“I defer to no one in my love for America and for Christianity.”
September 9, 2015 7:53 AM   Subscribe

Fear by Marilynne Robinson [New York Review of Books]
“There is something I have felt the need to say, that I have spoken about in various settings, extemporaneously, because my thoughts on the subject have not been entirely formed, and because it is painful to me to have to express them. However, my thesis is always the same, and it is very simply stated, though it has two parts: first, contemporary America is full of fear. And second, fear is not a Christian habit of mind. As children we learn to say, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” We learn that, after his resurrection, Jesus told his disciples, “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Christ is a gracious, abiding presence in all reality, and in him history will finally be resolved.”
posted by Fizz (23 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Thank you for posting this.
posted by gauche at 8:11 AM on September 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

What does this mean:

"and in him history will finally be resolved."

posted by gribbly at 9:14 AM on September 9, 2015

gribbly, I take it to mean the second coming.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:27 AM on September 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Aaaaaah I was just going to post this!

Loosely related: posted by Going To Maine at 9:37 AM on September 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

What a load of jumbled tripe this is! No clear point, save some rambling on about Calvinist victimhood, the supposedly Russian origin America's assault rifle problem (hint: perhaps a few google inquiries into the origins of America's most popular assault rifle (the Ar-15) might be in order before we go off imagining Russian arms manufacturers steepling their fingers and cackling wickedly over Red State America's tendency to want to shoot shit up...), a glancing nod towards American Exceptionalism, and some coy discussion about true Christians, etc. etc....

TL;DR: Nice Christian lady has some tentative thoughts about our national gun problem, the chauvinism of her co-religionists, but is too timid to actually say anything meaningful, save that she will "defer to no one in my love for America and for Christianity."
posted by Chrischris at 9:53 AM on September 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I shuddered through this as it reminded me of the professors in the compulsory religion classes in the awful-yet-academically-sound Calvinist college I attended, and sure enough when I pulled up her Wikipedia page, there's a photo of her speaking at a conference there.
posted by thedaniel at 9:58 AM on September 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

the supposedly Russian origin America's assault rifle problem

Not sure where you read this. Here's what she says about Kalashnikovs:

I have read that Americans are now buying Kalashnikovs in numbers sufficient to help subsidize Russian rearmament, to help their manufacturers achieve economies of scale. In the old days these famous weapons were made with the thought that they would be used in a land war between great powers, that is, that they would kill Americans. Now, since they are being brought into this country, the odds are great that they will indeed kill Americans

She's merely pointing out a little tidbit of fact, and pointing out the irony. Yes she continues to use the image of the Kalashnikov, but there's no indication that this is for what would be a uniquely weird position on the Russian origin of America's assault rifle problem.
posted by Dalby at 10:09 AM on September 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

thedaniel: I was wondering if she was at Calvin! (I'm an academic philosopher, so I'm very familiar with it.)

I'm not sure where this essay was going. I mean, I'm a liberal and a Christian and a fan and critic of America. So I read the essay and frequently found myself thinking the author and I probably would have a lot to talk about. But after I finished it I wasn't sure exactly what she was after in total with it.
posted by persona au gratin at 10:09 AM on September 9, 2015

The context, of course, is in an era where Kim Davis is at the center of the news and Donald Trump is running for president. We have large parts of the country who identify the stockpiling of guns in preparation for the Christian Apocalypse.

As our country loses a complicated, nuanced Christianity and it gets replaced by Ayn Rand and fetishized apocalyptic fantasies of theocratic tyranny, Robinson is making the argument:

Christian “establishment,” the making of Christianity in effect the official religion, is the first thing its supernumeraries would try for, and the last thing its faithful should condone.

This is a warning, to the faithful.
posted by john wilkins at 10:42 AM on September 9, 2015 [9 favorites]

fear is not a Christian habit of mind
But it is the #1 Selling Point for the religion (and, in fact, most religions) that will keep it alive, active and making history (in a Crusades and Inquisition way) for a long time to come.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:59 AM on September 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Nice Christian lady

I don’t know that Marilynne Robinson would reject any one of those labels, but that is a shocking over-simplification of one of America’s literary greats. (I cannot express how angry that makes me. I will abide.)
posted by Going To Maine at 11:09 AM on September 9, 2015 [11 favorites]

(I do agree that any particular theologian/author that Barrack Obama loves is, unfortunately, unlikely to find an audience among many who should listen.)
posted by Going To Maine at 11:27 AM on September 9, 2015

[Comment removed; maybe more discussion of the actual link, less generalized grousing-for-the-sake-of-grousing about Christianity in general.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:00 PM on September 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Fear is a natural part of the human mind. Of course religion will be concerned with it, and its institutions - like other institutions - will harness it. Yet, the end of religion would not mean we would become suddenly courageous people able to look into the abyss and sit with nothing. It might mean we just look at screens and eat processed food while we feed the institutions of commerce.

