Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Protestants Face Fear With Action, Then and Now

In Be Very Afraid, Robert Wuthnow offers this interesting comparison between how the first Protestants reacted to the fearful anxieties of their day, with how modern Americans react to the fearful anxieties of ours:

“The radical danger that people now fear is no longer that of roasting eternally in hell … It is the threat of life being cut off prematurely and on a massive scale that brings social chaos and perhaps destroys the planet or makes it unlivable for generations. … Yet the dominant response is action, just as it was for the Puritans. Action is driven by uncertainty. The possibility of danger is a motivating force. Taking action is a way of assuring ourselves that we are doing something – doing what we can, hoping that the search for knowledge will be rewarded.”

In each case, Wuthow, with Weber, argues against the popular idea that people deny and suppress their fears. Rather, the bias of Protestants, and the Protestant-shaped culture of America, is a bias toward action.

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