Friday, September 11, 2009

Hope versus Fear

Eric Reitan has written an article on Religion Dispatches called Presidential Pep Talks and the Religion of Fear: How Did an Uncontroversial Speech Become a National Controversy. He articulates the differences between a religion of hope and a religion of fear and why those who are part of the religion of fear do not want the President to appear moderate and human. He refers to these people as belonging to a religion of fear believe in a vengeful God who visits his creatures who disobey with disasters such as 9/11. They believe it is crucial to keep the followers of the religion of hope out of power, so that this vengeful God may be appeased by forcing everyone to "toe the line." But what I really liked about the article was his description of the religion of hope:
The religion of hope is beautifully embodied in the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and is concisely expressed in his conviction that “beneath the harsh appearances of the world there is a benign power”—that is, a transcendent benevolence that cares about the good and supports those who work for justice. A key feature of the religion of hope is that, because the root of creation is good, no existing thing is essentially bad or evil. Most significantly, this means that every person is a product of a benevolent creator and so not only has inherent value and dignity, but has the capacity within them for moral goodness.

No one is irredeemably evil. No one is so far gone that they have been rendered incapable of compassion; even if, as may be the case, this capacity has been buried beneath layers of prejudice and fear. Because all of us are products of the same divine benevolence, and because our divine creator is a real power moving within all of us to nurture what is good, we can enter conflicts in the hope that we can reach and connect with our opponents’ best selves, that fundamental part of who they are that is responsive to the needs of others.

This is not to say that evil systems and forces aren’t real, and that people do not become deeply entangled with them; nor that injustices can be overcome without struggle, or that there will never be a need to apprehend and incapacitate dangerous people; nor that our duties to protect those in our care will never call us to harm an aggressor in their defense.

But it does mean that even our most dangerous opponents will be seen as fellow human beings with a capacity to care about the good. Those who live by the religion of hope are therefore more inclined to pursue reconciliation even when there are risks, and more likely to forgive even when a past wrong is truly grave.

And when and where the religion of hope prevails, it is difficult to foster an attitude of paranoid hysteria. Even when threats and injustices are real, those who live by the religion of hope look for ways to overcome those threats and injustices by building and recognizing connections of common humanity. They are not easily convinced by those who fabricate dangers out of thin air, and they are not likely to view an occasion for staking out common ground and shared values as itself a danger from which our children must be shielded.

This is so opposite what we are finding in our political and religious communities in the USA, and is exactly the message that Jesus preached. And don't the angels when they appear to us mortals start out by saying "Be not afraid!" I strongly recommend you read the whole article.

H/T Paige Blair now a priest in the San Diego area, a wonderful iconographer and u2charist proponent posted the link to this on her Facebook page.

9 comments:

PseudoPiskie said...

Thanks for commenting on OCICBW. I lost all my blog bookmarks when my computer died. Now I have yours again. I posted the article on Facebook too and gave you credit. Shel

motheramelia said...

Shel, welcome back. I think that Reitan makes some really good arguments for why there is such an amazing hostility from the right to everything Obama does. I had a most unpleasant conversation with someone a month or so ago where the person insisted on calling the President "Husein." In fact nearly everything that came out of his mouth was hateful. I told him I wouldn't listen to it, but it still upset me for days.

Rick+ said...

     Excellent analysis of the reaction to what was an inspiring speech. I showed it to my class and had them write their comments; I'm hoping to turn them into a blog entry this weekend.

motheramelia said...

Looking forward to the post. What grade level is your class?

Rick+ said...

     I teach 6th Grade in elementary school. Love the kids because at that pre-teen stage they're "neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring," and I find that utterly charming.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Amelia, those are lovely words. I take them as reminders to me to see, for instance, the people at the health care town meeting who seemed so full of hate as fellow humans with the capacity for moral goodness. That's not easy.

motheramelia said...

I don't find it easy, either, Mimi.

Brian R said...

Thanks for this motheramelia. I need to internalise these thoughts and try to practise the religion of hope. I can also pray that those in our church who would preach a condemning god would come to see the God of compassion and hope.

Doorman-Priest said...

Such sense!