Addresses and Statements

Faith, Hope and Love: Unchanging Virtues for a Changing World
Lecture 2: Hope – The Virtue of Life

25 Sep 2019

New College Lectures 2019 with Archbishop Glenn Davies

New College, University of New South Wales

Thank-you Meredith. Might I begin by repeating for those who weren’t here last night my thanks to Dr Peirson and all at New College for inviting me to join in conversation with my friend Archbishop Glenn Davies for this year’s New College Lectures. I think it a great honour and a tribute to the ecumenical generosity of the Anglican Church and New College.

“Hope. Hope is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective. A lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it’s contained.” So says President Snow in The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins’ trilogy which has outsold even the Harry Potter novels – more than 70 million copies in the U.S. alone, translations into 50+ languages, and film adaptations to boot. For the few who don’t know the story, it’s set in a dystopian country called Panem, with a wealthy Capitol City and twelve poorer districts. Every year a boy and a girl from each district are selected to compete in a televised fight to the death. But one year is different: a girl called Katniss Everdeen volunteers for the Hunger Games in place of her younger sister who’d been drawn. From the moment she volunteers, Katniss becomes a symbol of hope for the oppressed and poverty-stricken members of District 12. As it turns out, Panem’s tyrannt, President Snow, is right to fear that such hope can fuel a revolution…

Of course, there are many kinds of hope. There are little hopes, like that I might get to Kensington through the Sydney traffic in less than an hour or my optimism that tomorrow will be sunny. I can hope for bigger things, such as winning the lottery or marrying the right person. I can even hope for things of global import, such as peace in the Middle East or that Australia win the cricket. Such hopes are related but different, and not just in their gravity or whom they affect. Some are feelings, some wishes. Some more probable than others. Some are based on evidence and reasoning, others in intuition, temperament or fantasy.

Behind our small-h hopes, the French philosopher-dramatist Gabriel Marcel suggests there is a deeper hopefulness or big-h Hope.[1] Rather than a feeling, wish, choice or activity, Marcel argues Hope is a paradigm or interpretative key that orders feelings, wishes, choices and activities. Here we touch on one of the differences between hope and optimism. Optimism, self-confidence or wishfulness are largely temperamental and are often undermined, even panicked, by negative outcomes or critical feedback; hope grounded on faith or some secular equivalent endures through such challenges.[2] Thus Rabbi Jonathan Sacks observes that the Hebrew Bible is not very optimistic but is one of the great literatures of hope.[3]

Another aspect of hope, identified by Judith Andres, is one of vision. The hopeful person “is able to relax in his or her non-acceptance of the permanence of what happens to be the case” here and now, trust in “a certain process of growth and development” on the horizon, and work confidently towards that.[4] Hope believes in more and better, inspires people to strive for this, and sustains them in this struggle.[5] And the object of Christian hope is the kingdom of heaven. Thus Paul describes those saved by grace not just as the faithful but also as the hopeful, those “called to hope”, “steadfast in hope”, “hoping against hope”, “cheerful hopers”, “heirs in hope”.[6]

A third difference between optimism and hope might be in their evidence base.[7] Optimism is about temperament and may fly in the face of all evidence. Theological hope, on the other yhand, is grounded in faith, or as Archbishop Davies put it last night, God’s promises; and, as the Letter to the Hebrews points out, such promises are reliable because “it is impossible that God would prove false”. Thus “the hope that is set before us… is a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Heb 6:18-9; cf. 10:23), a “hope that does not disappoint” (Rom 5:5), that carries us through life’s struggles. In these three ways hope is that revolutionary virtue so feared by tyrants.

