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Hope against hope


After the last two years of Covid most of us were looking forward to a normal year. It appeared that we had made peace with Covid, restrictions were being removed and workplaces were made open. The last few weeks, however, have called normality itself into question. Unprecedented rainfall has flooded towns and cities and blocked roads, sometimes for the second time in the year. Russia has invaded Ukraine, followed by sanctions that will affect the economies both of Russia and of the wider world and making a nuclear war no longer unthinkable but conceivable.

Although Covid, the floods and the war in Ukraine are all single events which can be lived through, they also awaken deeper anxiety that the world is out of control. They ask, as our prophets have asked insistently for generations, whether we have come to an end of the road of normality and whether the tracks ahead are safe and passable. We can no longer be convinced that we are safe from nuclear war by the assurance that national leaders will act rationally and be deterred by the threat posed to their own nations. The use of nuclear weapons is no longer unthinkable. Nor can we assume that once in a hundred year floods will not recur in a few years. At the time when we were being freed from the ‘if’ attached to every plan we made during the Covid years, we have found our lives circumscribed by far bigger ‘ifs’.

This poses the question about how we are to respond in a way that is both realistic and hopeful, a way that frees us to take a full measure of the world in which we live and to be spirited and trusting in our effort to counter the threats to it.

The first step is to attend to the reality of our situation. Fear and anxiety can too easily lead us to put it out of mind and to get on with business as usual. Such denial usually ends in anxiety and paralysis, particularly when the viability of business as usual is also in question.

Taken together the events of recent years suggest that we face a crisis, a time in which the working assumptions that have guided our personal and collective lives no longer hold. If we do not change we face increasing threats to the world that we shall hand on to our children. The dimensions of this crisis perhaps become clear if we consider the elements that in pre-scientific thought were considered to compose the world. The four elements of air, fire, water and earth are benign and are necessary for life. Yet each of them has been sources of disruption and of increasing risk in the last two years.


'Hope is really an expression of love and of the trust that love is ultimately stronger than hatred or apathy.' 


The coronavirus has been borne on the air, and so made the air a risk, and led to social distancing and to the wearing of masks and the restrictions on communal activity. Instead of being a medium of shared human life air became a place of isolation. We are also warned of the certainty that other viruses will cross from animals to human beings and pose the same challenge.

The coming of coronavirus was heralded by fires that ravaged forests, cut off towns and destroyed places of living and livelihoods. Its intensity carried the threat of future fires due to higher temperatures and the droughts that favour the spread of fire. In addition we now have to reckon with the threat of the use of nuclear weapons and destruction on a scale capable of threatening life on the planet.

The Covid years came after a long drought and have culminated in destructive floods. Both the lack and the excess of water have impinged on predictable and safe living. They have also led to conflicts about irrigation, about salinity, about farming and about insurance. The frequency and intensity of hurricanes, the likelihood of regular 50 degree temperatures in cities, and the raising of sea levels have also threatened the existence and safety of housing in vulnerable areas.

Finally, the earth as a synonym for the natural environment is now almost universally accepted to be at risk through climate change. The latest scientific report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes grim and chastening reading. Its findings demand concerted attention and action. The conjunction of virus, fires, flood, drought and nuclear weapons has sharpened the focus on the natural environment and on the demands that global warming makes on human activity.

Being confronted with a threatening future which will require cooperation at national and international level to avert is bracing. It could lead to despair, particularly if we have placed our hopes in individual freedom, a rising standard of living, and in the capacity of science and technology to solve all problems. These may form part of our hopes, but if the economy and technology are to help meet our challenges, they need to be guided by human beings who have a higher hope based on values that transcend them. Technology, a flourishing economy and the boundaries of individual freedom are instrumental to a society whose decisions must be based on respect for each human being, especially the most vulnerable, and on solidarity that sets the flourishing of individuals within that of the nation and world. 

For some people these values will be grounded in religious belief; for others not. But either way they can inspire the hope that does not see in the present situation a sentence of doom but the possibility and challenge of change. Hope leads to the recognition of what must be done and to initiatives in doing it.

