Robert Wuthnow’s newest book, Be Very Afraid: The Cultural Response to Terror, Pandemics, Environmental Devastation, Nuclear Annihilation, and Other Threats
, provides for us an opportunity to have a pastoral response to peril.
In the last fifty years, he argues in chp 1, three things have happened:
First, peril has become a constant.
Second, peril is now seen as the product of an organization — like Hitler’s Germany or (in the mind of many Americans) Ahmadinejad’s Iran.
Third, and this is a big one, the solution to peril increasingly is assigned to organizations and governments and to experts.
I’m hoping some pastors will weigh in on this one today: After reading the blog post, what are you doing in your churches to make sense of peril? What “story” or “narrative” do you tell? Now, to dig a bit deeper, what behaviors do you see and what stories do the behaviors tell?
Peril has always been part of the human condition, but in former years it was otherwise. Listen to his words: “Were the problem solving involved to occur in any other era but our own, it would be tempting to imagine that it would entail religion, magic, and ritual. The danger facing the society would very likely be perceived as that of an angry god, the devil, or an evil spirit” (20). He continues: “The ‘enlightened’ view is that people in earlier times were deluded.”
But he asks in this chp about how humans respond to peril, and I see four large points, and each of these is at work in every church and for every pastor because fear is at work in every parishioner:
First, denial. Folks just deny peril as a reality and try to make their way through life as if grave conditions don’t happen or aren’t happening. Denial, however, means that persons are actually being defined by and shaped by peril.
Second, escape into fantasy. Here he probes into fantasy movies and video games where violence is present and felt and managed. (I’m tempted to say many eschatological schemes are fantasies that alleviate fears.)
Third, social scripts that make sense of peril and life. Whether we are in denial or escaping into fantasy, one thing that happens with all humans, when faced with peril, is to find a social script that makes sense of what is happening.
These social scripts are narratives, and these narrative “problem solve” at the deepest levels by putting the peril into a narrative that subverts it or manages it.
One of the major scripts today is this one: Government or organized groups can solve these problems. Science will point the way.