01-02-2009 - Traces, n. 2

THE facts answer

I Just Hope He knows
Where True Hope Lies…

Many are expecting one thing from Obama: to take us out of the crisis. A noble thought, but not enough to accomplish our desire

In Ireland, these recent weeks, the economy has been in crisis. The banks, it turns out, have been completely overstretched, some almost fatally so. One bank has already been nationalized, and all Irish banks are now underwritten by the taxpayer. Behind each transaction now is the knowledge that the resources of the State will, if necessary, be employed to avert disaster (though what happens if the State itself becomes insolvent remains unclear).
A similar process invisibly underlies the coming to power of the new President of the United States. Barack Obama emerges as the latest embodiment of an indispensible idea: that it is natural to hope and that this hope is underwritten by the infinitely greater hope we would deny.  As Benedict XVI put it in Spe Salvi, the distinguishing mark of Christians is that they know they have a future; they may not know the details of what waits them, “but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness.”
But hope is a word our cultures take for granted. It is liberally used in our modern, secularizing societies, signifying something promising beyond the struggle of the everyday. But what? In all its babble of promise, secular reality fails to suggest an ultimate destination, while at the same time it implies that some such destination exists. Hope, in this context, is a sleight-of-hand. What, then, gets us out of bed? It seems obvious until you think about it. Yes, of course, we hope for better times, for warmer weather, for a new love, for a win of the lottery, or just for the pleasure of meeting our friends on the weekend. But the experience of life tells us that the power of these things in themselves will dwindle and wane. Human life can be joyous and sublime, but not in a way that ever fully satisfies the human heart. We become bored and disappointed; things lose their shine. What fills me with delight and happiness today may next week consume me with boredom. Then I look beyond, for the next high.
 In this process, there is something that is never acknowledged, something analogous to the relationship between each tiny transaction in an Irish bank and the reality of the State guarantee—promising, no matter what, that the transaction will be made good.
Behind every moment of longing, every spark of desire, every ounce of hope, is the Great Hope that sustains everything. Without the knowledge of this, however faint the consciousness, however fragile the faith, the promises of earthly joy would not long sustain the human mechanism.
 What interests me about Obama is whether he knows this and is cleverly seeking to reintroduce the world to this understanding of itself, or whether he is merely playing the part of a religious man who realizes this is a way of identifying with the religious tribes who make up a large proportion of the American population.
I know which I hope for. But, all the same, I do not place all my hope in this.