In the discussion flowing from yesterday's editorial commentary I laid emphasis on the virtue of "hope" (rather than economic or political formulae) residing at the "success" of Western civilisation — or if not WC as a whole, the sort of lifestyle we have come to enjoy in the affluent, educated and socially sophisticated world. Without people in any community having some sense of "hope" (in a better future) life is depressing and ultimately becomes destructive. By more serendipity or God-incidence than planning on my part, Dr Anthony Lowes had submitted this lengthy reflection exploring the concept of hope in a deeper sense. In the opening pars of the essay he provides his own introduction. ...Brian Coyne, Editor
Recent conversations on the Catholica forum have explored the possibility (or impossibility) of maintaining hope in the institution of the Catholic church. It seems that much of the anguish about this issue has arisen because, as a result of the phenomenon of Good Pope John and of the even greater historical miracle of the Vatican II, a wild hope momentarily flourished for all forward-thinking catholics.
Lionhearted virtues dominated the church's collective psyche: belief in the essential goodness of a graced world (despite the shadow of violence, sin, injustice); a newfound sense of human communion (fuelled by a hunger for reconciliation which in turn was marked by compassionate open-mindedness and humility in relation to the apprehension of truth); optimism in regard to future-church and future-world.
And then like a luminous dawn mist, the hope progressively vanished before the harsh rays of an ineluctable sun—in this case a curmudgeonly conservative Curia obsessed with centralist control and with reversing the revolution, 'reforming' the reform.
A trifle florid as a metaphor, I admit; but let it stand.
Hope once spawned and then blighted renders the subsequent forlornness the more intense.
In this essay, I argue for the possibility of the persistence of hope, despite all contra-indications. What I envisage is a hope that is based on something more solid than an unblemished report card for the church's leaders or indications of social vitality consistently across the global church community. It is plain as a pikestaff that neither is very much in evidence. If there is to be hope it cannot be a 'categorical' hope. (The term will be explained as the essay unfolds.)
But hope of some sort will remain, it is a prerequisite for humans as a whole (and believers as a subgroup) remaining human. As the recently deceased Cardinal Martini said in debate with Umberto Eco: ' . . . no human or satanic power can destroy the hope of believers.' Whatever the hope that will survive, it will be inescapably focused on the on-coming future.
Hope as confident hunger for the future...
It was Alfred Flectheim who coined the term 'futurology', according to Walter Kasper. The word might stand as a cipher to express modern consciousness. Modern consciousness which was formed during the Romantic movement was for so long infatuated by the possibility of human perfectibility and by the assurance of its inevitable realisation in history.
When this was exploded in the disillusionment which resulted from the horrors of the twentieth century, fascination with brighter futures turned to apocalyptic dread. What has soured futuristic optimism is not just that Romantic anticipation has been shown to be marching in step with its dark parody, but that the demonization of its most cherished hopes has been spawned by the very processes that promised so much.
Utopianism in either of its generic forms—extreme nationalist fascism or totalitarian socialism—has, in the end, provided the most horrendous hells of history in the very soil that should have yielded golden paradisal harvests. For all that, modern humanity has not ceased to live for and in the future.
Yet the locus of its hope is futurum and not adventus, to use the distinction employed by Jürgen Moltmann. The focus of the modern fascination, even obsession, is a categorical future (futurum) that grows out of the present, a future which is calculated, projected and at least putatively manipulated and controlled. Modern consciousness, for all its most recent nightmarish experience, will not acknowledge the future that comes upon it (adventus), except perhaps negatively in the marginal laments of absurdist philosophy and theatre, and the defiance of existentialism.
Humankind and the trilemma...
It would seem that humankind is faced here with something of a trilemma. It can confront the future with a leaden realism like Beckett's tramps rotating in a wasteland, fearing that Godot never comes, or it can pursue a magnificent obsession with models of economic growth or socialist utopias that in the end are at best sheer evasion, or it can pursue the dream of an absolute future as Christianity and perhaps other religious philosophies do.
In all three cases, we are dealing with hope or despair based upon some form of faith. All three solutions go beyond the empirical evidence yielded by the human condition, which is most ambiguous, with its chiaroscuro of light and dark, promise and betrayal, high minded altruism and naked selfishness, freedom and compulsion, dignity and squalor.
Gabriel Marcel has developed the doctrine of 'absolute hope', which he claims is the only valid Christian stance in the face of the future. Karl Rahner speaks in like manner of Christianity as the religion of the 'transcendental hope' in the quest for the 'mystery of the Absolute'.
The absolute hope, the transcendental hope, grounded as it is in the Absolute, is opposed on the one hand to the nihilism of Sartre and the existentialists. On the other, it stands in contrast to the social and economic engineering that would produce a future which can never exceed, but which frequently falls far short of, limited predictions, calculations and computer models.
Ladislaus Boros' claim is that it is only the Christian concept of absolute hope in an absolute future that produces a fully human anthropology, which does justice even to those who contribute little to the corporate human endeavour, as it shapes what is to come or at least struggles against its apparent demeaning absurdity.
Liberation theologians point out that the chief value of the absolute future is that it provides within humanity a fundamental 'reserve'. This lifts the human horizon beyond the limitations of any one utopian program, relativising its status and laying it open to necessary criticism with appropriate revision and reform where it falls short of an overarching human purpose.
More positively, Rahner points out that the concept of an absolute future actually fuels the utopian endeavour, even though, and precisely because, it moves beyond mere utopianism. What the conviction about an absolute future does for Christians is give them a sense of an open future in which all promise is exceeded.
The point about such excess is that the absolute future is God, and God cannot be contained within the confines of predictability and calculability. Christian hope is an incalculable intuition rooted in the excess of God's love for the world and in the excess which Godself is. Hope is a desperate clinging to the God who leads us into the future, who is in fact the future as it assumes the dimensions and character of being.
©2012Dr Anthony Lowes