Because the crisis affects the whole world it can be met only by cooperation between nations as well as between persons and social groups. Hope will lead us to discourage inflaming conflict and to favour keeping contact and negotiation.

Hope will also foster acceptance that necessary change will involve individual economic loss as equitable and sustainable economies are built throughout the world. It will lead us to demand that leaders in government and public life address serious issues seriously, and in their policies look to the good of the whole society and of the world.

Hope is really an expression of love and of the trust that love is ultimately stronger than hatred or apathy. It is quixotic but practical and is worth giving a go.



Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services.

Main image: Orthodox Christians attend Mass in Donetsk (Uriel Sinai / Getty Images)

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Crisis, Covid-19, Ukraine, War, Hope



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Existing comments

Andrew is right. Some radical rethinking is needed towards greater international co-operation, but hope is essential to lead us forward. Our present leaders are not giving us much inspiration, so we have to look for it where we can. I find it in people like Tutu and ML King.

Rodney Wetherell | 17 March 2022  

You can’t have hope without trust, and you can’t have trust without truth. And in our increasingly fragmented, tribalized society, truth comes in a poor second to partisanship.
For example, at a time of rising inflation, last June, economist Paul Krugman of NYT wrote, “The Week Inflation Panic Died.” That sounded so ridiculous it seemed political. And with inflation now at a 40-year high it has been proven patently false. But Krugman need never worry. Because the circle within which he and most of the media operate, is drawn so tightly along ideological lines, that he does not fear any untruths alleged against him by anyone from outside his group.
Similarly, Krugman ridiculed eminent epidemiologists who opposed Covid lockdowns, now proven to be “ill-founded” and “imposing enormous economic and social costs”, without ever recognizing the costs borne disproportionately by the poor and middle classes.
“Without truth, without trust and love for what is true, there is no social conscience and responsibility, and social action ends up serving private interests and the logic of power, resulting in social fragmentation…” (Caritas in Veritate)

Ross Howard | 17 March 2022  

It appears to me that unbridled greed, thinly dressed up as an ideology of economic "rationalism" (as highly technocratic as it is intellectually and ethically banal), has something to do with both the environmental and political sicknesses we are enduring. Some folk tried to excuse Thatcher by suggesting that her statement, "society does not exist", was taken out of context. I read her speech; she meant it in deadly earnest. If Mr Putin is a ruthless kleptomaniac (with - so far - a compliant army and state security in his pocket), what difference is there with the wolves of Wall Street and the hyenas of the City? Only a difference of scale. And it is up to everyone of us with an ethic to live by, Christian or not, imperfect as we are, to fight in our own particular way, daily, against the inhuman rapacities of the age.

Fred Green | 17 March 2022  

Hope is indeed a major Christian virtue, but, even more than virtues, Christianity is about Transcendence. Joseph Campbell, the mythologist, was an ex-Catholic, but he never lost the understanding that this was the ultimate purpose of religion. Much that passes for religion these days is not about Transcendence but sometimes about very ephemeral issues. Psychiatrists'; Clinical Psychologists' and Counsellors' waiting lists are full with people who are worried about the current situation in the world. Some have been genuinely impacted by events like the recent floods in Queensland and NSW, but others are just generally worried. Some, possibly premature, doomsday talk adversely effects young people. I do not believe there is going to be a nuclear war of any sort due to the situation in the Ukraine. Russia; the USA and NATO all realize the folly of initiating one. This war has already had devastating economic and other consequences for the world and ordinary people, including those in Russia, which will continue for a very long time. I am not normally one to talk of Divine Providence, because I am not a soapbox sermoniser, but I think that is indeed the only thing preserving us. We need to be grateful for this and do our bit to cooperate with it.

