Thursday, October 30, 2008

Rebuilding Hope: The Task Ahead

I’m thinking these days of the need to rebuild hope. To be specific: I’m thinking that, if our culture and political process truly are undergoing the monumental shift many observers believe is taking place, we will need to find resources to help us build hope anew. As individuals and as a society.

An interesting article on the Alternet site today addresses this issue. Mark Klemper asks how much damage eight years of neoconservative rule has done to Americans’ psyches (
(In my view, the span of neocon rule is actually longer—back to Reagan in the 1980s.)

From the viewpoint of someone whose father escaped the Holocaust, Kemper reminds us that our participatory democracy was founded on the notion of people’s fundamental goodness. This is not starry-eyed utopianism. It is Martin Luther King’s “deep and abiding faith in humanity”—the faith that, when we collaborate and draw on the energies provided by the best angels of our nature, we can build a better, if never perfect, society.

Kemper thinks that, as individuals and as a culture, we have been damaged by those who have worked on our fears for far too long now. And so we now face the task of rebuilding hope, a task he describes as follows: “A crucial part of our work will be to resurrect our essential vision of human goodness, and specifically our own goodness as a nation.”

As I say, I’ve been thinking along the same lines, and have been noting resources that help feed my starved sense of hope. They’re all around, if we push ourselves to look for them. Quite a few of the sites to which this blog is linked provide those resources.

For instance, on my friend Colleen Baker’s Enlightened Catholicism blog this week, I read a powerful document about alternative liturgies being employed in an inclusive Catholic parish in South Brisbane, Australia. And, any time I need a reminder of what the human heart is capable of when it allows itself to open to anyone and everyone in need, I turn to the resources on the Saint Mychal Judge blog linked to this site.

These are only two of a vast number of such hope-sustaining resources. Some days, simply googling images of natural beauty helps revive my hope. Other days, going someplace—the hot water fountains in Hot Springs are a place I’ve learned to count on—where I encounter somebody “different,” a bit off the grid, with a perspective on life I don’t usually hear, helps me remember how amazingly rich the spiritual lives of others can be. Every voice and every perspective counts, and we need to build a society that remembers this.

I have to admit that I’m among the walking wounded about whom Kemper writes. My own hopes have flagged during the long years of neoconservative dominance of our political process and culture. I have worked with and worked for too many people who found a comfortable niche in that neoconservative world, and whose technique of personnel management consisted of playing team members against each other, and distrusting all of them.

I’ve worked with and for too many people who, even while spouting the humanistic ideals of a Dr. King or a Dr. Bethune, nonetheless live out of the neoconservative belief that everyone is an enemy to be combated, to be put in his or her place, to be overcome. Or to be banished from community when he or she became too inconvenient or too insistent on continuing to speak out about what is good and what is true.

Such experiences rob the soul of hope. They’re designed to do that. They’re designed, in the final analysis, to fragment, to set us against one another, to set our better and baser angels against each other in the hope that the baseness will keep the better in check, while those manipulating our fears consolidate their power and control. They're designed to make us doubt our best instincts, to make us doubt and fear others. They're designed to inject poison into our psyches, for the benefit of the power-hungry person at the top playing us against each other.

One of the most hopeful signs I see in our culture today is the dissolution of the religious right as the driving force of neoconservative politics. Poll upon poll and article after article demonstrates the emergence of a new religious coalition in which younger people of faith are playing key roles.

This new coalition is driven by hope and not by fear. It is repudiating the fear-based politics (and religion) of the religious right and its political bedfellows for a new hope-based religious and political worldview.

Nothing could be healthier for our political process, in a time of seismic shift. Nothing could be better for our churches, to the extent to which they have bought into the fear-based religion and politics of the right, which use religion only to betray its most fundamental values.

Because those are centered around love and hope, not fear and hate.