Hope, Politics and Religion

Successful elections are often those that inspire hope.  Hope generates enthusiasm, especially in the young.

yes we can election campaignThat was true of Barack Obama’s 2008 (‘Yes we can’) campaign  and Emanuel Macron’s extraordinarily successful campaign in France this year. Some campaigns that are not ultimately successful are also notable for the hope and enthusiasm they inspire, especially in the young, such as Bernie Sanders’ campaign in the US and Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign in the UK.

As I have said before, hope is not the same as optimism (a point that Terry Eagleton has also recently made in his book, Hope Without Optimism).  Optimism is a matter of simply expecting things to go well, whereas hope can survive in adverse circumstances. Hope is primarily as much a matter of determination to make things better, leading to a belief in that being possible.

There is something religious about hope. I don’t mean that people who inspire hope are religious people in the conventional sense, just that the mood and language of hope is something derived from religion, and analogous to religion, however ‘secular’ it may appear to be.

Reflecting on this takes me back to my roots in Coventry Cathedral and to the International Service of Reconciliation held a fortnight after the opening of the new Cathedral in 1962 at which he Provost, H. C. N. (‘Bill’) Williams preached on The Crucifixion and Resurrection of Hope.

He spoke in his raw and passionate way about his concern that young people in Europe were growing up with nothing to hope for. The recovery of stability and prosperity after the war, successful in its own way, had failed to inspire hope. He believed that Coventry’s commitment to reconciliation had the capacity to do that.

That vision of international reconciliation has inspired many people, young and old, to a deeper hope. However, it now seems to be a rare exception to find a church or other religious movement that inspires hope. That task has largely passed to secular leaders. Their vision can serve a religious function, even when located in an explicitly secular context.

I long for religious leaders to once again find the vision and voice to inspire hope. The challenge is huge. Bill Williams puts it better than I can:

“We have a vast amount of evidence every day, in our news broadcasts and in our daily reading of the failure and frustration of efforts to build the future around political safeguards. Christians must regard it as a reproach that the political search for safeguards should be necessary at all.

But somewhere, somehow, sometime, Christians must declare their belief that this barrier of frustration can be and must be broken through by sufficient weight being given by the Church and the nations to the declaration that trust and hope and goodwill are worth working for, because alone of all the methods that are tried, it has the chance of evoking a positive response from those from whom we are otherwise divided, and it has the only chance of laying the foundations of an international building that will be permanent.

We may fail again, but this does not liberate us from the duty to try. If Christians either individually or nationally ever give up trying, then Christianity will die. And it will deserve to die.”

– Fraser Watts