And of course, as Robinson alludes, it is not as if we should not be afraid of some things. But she is describing how the fear of ISIS and black helicopters easily escalates, when they are, in fact, ghosts, products of our own imagination.

But there will always, hopefully, be a remnant of people who carry forth this gospel: mercy before judgement; love your enemies; do not be afraid. Most of the world, and perhaps rightfully so, says "good luck with that."
posted by john wilkins at 12:20 PM on September 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

That was ... not Robinson's best work. Which is a shame, because her thesis -- "first, contemporary America is full of fear. And second, fear is not a Christian habit of mind" -- is undeniable. Fear reigns in the public imagination, and it is the most insidious kind of fear, the kind anchored in the tiniest shreds of reality. Concern for the safety of our children has mutated into arresting those who let their children play outside alone. Concern for maintaining public order has mutated into cops brutalizing or shooting anyone (black folk in particular) who offers the least bit of resistance. Concern about terrorism after 9/11 mutated into war, torture, and hostility toward Muslims that persists to this day. And I could name many more examples.

As for fear and Christianity, you don't have to read the Bible that deeply to see that one of the central promises of the gospel is freedom from fear. So a Christianity that stokes fear and demonizes others -- something that characterizes much of American Christianity -- should be judged as being far from the teachings of Jesus.

Having said all that, Robinson seems to have gotten herself in knots interrogating America's gun culture. Why take a detour about Kalashnikovs, for example, and not mention the NRA and its role in the fostering the current climate where even the most commonsense gun regulations can't get through legislatures? Why fail to mention America's long history of mob violence, usually directed against blacks and immigrants, suggesting that this country has been ruled by fear for much longer than Robinson lets on? This is one of those instances where a more direct, and less "literary", approach might have served her better.
posted by Cash4Lead at 12:23 PM on September 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

I’ll agree that the end is kind of abrupt, which surprised me. But in general I liked it. I think that the basic thesis (“Contemporary America is full of fear. Fear is not a Christian habit of mind.”) is great, and I’d like to see it spoken more towards those creating it.

I would like to understand more of why Robinson likes Calvin, & her own Calvinism. I tend to think of Calvinism as the religion of, well, constant fear at our predestined end. If anyone knows of her writings on why Calvin is great, I’d love to see ‘em.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:24 PM on September 9, 2015

It's always amusing to me that people through their snark can reveal their absolute ignorance so succinctly.

I haven't read the essay yet, but anything from Robinson at least deserves consideration.
posted by OmieWise at 12:28 PM on September 9, 2015

Great comment, Cash4Lead. That was helpful.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:33 PM on September 9, 2015

~Going to Maine: Check out her essay "Puritans and Prigs" in The Death of Adam. Not about Calvin per se, but it does try to overturn the stereotype of Puritans (who embraced a Calvinist theology) as joyless, pleasure-denying theocrats.
posted by Cash4Lead at 12:37 PM on September 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

And I agree with the assessment that America is full of fear (well, in particular, conservative America), and that this isn't a particularly Christian attitude.

Re: Calvinism: I'm not a Calvinist myself, but there is a long history of clear and deep thinking about philosophical and theological matters that is admirable in Calvinism. In particular, the influence of Dutch Calvinism on Anglo-American philosophy has been significant.

I don't know what Robinson in particular finds pleasing about Calvinism.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:38 PM on September 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Churches in my town usually have signs asking people not to come in armed. I went to a Lutheran church here with a sign that was just a piece of paper, something somebody had clearly run off on the office printer and stuck up -- it said "There Is No Fear In Love. No Guns Here"
posted by gerstle at 2:42 PM on September 9, 2015

Thank you for posting this, it was a good read and a good reminder not to let worldly fears overtake our worldview.
posted by HycoSpeed at 6:51 AM on September 15, 2015

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