Tim: How would you encourage young men and women to show “courageism”?
Scott S.: Routinely ask yourself, â€œWhat do I fear?â€ You donâ€™t get a chance to face down death on a regular basis, but you deal with fear every day. What are you afraid of losing? What are you afraid youâ€™ll never find? What do you cling to? The approval of others? Pleasure? Independence? Pride?
If there is anything you crave that leads you to do what you know is wrong, you are not ready to face death yet. If you canâ€™t overcome your own fear of rejection at the hands of your peer group, you probably arenâ€™t ready to face down a terrorist. That is not to say that risking ridicule is â€œcourageism.â€ It isnâ€™t. But if you canâ€™t risk ridicule, you arenâ€™t ready for death.
Agent Tim: Before we end this interview, could you clear something up for me…do you believe the cartoonists in Denmark were showing courageism, or do they fall outside of our definition of courageism?
Scott S.: It depends. A â€œhaterâ€ and a â€œloverâ€ could draw identical cartoons for opposite reasons. Someone who loves liberty could risk death for the best of reasons, while a person who hates Muslims might be willing to sacrifice his own safety in order to make them suffer. One would be a â€œcourageistâ€ and the other wouldnâ€™t.
I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt if at all possible. Since I donâ€™t know the motives of the cartoonists, I will start by assuming they risked their lives out of a love for freedom. Freedom is a noble end, so we can presume the Danish cartoonists are â€œcourageistsâ€ until we learn something new to make us change that opinion.
Agent Tim: Okay, here we end. What else would you like to say about courageism?
Scott S.: â€œCourageismâ€ should be second nature for Christians, simple for other believers, and challengingâ€“but not impossibleâ€”for secular materialists. Christians are supposed to love their enemies as they long for Christâ€™s appearing. Christians should fear only God and sin, and every day gives us new opportunities to face those fears with the right attitude in the right way.
â€œCourageismâ€ may be harder for people who practice a religion that depends on human effort for salvation. A wicked man who believes in Hell should be afraid to die; his conscience may hinder him from doing what needs to be done at the moment of the crisis. A self-righteous man might be ashamed to shrink from death, but â€œselfâ€ is not a noble end worth dying for.
â€œCourageismâ€ is hardest for the person who thinks this life is all there is. The materialist may cry, â€œGive me liberty or give me death,â€ but it is hard to hold life lightly when death is so final. The passengers on Flight 93 had nothing to lose when they rose up against the hijackers, but the average American has so much to cling to. That is why the terrorists are so effective: they threaten our secular safety.