The Wrong Kind of Hope

Hope

Last night, after I spoke about how white conservative evangelicals too often privilege fear over hope, a friend noted that Trump’s evangelical supporters seem pretty “hopeful” right now.  Trump is delivering on the Supreme Court.  He has moved the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem.  He is trying to do something about religious liberty (at least as white evangelicals understand it).  For a group of evangelicals who see political and cultural engagement in terms of winning the culture wars, Trump has been anointed for such a time as this.

I thought about my friend’s comment this morning as I read Laurie Premack‘s review of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trumppublished at The Conversation.  Here is a taste of her very fair review:

Do you remember that Barack Obama poster? The one of him looking into the middle distance, as if gazing upon a future only he could see, the word “HOPE” spelled out across his chest in blue – the colour of clear days and sunny skies? It was in Obama’s speech at the 2004 Democratic Conference – the one that catapulted him to the presidency four years later – that he first made the audacious promise that the country had the power to choose hope over cynicism. Farewell to the grim ironies of the 20th century, hello to the brave promise of the new millennium.

But Obama’s hope was always a vague one: something to do with slaves, immigrants, soldiers and mill workers. He said it was “something more substantial” than “blind optimism” but didn’t go into the details. It was simply what you harness in the face of difficulty and uncertainty. The thing that keeps you believing that the future will be better than today.

The general public is accustomed to thinking about hope in political terms. That is the American eschatology (the belief in the nation’s ultimate destiny) – that through democracy the country will enter the promised land. Indeed, hope is, at its essence, faith in the future. And people tend to talk about hope, as Obama famously did, assuming a shared understanding of what it means. It is not a loaded term. It is a light one – bright, buoyant, chirpy.

Or so I thought. John Fea, author of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump has a different take. For him – an evangelical historian of American politics – hope is not the vague optimism of Obama, but the precise hope of Christian theology. Hope rests on the truth of Jesus Christ. It is, as Christian political philosopher Glenn Tinder described it, a divine gift “anchored in eternity”. There can be no real hope without God.

Read the rest here.

One thought on “The Wrong Kind of Hope

  1. It’s funny, the often undefined principles and ideals that give some people such great hope. Let’s take for instance the idea that all men are created equal. Or the idea that all men are endowed with certain inalienable rights. Vague. Left to posterity to evaluate. It’s like using the phrase “The American Dream.” Vague. Yet these are the vague notions that have inspired us for some 242 years. But more than vague hope these words and principles lift us to be better people doing better work to build a better, or more perfect, union. These ideals of equality and justice are aspirational. These words inspire action. These are not words of fear.

    I’ll let Martin take it for a moment:

    “I will try to preach a sermon in the spirit of the founding fathers of our nation and in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. And so this morning I would like to use as a subject from which to preach: ‘The American Dream.’ (Yes, sir)

    It wouldn’t take us long to discover the substance of that dream. It is found in those majestic words of the Declaration of Independence, words lifted to cosmic proportions: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by God, Creator, with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’ This is a dream. It’s a great dream.
    “The first saying we notice in this dream is an amazing universalism. It doesn’t say ‘some men,’ it says ‘all men.’ It doesn’t say ‘all white men,’ it says ‘all men,’ which includes black men. It does not say ‘all Gentiles,’ it says ‘all men,’ which includes Jews. It doesn’t say ‘all Protestants,’ it says ‘all men,’ which includes Catholics. (Yes, sir) It doesn’t even say ‘all theists and believers,’ it says ‘all men,’ which includes humanists and agnostics.

    “Then that dream goes on to say another thing that ultimately distinguishes our nation and our form of government from any totalitarian system in the world. It says that each of us has certain basic rights that are neither derived from or conferred by the state. In order to discover where they came from, it is necessary to move back behind the dim mist of eternity. They are God-given, gifts from His hands. Never before in the history of the world has a sociopolitical document expressed in such profound, eloquent, and unequivocal language the dignity and the worth of human personality. The American dream reminds us, and we should think about it anew on this Independence Day, that every man is an heir of the legacy of dignity and worth.”

    – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, on 4 July 1965.

    This is the kind of hope that Barrack Obama, the American Constitution scholar, inspired. These are the aspirational goals he was pointing us toward. The hope of our founding. So, the question is begged, why does Laurie Premack hate our Founding Fathers and the American Dream? 🙂

    Like

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