Edward Fido | 18 March 2022  

Fr Andrew, the Corona virus is a man made biological weapon manufactured in a laboratory. It can't be linked to global warming, bushfires and floods.
The simplest way to reduce the CO2 emissions is to plant trees. If NZ can plant 1 bn trees why couldnt we plant 5 bn trees?
The other controllable factor, if Labor or Liberal had the will, is to implement the Bradford scheme to drought proof the Southern States. Berejiklian had a great idea to build lakes in NSW to provide sustainable drought proof wild life corridors.
None of these great ideas have come to pass because of the other covid distractions.
Resort to nuclear weapons is obviously thinkable because its been used before by the USA, even here in Australia by our British overlords. Between 1956 and 1963 the British detonated seven large atomic bombs at the Maralinga site; one was twice the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. There were over 100 smaller detonations. Over 2000 aborigines died and were secretly interred with no one the wiser.
We all want certainty in an uncertain world. We all hope and pray the Ukraine war will stop. But it wont while the Russian mafia and Putin's thugs rule the roost.
God certainly moves in mysterious ways.

Francis Armstrong | 18 March 2022  

God Love You, Andy, for never giving up on Hope! For some of us it is all that we have to hold onto.

Michael Furtado | 18 March 2022  

Thank you, Fr Andy. However, it is well we also know the facts. Facts that are coming to be know. "Vacuum Bomb" Thermobaric Weapons.

AO | 18 March 2022  

Thankyou Andrew for these words. Especially for the penultimate sentence "Hope is really an expression of love and of the trust that love is ultimately stronger than hatred or apathy." I want to keep it as a banner in front of me at my workplace and at my desk at home.

Julie Perrin | 19 March 2022  

Thank you Andrew. The often unexpected goodness in people that has been brought to the surface recently through the floods, viruses and invasions gives me great hope. Surely this is the presence of God amongst us.

Margaret Atchison | 20 March 2022  

The platonic virtue of Hope that Socrates and, in context, the eschatology that Isaiah and Luke promote at this late-Lenten juncture, especially Isaiah's ('Every Valley shall be exalted and All the Mountains and Hills laid low!' links with Peace-making.

This interests me in terms of an Ethics Q&A I recently attended in Brisbane where Peter Singer, an agnostic, acknowledged for the first time the existence of a cosmos in which all the occurrences that Andy has linked together in his essay are 'interconnected'.

For the downhearted 'realists' in search of 'truth' and 'facts' and who make an exception of some of these occurrences to express their justifiable outrage here, there may be a factor missing in all of this that hope--filled people would call God and secularists Gaia, and which stems from ignoring the role that quantum physics plays in explaining this interconnectedness.
In crude summation: every action has a reaction and as Einstein demonstrated, all consequence is the sum of a particle's potential energy, kinetic energy and rest energy.

What Andy's advocacy of Hope infers is a substitution of the cycle of violence for forgiveness, as much for the use of thermobaric weapons as for tit-for-tat retaliation and revenge.

Michael Furtado | 03 April 2022  
Show Responses

Hope is what Ukrainians can have if they put aside the hope that Putin is not an animal, assume that he is, and bog his invasion so that it is now unresolved at fifty plus days instead of resolved in the animal’s favour in seven.

The cant in the pompous nonsense about equal and opposite reactions is that it can only be preached if the invasion is bogged down by defenders who put aside the luxury of hoping that Putin isn’t an animal. If the invasion had been concluded in seven days, there wouldn’t have been any point to the blarney about hope.

Ukraine is a large country, Taiwan not so. The US should just dump a few dozen nuclear missiles and launchers there, and render the dragon toothless and gabbling about ‘hope’ of reunification.

roy chen yee | 21 April 2022  

I love Andrew's articles and make sure to read them when I get the Eureka Street emails. I live in Arkansas, USA, and I am an atheist (but respectful toward religion). I'm not sure how I ever stumbled upon this site. But I'm very glad I did. I enjoy the ES articles and this site is part of the reason why I'm respectful toward religion. All the writers here are respectful and have a very logical view toward things going on in the world, while still acknowledging their beliefs/religion. Thank you very much for these stories, as they help refresh my hope in humanity. "Hope is really an expression of love and of the trust that love is ultimately stronger than hatred or apathy." I appreciate this line.

HD | 08 May 2022  

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