Rainbow Mennonite Church
This past Sunday, Dec. 2, was the first Sunday of Advent in the liturgical calendar of the Christian Church. All around the world churchgoers were challenged to think deeply about the theme for that significant Sunday. That theme was hope.
De La Torre’s Emphasis on Hopelessness
In recent blog articles, I have mentioned Miguel De La Torre’s 2017 book titled Embracing Hopelessness—most recently here on Nov. 25. This seems to be an appropriate time to consider—and to question—his main point.
De La Torre (b. 1958), professor at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver (Colo.), is an accomplished scholar, prolific author, and one recognized by his peers as a notable leader in the field of social ethics. He was elected President of the Society of Christian Ethics in 2012.
Early in his book on hopelessness Miguel starkly states his pivotal idea:
Hope, as a middle-class privilege, soothes the conscience of those complicit with oppressive structures, lulling them to do nothing except look forward to a salvific future where every wrong will be righted and every tear wiped away, while numbing themselves to the pain of those oppressed, lest that pain motivate them to take radical action. Hope is possible when privilege allows for a future (p. 5).
From that perspective, Miguel is quite critical of German theologian Jürgen Moltmann’s emphasis on the “theology of hope” as well as of the philosophy of progress as seen in Hegel’s dialectical idealism or Marx and Engels’s dialectical materialism.
“Hope, and the historical progress upon which it rests,” Miguel argues, “fosters a demobilizing conformity” (p. 64). By contrast, “The hopelessness I advocate,” Miguel writes, “is not disabling; rather, it is a methodology propelling the marginalized toward liberation praxis” (p. 139).
Thus, he avers, “It is not hope that propels people [such as the Central American asylum seekers] to the desert where more often than not death awaits; it is desperation. . . . Hopelessness is an act of courage to embrace reality and to act even when the odds are in favor of defeat” (p. 140).
What Can We Say?
De La Torre’s rhetoric, it seems to me, is quite extreme—and perhaps it was his intention to use such rhetoric in order to draw attention (and perhaps to sell books). Consequently, I have serious questions about many of his contentions.
His ideas, however, must be taken seriously.
For example, it seems to be quite clear that in the past, touting the hope of Heaven was used as a means to pacify people in the present who longed for a better life on earth. The primary example is, undoubtedly, the use of “pie in the sky” promises to enslaved people in the USAmerican South.
And if one believes that the arc of the moral universe is bending toward justice, as MLK and President Obama believed, perhaps that belief spawns a hope that stifles action. If things are going to get better anyway, maybe we don’t really need to do anything.
Does that kind of hope impede the struggle of or for those at the bottom of societal structures? Perhaps.
Still Embracing Hope
Nevertheless, I cannot embrace hopelessness.
I agree with Miguel’s contention that hope should never be allowed to blunt social consciousness or countenance inaction in the face of injustice.
But more often than not, surely, hope spurs people to action in the face of despair, to active endeavors toward betterment instead of acquiescence in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Precisely!
Let’s remember those words as well as these from Romans 15:13.