“In a world bereft of meaning, there’s no point in pretending to be hopeful.”
This is the title of a recent essay penned by Canadian author and cultural commentator John Semley. It is a wide ranging essay that tries to connect the Philadelphia Flyers new mascot, Gritty, and internet memes and motivational sayings printed on coffee mugs to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report forecasting “an actual environmental apocalypse [that] seems both imminent, and entirely our fault.” After inviting us to connect the dots with him and take it all in, Semley observes, “The essential condition of our age is one of meaninglessness. And not just meaninglessness, but an earned,utterly validated meaninglessness.” Likewise, he says of us in our current state that the question moving forward “is not how to live, but how to die. Andmore pressingly, how to die well.” And where does he go with all this? After all this gloom, does he offer any ray of hope? Any ray of light in the midst of all the darkness? No. Instead of offering us hope, he cautions us against what he calls “the addiction of hope” – hope itself being an illusion to be seen through or a vice to be overcome. Instead he challenges us “to embrace nothope, but hopelessness” if we are going to make any “new, potent, potentially earth-changing forms of meaning.”
Hopelessness. It is not just limited to one essay written by one essayist in one newspaper. Instead,hopelessness has become something of the spirit of the age. Once the domain of a few radical philosophers, hopelessness has gone mainstream. It is there in the news we follow and the books we read and the movies we watch. It feels like there are few if any recent books or movies that are not set in some sort of post-apocalyptic or dystopian world. Some times the hero lives to keep fighting. Other times they die as the author wants us to be confronted with what they see as the brutal reality of our world. Even a movie like Star Wars is not immune. The original Star Wars movie that launched to popular success wastitled, A New Hope. In it the heroes of the story fight the Imperial forces and overcome in clear and dramatic fashion.Forty years later the next movie in the franchise picks up the storyline letting us know that the rebellion was a failure and everything is pretty much exactly like it was before with a new empire in place and the former rebels once again in hiding. So even this new hope leads to more of the same. Not even Hollywood is so optimistic they could see a future that is different from the past. Like I said, hopelessness has become the spirit of the age.
And yet it is into our hopeless age as much as any other that we hear declared the words, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” There is reason to hope because all is not lost. There is reason to hope for the darkness will not last forever. There is reason to hope because even now the first rays of light have broken through declaring that the future does not need to look like the past. And the source of our hope does not rest on an idea for a cause or our ability or the ability of a billionaire tech executive to figure it all out. Instead, our hope is found in a child born in a manger 2,000 years ago. The One who is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. The One who is not our fleeting dream but our firm and lasting promise that God is with us and will continue to be with us both now and at the end of all time. And the One who can transform our age of hopelessness into an age of hope.
- Joe Welty