Thursday, August 22, 2013

Hope vs optimism

Mark Richardson calls out the nihilists on the Right:
Those of us who are non-liberals often look down on our liberal opponents as representing a modernist nihilism.

But we need to look at ourselves with a bit of honesty here. If you survey those who have been anti-liberal over the past 150 years, you find a mood of settled despair that has many of the hallmarks of nihilism. One of the signs of this nihilism is a determination to find excuses not to act to shape the future but to find reasons, often very creative reasons, not to do anything but to stand on the sidelines as passive critics. There are many who seem to prefer this role of embittered "down talker" and who react with panic to those who take a more positive view.

In the meantime it is the liberals who have acted with moral conviction and who have set out to shape the future.

Being a Christian does not give immunity from the kind of nihilism I am describing. There are plenty of Christians on the non-liberal right who have fallen into a passive, despairing, merely critical and negative role.

Things will change when we ourselves change. But that means being careful not to talk ourselves into a mood of nihilistic despair. I am going to be much stricter in the comment threads from now on in challenging those who are passive defeatists and who find pleasure in "criticising from the ruins."

It is unmanly to be weak. It is pointless for us to defend sex distinctions, i.e. the reality of the principles of masculinity and femininity, and then to rest content within an unmanly political culture. A man should have the courage of his convictions and be willing to act in a creative and positive way to shape society. A man should have the strength to act with faith in the future.

The left, which does not even believe in masculinity, has been more masculine, i,e., stronger as men, than our side of politics.
 I suspect many believing Christians fail to make a distinction between the supernatural virtue of Hope vs. a naturalistic optimism. Christian hope is based on the promises of God himself: "O God, relying on thy almighty power, and thy infinite mercy and promises, I hope to obtain the help of thy grace, the forgiveness of my sins, and life everlasting through the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ." Optimism is more based on facts, prudential decisions, and human action. In every day sloppy language we say things like "I hope I get the job," when we mean "I am optimistic that I will get the job because of my background and qualifications." I am not at all optimistic about the short term future of the West. Our times are similar to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. But didn't the fall of Rome lead to the rise of the desert hermits and St. Benedict's monasteries? It was not the monks intention to preserve what was left of the world that was passing away; their aim was to work out their salvation according to the Evangelical Precepts. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you.

If faith is the virtue related to the intellect and charity is related to the will, then hope must be the virtue related toward the passions. We jest about how difficult it can be to love some of our neighbors, but I think it's even more difficult to maintain hope in difficult times - it is for me anyway. Elijah was the only prophet left who held to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Imagine how the average Israelite who just wanted to practice the faith of his fathers must have felt back then. The Israelites were held in their Babylonian captivity for generations. Imagine what it would be like to wake up every day and never know if you would live to see your people set free. The Apostles saw their master arrested, scourged, crucified, and buried. It's easy for us to cluck at their lack of faith, but would we have been any less discouraged if we had been in their place?

I do not expect that I'll live to see the restoration of the Catholic Church or of Western civilization to the old virtues and ways of life. It would be easy - and it's very tempting - to enjoy the fall of the West from poolside like Roissy suggests. Despite his lifestyle, I don't think Roissy is as much of a nihilist as he lets on. I might come across as despairing, but then if I had no hope at all I wouldn't be writing this much, would I? Despair cannot ever be the last word for God's people. Even in the midst of his terrible judgments - and I think we're in for a terrible judgment if we aren't going through it already - we have hope that he won't abandon us. "He has torn, that He may heal us; He has stricken, and He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live before Him" (Hos. 6:1-2).

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