The Word of God has a generous collection of alarmisms: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse”; “repent and believe in the Gospel”; you “brood of vipers”; you “whitened sepulchres”; the parable of the sheep and goats, among many others—all familiar terrain for the believer. Jesus had the awkward habit of talking about hell—far more often, in fact, than St. Paul ever did. Pope Francis is a compelling alarmist when he speaks about our destruction of the environment and our treatment of the poor. Irenaeus was an alarmist. Augustine was an alarmist. Basil was an alarmist. John Calvin and the Reformers, both Protestant and Catholic, were alarmists. Georges Bernanos, the great French Catholic novelist and an accomplished alarmist, described the Christian virtue of hope as “despair overcome,” and he had a particular disgust for the American cult of optimism, which he called “whistling past the graveyard.”
Pessimism is the selfish refusal to hope; a surrender to the world as it is; a repudiation of trust in the goodness of God, his love for us, and his desire for our joy, no matter how challenging our circumstances. This pessimism is precisely what the books by Dreher, Esolen, and others (including, I hope, my own) seek to work against. Naming the problems in a culture truthfully, and pointing a way forward for those awake enough to notice, is neither bleak nor negative. It’s called Christian realism, and it’s a virus that’s going around.
If that’s also a “new alarmism,” then we need more of it, not less.