Sunday, December 6, 2015

Give into hope

This morning I read something by Fr Stephen Freeman, who is an Orthodox priest, that I found both refreshing and reassuring: "You Barely Make a Difference and It's a Good Thing." While I was convinced of this even before reading Fr Stephen's post, I appreciate very much his timely reminder. Indeed, ever since it occurred to us to make the world a better place the pace of ruination has only increased despite the palpable material betterment of much of humanity, which comes at the expense of others.

It occurs to me that ceasing any attempts to usher in progress, which only turns out to look more like regress, fosters in me an attitude of hope. As C.S. Lewis observed: "You cannot hope and also think about hoping at the same moment; for in hope we look to hope's object and we interrupt this by (so to speak) turning around to look at the hope itself" (Surprised by Joy, chapter XIV). Reading this immediately brought the image of Lot's wife to mind. It seems to me that in our efforts to make the world a better place we have only the vaguest of notions as to what "better" is and no idea whatsoever of the good, which cannot be conceived without both truth and beauty or without a transcendent teleology of the human person. At the expense of fixating on it, it seems the best that the popular imagination can produce in terms of a better world is something along the lines of John Lennon's utterly banal "Imagine."

I want to be clear that by taking aim at "Imagine" I am not denigrating the song's composer. While it may blow many minds to even consider such a possibility, it may well be the case that prior to being murdered Lennon became a Christian (see "Did John Lennon Become a Christian?"). What is even more interesting is that Lennon's interest in Christianity seems to have been almost exclusively in its contemporary Evangelical form.

Getting back to hope, specifically our inability to hope and think about hoping at the same time, it seems that our attempts to make a difference in the world amount to something like trying to do what Lewis, whose thought here is rooted in the philosophy articulated by Samuel Alexander in his Space, Time, and Deity, originally delivered as Glasgow University Gifford Lectures from 1916-18, held to be impossible.

Perhaps the simplest way to define hope is as the desire for something coupled with the expectation of obtaining it. What is the object of Christian hope? God.

Describing his way to conversion in the same chapter of his memoirs I cited above (his conversion was truly began on the upper deck of a double-decker bus), Lewis confessed, "I did not yet ask, Who is the desired? only What is it?" He went on to describe the necessity of finding the road that leads one outside, or beyond, one's self. According to Lewis, somewhat paradoxically, the road that leads me outside myself begins in "deepest solitude." If my own experience is anything to go by, it is in deepest solitude that I realize the object of my desire is Someone, not some thing.

Fr Stephen ended his post by pointing out that to give up trying to save the world does not mean giving in to despair. On the contrary, it is giving in to hope. How does one give in to hope? "Feeding, clothing, visiting, etc., are very homely practices (Matt. 25[:31-46]). It doesn’t take all of the resources of the modern world to do them. They are all immediately at hand."

You have been told, O mortal, what is good,
and what the LORD requires of you:
Only to do justice and to love goodness,
and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8)

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