Faith and hope

Chris Hedges is one of the political writers that I like. (Even though he sometimes goes over the top, and he does too much moralizing.) Here is a short description of his faith, from his book American Fascists, bashing the religious right:

God is inscrutable, mysterious and unknowable. We do not understand what life is all about, what it means, why we are here and what will happen to us after our brief sojourn on the planet ends. We are saved, in the end, by faith—faith that life is not meaningless and random, that there is a purpose to human existence, and that in the midst of this morally neutral universe the tiny, seemingly insignificant acts of compassion and blind human kindness, especially to those labeled our enemies and strangers, sustain the divine spark, which is love.

This isn’t just Hedges; many of his fellow graduates of liberal seminaries will express similar views.

I’m not exactly sure what all this means—I suspect there’s a lot of well-crafted obscurantism lurking in these phrases—but it’s impressively resistant to criticism. After all, it acknowledges the impersonal nature of the universe. It still seeks some magic to human compassion, and it is a view that seems all too ready to seek divine sparks in what we don’t fully know. But all this is quite vague, difficult to translate into concrete observations. It’s more of a hope, a desire for meaning, than any well-defined fact claim.

To the extent that all this is a hope, it’s also hard for me to figure out what’s wrong with it. It’s a bloody stupid hope, perhaps, when we’re talking about cosmic purpose. But this hope also seems very tightly woven into Hedges’s conception of acting morally; perhaps without it, he’d have little option but to fall into despair. And that seems impractical at best.

I don’t really know what to make of all this, I guess.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05693985638589020492 Mark

    The most obvious thing to criticize about the passage is that it insists we understand the "human condition" in Christian soteriological terms. These are:

    1. The world as we find it is overall bad. It has, at least prima facie, somewhat vague properties called "meaninglessness" and "randomness" that would make life in the world as such hardly worth living.

    2. We are in need of salvation from "meaninglessness" and "randomness." We're on a quest to find that special, invisible "something" that will rescue us from the malaise of the ultimate apathy of the universe. The salvation may not ultimately be supernatural in origin (though Hedges seems to think it probably is?), but it will be "numinous."

    3. The vehicle of our salvation is faith. Life is made not only bearable but justified only by an ennobling act of belief in a mysterious, numinous shaper of human destiny and human goodness.

    I think this is a distinctly Pauline way of looking at the world, so prevalent in our culture that most of its adherents fail to recognize the existence of alternatives. It's somewhat frustrating to repeatedly have thrown in one's face by well-meaning people who find it self-evident.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Mark: "I think this is a distinctly Pauline way of looking at the world, so prevalent in our culture that most of its adherents fail to recognize the existence of alternatives."

    Very interesting. It might help explain why I have such a hard time getting this. It's not the sort of thing I grew up with (outside the US), so when I encounter it, I can't easily figure it out. Sigh.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07658244925566120500 The Recovering Allaholic

    I think part of the reason that the world seems so "meaningless" is that in a Judeo-Christian society, we have grandiose expectations of meaning.. they are hard to purge ourselves of, but I don't get an eternal purpose, no matter how badly I want it.


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