I’m sitting here reading Robert Wuthnow’s newest book, Be Very Afraid: The Cultural Response to Terror, Pandemics, Environmental Devastation, Nuclear Annihilation, and Other Threats
, and I’m thinking about how I — “we” would be better — responded in the 70s. In spite of all you hear about the glory days of the hippies, during those days for American fundamentalists the world was falling apart — and fast.
So fearful were we about the perils our world was in — perils of war and immorality and rock music and the drug culture and the sexual revolution and an imminent apocalypse of some sort — that we resorted to careful explanation of eschatology in order to make sense of our world and give us a sense of control. Shoot, we weren’t afraid of the world; we knew what would happen. We read it in Revelation or Hal Lindsay, which amounted to almost the same thing. Except that fear was shaping what we were all about.
Are you seeing or experiencing fear over what may happen? Do you sense this peril? What are pastors seeing? What are they doing pastorally about peril?
Peril, in fact, has been a major precipitating factor at work for American history the last fifty years or so. Wuthnow, professor at Princeton, examines four perils: nuclear holocaust, other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, global pandemic and global climate change.
How have Americans responded to such perils? That is the question Wuthnow asked and this book tells us his answers. Oddly enough, the book is an eminently pastoral theology book. Responses to perils abound in churches, and pastors need to be alert to perils and how we have responded. A theologically-grounded response to peril awaits us, but pastors will be responding to such fears all the time.
“The more we learn about world, the more we realize that our existence is precarious” (3).
And this: “Hardly any of” the research on response to peril “shows people paralyzed with fear, passively awaiting the end, or denying that anything is amiss.” We have become “can-do problem solvers. Doing something, almost anything, affirms our humanity” (5).