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Marilynne Robinson: Why are we so afraid?

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(Read caption) Author Marilynne Robinson says her new collection of essays, 'When I Was a Child, I Read Books,' is partly drawn from talks she's given to conservative Christian audiences.

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Why are Americans today so afraid, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson wants to know.

“If there have ever been people on earth who should have been able to take a deep breath and say. 'Thank God,' we're the people,” said the author of “Gilead” to an audience of about 2,000 at Calvin College's Festival on Faith & Writing. “Why not enjoy it?”

Instead, she said she sees people hunkering down in psychological bunkers, as if they're living in an alien and hostile land. “There's an increasing normalization of fear in this culture,” said Robinson, who has a new collection of essays, “When I Was a Child, I Read Books.”

“This is not the siege of Paris,” Robinson pointed out.

Robinson's speech echoed a certain president who is not generally beloved by conservative Christians: She sees “the accelerating problem of fear” as one that's causing individuals everywhere to lower the bar on what they can accomplish in their lives. “There are all these anxieties we internalize, and we create a smaller model of ourselves around them.”

As for the Great Recession and the current lukewarm recovery, Robinson asked, “Do we never expect to have a bad time? Every generation or so, something goes haywire. It's human history.”

Robinson said she can't figure out when people decided that previous generations' sacrifices and accomplishments should be used to create a “satin cushion that our generation is supposed to be carried on. It's bizarre. Not to mention not particularly admirable.”

But she said she rejects the notion that the United States is in decline or that our culture is “sprouting mushrooms.”

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