Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Optimism or Hope?

It’s quite amusing to read Thomas Friedman’s assessment of “rebooting” the United States. It reminds me of another article posted here on December 14 reporting the thoughts of leaders of the World Bank on how to restart the global economy.

The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday December 10, 2008, B3) ran the following: “It is not just a supply shock,’ Mr. Timmer said. ‘It is not just a reduction in demand, but it is the lack of availability of credit.’ Deutsche Bank, in a forecast issued this week was even more pessimistic. It said global growth would drop to 0.2 percent in 2009, with the United States, Europe, and Japan in recessions of roughly equal severity."

It continued: “China, which grew 11.9 percent in 2007, will slow to 7 percent next year, the bank projects, and 6.6 percent in 2010, when the rest of the world is slowly recovering. It’s not going to be the spark that reignites global demand,’ said Thomas Mayer, the chief European economist for Deutsche Bank. ‘We’re almost in an air pocket, where we don’t have a new global driver of growth.”

Today (December 24, 2008), Thomas Friedman says:
“Our present crisis is not just a financial meltdown crying out for a cash injection. We are in much deeper trouble. IN fact, we as a country have become General Motors – as a result of our national drift. Look in the mirror: G.M. is us.

“That’s why we don’t just need a bailout. We need a reboot. We need a build out. We need a buildup. We need a national makeover. That is why the next few months are among the most important in U.S. history. Because of the financial crisis, Barack Obama has the bipartisan support to spend $1 trillion in stimulus. But we must make certain that every bailout dollar, which we’re borrowing from our kids’ future, is spent wisely.”(NYT Wednesday, December 24, 2008, A 25).

Friedman then goes on to enumerate how stimulus dollars should go into teachers, educating scientists and engineers, research, productivity enhancing infra-structure – and not into pork. He estimates that
“America still has the right stuff to thrive. We still have the most creative, diverse, innovative culture and open society…”

But, is that true? And notice the materialistic mind-set that he exposes. The key will be the money that could be spent. But in his estimation, it must be spent in the right direction; that if it is spent on the right educational “stuff,” our culture has the imagination and the generating power of new ideas to restart scientific and technological “progress” in the direction of new “change.” And, therefore, prosperity and world-leadership.

The Distinction Between “Progress” and ‘Hope”

In re-reading Ratzinger’s “To Look on Christ – Exercises in Faith, Hope, and Love,” his struggle with the discrepancy between “optimism” and “hope” stands out in my mind. Ratzinger’s relationship with Ernst Bloch (theoretical Marxist) moved him to the following reflection:

“It dawned on me as the result of this reading that ‘optimism’ is the theological virtue of a new god and a new religion, the virtue of deified history, of a god ‘history,’ and thus of the great god of modern ideologies and their promise. This promise is utopia, to be realized by means of the ‘revolution,’ which for its part represents a kind of mythical godhead, as it were a ‘God the son’ in relation to the ‘God the father’ of history. … Corresponding to this is the fact that in the new religion ‘pessimism’ is the sin of all sins, for to doubt optimism, progress, utopia is a frontal attack on the spirit of the modern age: it is to dispute its fundamental creed on which its security rests, even though this is always under threat in view of the weakness of the sham god of history.”

Ratzinger then goes into the indignation that “The Ratzinger Report” sparked because it was considered “pessimistic.”
“In many places efforts were made to stop its being sold, because a heresy of this magnitude simply could not be tolerated. The molders of public opinion placed it on the index of forbidden books: the new inquisition let its strength be felt. It showed once again that there is no worse sin against the spirit of the age than to show oneself lacking in optimism. It was not at all a question whether what was claimed was true or false, whether the diagnosis was correct or not: I have not been aware of people taking the time to investigate such old-fashioned questions. The criterion was quite simple: ‘Is it optimistic or not?’ – and it completely failed this test…. The dogma of progress seemed to be called into question. With the rage that only sacrilege can call forth, people let fly at this denial of the god of history. And its promises.”

The Point? To understand the true nature of Christian hope and see through its ersatz imitations and distortions that are a surrogate for it.

The Ontological Meaning of Christian Hope: There is an ontological tendency that is the human person imaging the divine Relation that is the Son of God, the Logos.
[1] Once affirmed by divine Grace (which is divine Love) that is received in Baptism as sacrament or desire, the “I” of the human person is able to exercise the freedom of self mastery in the pilgrimage of self-giving that is the beginning of eternal life now in this world. This “progress” in self-giving is the “Christogenesis” of the human person as image and son of God. One is on the way to becoming “another Christ.”

The meaning of the “Kingdom of God” is the Person of Christ himself: “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons then the Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Lk. 11, 20). The Kingdom of God is the Person of Christ Who becomes instantiated in the baptized, such that “there is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor freeman; there is neither male nor female; you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3, 28). Consult Benedict XVI’s “Jesus of Nazareth” for his assessment of Origen: “Jesus himself is the Kingdom; the Kingdom is not a thing, it is not a geographical dominion like worldly kingdoms. It is a person; it is he. On this interpretation, the term ‘Kingdom of God’ is itself a veiled Christology… The Kingdom of God is not to be found on any map. It is not a kingdom after the fashion of worldly kingdoms; it is located in man’s inner being. It grows and radiates outward from that inner space.”

Ratzinger clarifies that the goal of optimism is the development of an external historical society through evolution and technology. He writes that “The goal of optimism is the utopia of the finally and everlastingly liberated and fortunate world, the perfect society in which history reaches its goal and reveals its divinity. The immediate aim… is the success of our ability to do things. The goal of Christian hope is the kingdom of God that is the union of world and man with God through an act of divine power and love.”[3]

He then concludes that “The internal justification for optimism is the logic of history, which goes its own way and presses forward irrevocably towards its goal: the justification of Christian hope is the incarnation of God’s word and love in Jesus Christ.”

Expatiating on the above: “The goal of the ideologies is finally and ultimately success, in which we are able to realize our own wishes and plans. Our own ability and activity on which we are betting is however aware that ultimately it is guided and confirmed by an irrational fundamental tendency of development; the dynamic of progress means that everything ultimate becomes all right, as I was told recently by a physicist who regarded himself as important when I had the temerity to utter doubts about some modern techniques for handling nascent human life. The aim of Christian hope, by contrast, is a gift, the gift of love, which is given us beyond all our activity…

“But this means that the product of the promise of optimism is something that we must ultimately produce ourselves, trusting that the blind process of development in connection with out own activity will finally lead to the right goal. The gift of the promise of hope, on the other hand, is precisely that, a gift that as something already bestowed we await from him who alone can really give: the God who in the midst of history has already begun his age through Jesus. This in turn means that in the first case there is in reality nothing to hope for, because what we are awaiting we must bring about ourselves, and nothing will be given us beyond what we can achieve ourselves.”

[1] Cf. Ratzinger’s “Conscience and Truth” in On Conscience Ignatius (2007) 32.
[2] Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth” Doubleday (2007) 49-50.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “To Look on Christ – Exercises in Faith, Hope, and Love, Crossroad (1991) 46-47.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid 48.

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