Hope for a Post-Hope Culture

Hopelessness assaults us from all sides. When a culture no longer looks to the eternal God, it starts looking to this passing world—and it passes. So we fret about demographic winter amid the barrenness of a contraceptive culture facing its doom both economically and socially (as the Muslims happily attest). The stock market goes through convulsions, the debt balloons and an expanding bulge of Baby Boomers starts to burden its allowed-to-not-be-aborted children with the enormous task of providing for them in their impending geezerdom. Not a few are starting to get the bright idea that it would be a lot cheaper to just murder those aging Boomers (mercifully, of course).

Elsewhere, those who trust in the “spirit of democratic capitalism” rather than the Holy Spirit look blankly at the horrors it produces:

The teens call their public orgies ponceo. On a typical Friday afternoon in the Chilean capital of Santiago, hundreds gather in a leafy urban park for a few hours of sexual experimentation. Surrounded by passing strollers, they trade partners multiple times—mostly engaging in anonymous rounds of oral sex. When the party is over, no contact information is exchanged. Same-gender interactions are commonplace, as the lines between hetero- and homosexuality are blurred, partly by the alcohol and drugs consumed, but also by shifting social mores held by Chilean youth, in contrast to their conservative parents. ‘Ponceo is about having fun,’ says Natalia Fernandez, a 15-year-old with pink hair and a pierced chin. ‘This time I had seven partners.’

Stunning, but not as stunning as this remark:

They are darlings of a booming neoliberal economy, which has provided them with all the material accoutrements necessary to be Pokemones. Yet along with sexual rebellion, these teens are also defined by their consumerism, a characteristic that neatly conforms to Chile’s free-market ideals.”

Yet? Yet? As if there was some sort of contradiction between a consumerist culture and the meaningless, brain-dead, moronic appetite worship of these lost kids?

And, as background noise to all this, our entertainment cheerleads for sleaze at every turn, our political candidates offer us a choice between cannibalizing babies when they are big or cannibalizing them when they are small, our educational system is filled with a horror of God but a zeal for sex in various forms, and a growing number of our Chattering Classes think atheist James Watson was the ne plus ultra of sophisticated insight when he gazed out upon this landscape of nihlism and said, “You can say ‘Gee, your life must be pretty bleak if you don’t think there’s a purpose’ but I’m anticipating a good lunch.”

So what does Benedict have to say to this culture for which all the answers seem to be “Steal whatever pleasure you can without commitment”, “Kill somebody” or “Buy stuff”? He says something simple and yet revolutionary:

“It is not the elemental spirits of the universe, the laws of matter, which ultimately govern the world and mankind, but a personal God governs the stars, that is, the universe; it is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, love—a Person. And if we know this Person and he knows us, then truly the inexorable power of material elements no longer has the last word; we are not slaves of the universe and of its laws, we are free.” (Spes Salvi 5)

Imagine it! To be really free! To not be tied down to the lie that life is nothing but work, buy, consume, die! To look out upon a universe that is full, not merely of meaning, not merely of reason or of will, but even a universe that is full of the love of a personal God! To not be bound to the notion that those lucky enough to be able to afford a sandwich have achieved the summit of all human hopes. To be able to speak to our children and give them a vision of heroic hope and not lose them to the bondage of empty hedonism! To see ourselves, not as unusually clever pieces of meat that happened to bounce out of the cosmic crap shoot, but as beloved sons and daughters of God. To see even our suffering as tragic but united to Christ rather than as an idiotic contortion on the face of time, space, matter and energy! To be free of our own disordered appetites that keep us fat, dumb and unhappy! To be free to have families and friendships of mutual self-giving in the love and fruitfulness of God! To be free of the fear of death!

All this is offered in the gospel of hope Benedict preaches to our post-Christian culture. It’s all available to us: if we will only let go our hopelessness and embrace Christ our Hope.

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