Last night I shared a little of my experience as a hospital patient for five months. When first I got sick I asked people to pray for my healing, of course, but also for patience, courage and hope. I received thousands of encouraging messages. One primary school boy wrote to say: “Dear Archbishop Anthony, I hear that you are sick. Well, I’m here to make you better. I’m going to pray for you, but in the meantime you should take lots of Nurofen.” Rare as the condition is, I received many communications from people who’d been through Guillain-Barré themselves and had recovered fully or partially, and wanted to assure me that there was light at the end of this long tunnel. Hope is the can’t-live-without virtue. And Christ is its foundation and fulfilment.[8]

Yesterday I said that faith develops knowledge of and relationship with God in this life and the next; hope helps us rest confidently in that knowledge and relationship, while striving for the kingdom of heaven; and love makes us want that God and life more than anything, and express that love in service of others. If we had faith and love but somehow lacked hope, our life would lose its trajectory, aspiration, ability to strive. Without reasons to hope life loses colour and human beings are homogenised. The rather gloomy philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, described the hopeless-ness of the age and consequent loss of commitment to the future as ‘the end of history’. It was ‘the age of the Last Men’, who care for nothing but the present, and therefore only for comfort and the status quo. “‘What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?’— so asks the Last Man, and blinks.”[9]

But Christian hope looks the end times in the eye and does not blink. It points to divine Love and creation’s Author. It knows the longing of the restless heart and the call to follow the star to Bethlehem. Christianity is essentially a religion of hope, the driving virtue of life. In a culture of presumption, ego and entitlement, it says we are made to hope for more than self-promotion. In a culture of despair, with unprecedented rates of depression and anxiety, suicide and self-harm, of cynicism about our polity and fear for our ecology,[10] of invitations to check out early on life through ‘voluntary assisted dying’, hope says there is a story for each one of us worth seeing through, part of a bigger story with a glorious final scene. We all need hope to inform the other virtues: hope to continue the work for justice amidst so much injustice; hope than enables courage, patience and perseverance when things are hard (cf. Dt 31:6); hope that turns wise thoughts into decisions and decisions into actions; hope that sustains loving action even when love is exhausted or unreturned.

True hope can spark a revolution of goodness because it is a posture towards life that trusts, inspires, sustains. It does so not out of wishful thinking or sunny temperament, but as a gift founded on the most reliable of promises. It is Nurofen for the soul, allowing us confidently to strive for the kingdom of heaven. It’s the can’t-live-without virtue, without which we lose purpose and trajectory. And it informs other virtues. The Canadian author R. J. Anderson wrote: “We need all kinds of books, because there are all kinds of readers. And a story that one person finds depressing and pointless may be the same story that inspires another person to go out and change the world. So read the books that move you, that make you gasp and rage and weep. Read books that challenge and provoke you, books that remind you to examine your assumptions and check your privilege, books that make you question if what is or could be, should be. And leave a little room on your bookshelf for hope. Because none of us can live without it.”[11]

[1] Gabriel Marcel, Homo Viator: Introduction to the Metaphysics of Hope, trans. by Emma Crauford % Paul Seaton, (St. Augustine’s Press, 2010), p. 34ff

[2] Cf. Kate Sweeny, Patrick Carroll, & James Shepperd, “Is Optimism Always Best? Future Outlooks And Preparedness,” Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(6) (2006), pp. 302-6

[3] Jonathan Sacks, To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility (Schocken, 2007).

[4] Judith Andres, Worldly Virtue: Moral Ideals and Contemporary Life (Lexington Books, 2015), p. 36

[5] Dt 31:6; Ps 20:7; Isa 40:28-31; Mt 17:20; 19:26; 21:21; Jn 14:27.

[6] 1Thes 1:3; 2Thes 2:16; Rom 4:18; 8:24-5; 12:12; Eph 1:12,18; 4;4; Tit 3:6-7

[7] Cf. Luc Bovens, “The value of hope,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 59(3) (1999), p. 674; Adrienne Martin, “Hopes and dreams,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 83(1) (2011), pp. 148-73

[8] Josef Pieper, Faith, Hope, Love (Ignatius Press, 2011), p.

[9] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 5

[10] Martha Nussbaum, The Monarchy of Fear: A Philosopher Looks at our Political Crisis (Simon & Schuster, 2018).

[11] R. J. Anderson, “Why I love books for children and teens: the whole story”, http://www.rj-anderson.com/continuum-11-goh-speech-the-whole-story/

X