"I will show you fear/in a handful of dust"--T.S. Eliot
As I noted earlier, it seems to be rooted in either urban legends or superstition. Either we live in a "demon haunted world" and tonight's the night they freely walk the earth, looking for young precious souls to corrupt, or we live in a world dominated by predators who desire nothing more than to kill as many children as possible. Neither story is true, of course, but the conservative churches around me, at least, peddle some variation on the two for all they are worth. Either (a) demons and witches will bequile your child into Satanism tonight with offers of candy (I suppose this is how homosexuals "recruit," too), or (b) pederasts and "child molesters" will snatch your child from the bosom of your family with apples and razor blades or candy and poison.
How did we come so quickly to such a pass? Neither fear is based on anything except repitition and assertion. Neither fear has anything whatsoever to do with reality (indeed, the "superstition" fear is the very idolatry berated again and again in the Hebrew Scriptures). And yet both not only persist, but seem to grow yearly. None of this was more than the province of the most marginalized and most fundamentalist of groups when I was a child. What has happened to us, as a nation and a culture, in 35 years, that it now swamps our schools and is an annual topic of church advertising and public discussion?
And none of it based on anything more remotely verifiable, than one case here in Houston in 1974.
Why are we so easily made afraid? Is that the root behind our response to 9/11, and our support for Iraq, support now withered as we learn what real fear is, and what real disaster is? But our national history is one of dealing with disasters and overcoming natural obstacles. We even took on the greatest war machine of the 20th century, and defeated it, from a standing start. But sometime shortly after that, it seems, we became afraid, and fear has guided our national and cultural actions ever since.