Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thinking about hope

I've been wondering about a kind of historical chronology of hope.

The question for the historian working on such a project would be, in what things do people place their hope? Over time, which object of hope has enjoyed a period of prominence, only to succumb and be replaced by another? By asking these questions we can map our a kind of timeline of hope. Perhaps it would be instructive.

For example, was there an era when people put their primary hope in war-craft above all else? Another in which they put their hope in commerce? Or in revolution? Or in nostalgic dreams of restoring something that had been lost? Or in a particular leader or idea?

Can we create a timeline of such trends? The rise and fall of these various objects of hope?

It seems to me that this would be a worthy endeavor for some ambitious historian. And as for our moment in this ongoing chronology, it's worth asking, where are we as a people placing our hope?

Is our hope to be found in what leaders decide in Washington or Copenhagen? Is our hope in the wisdom of some new best-selling guru claiming to have the answer at last? Is our hope in family, or community, or law and order, or legislation, or green technology, or money, or communication, or getting back to the land, or colonizing space?

Of course we are a diverse people with a diversity of hopes, but in our day which two or three seem to have taken center stage, drawing the most attention? About which do we tend to make the most pie-eyed claims? About which do we tolerate the least questioning?

These are questions that occurred to me this week as I read, of all things, an old mystery/thriller from the mid-twentieth century, Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely. Chandler's world is one in which hope, if it exists at all, is in being deft enough and strong enough to simply survive, for this world (Chandler's world) is all danger all the time, with its seamy underside always about to burst through even the most apparently respectable surface. Think Jack Nicholson in Chinatown.

So I'm just wondering. When we put our hope in something, whatever it is, and when we elevate that thing to the position of last and best, so that there is no higher good imaginable, we will defend that last and best hope against all competitors with all the moral indignation we can muster. My point is not to suggest that all things in which we put our hope are invalid, only that perhaps we too readily elevate our object of hope to the status of an idol.

I see evidence of this all around me. And it causes me to wonder....

3 comments:

Ted M. Gossard said...

Interesting. I wonder as was pointed out by someone else I was reading, if all hopes that we think are seal proof are misplaced apart from hope in the Triune God. Any entity is limited, even if by our understanding of it alone. And all things so easily become idols. Thought provoking.

nAncY said...

http://janeto.blogspot.com/2009/12/book-review-noticer.html

Bob said...

Ted, I think that's an accurate statement. All hope in things and people should be provisional, and we should understand the limits. Misplaced hope, it seems to me, is a tragedy. Placing too much hope in human and fallible things, equally so.

Nancy, good link. Sounds like an interesting book.