Simon Critchley writes: With Easter upon us, powerful narratives of rebirth and resurrection are in the air and on the breeze. However, winter’s stubborn reluctance to leave to make way for the pleasing and hopeful season leads me to think not of cherry blossoms and Easter Bunnies but of Prometheus, Nietzsche, Barack Obama and the very roots of hope. Is hope always such a wonderful thing? Is it not rather a form of moral cowardice that allows us to escape from reality and prolong human suffering?
Prometheus the Titan was punished by the Olympian Zeus by being chained to a rock in the Caucasus, quite possibly not that far from Crimea. Each day for eternity, an eagle pecked out his liver. Every night, the liver grew back. An unpleasant situation, I’m sure you would agree. His transgression was to have given human beings the gift of fire and, with that, the capacity for craft, technological inventiveness and what we are fond of calling civilization.
This is well known. Less well known is Prometheus’ second gift. In Aeschylus’ “Prometheus Bound,” the chained Titan is pitilessly interrogated by the chorus. They ask him whether he gave human beings anything else. Yes, he says, “I stopped mortals from foreseeing doom.” How did you do that, they ask? His response is revealing: “I sowed in them blind hopes.”
This is a very Greek thought. It stands resolutely opposed to Christianity, with its trinity of faith, love and hope. For St. Paul — Christianity’s true founder, it must be recalled — hope is both a moral attitude of steadfastness and a hope for what is laid up in heaven for us, namely salvation. This is why faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so absolutely fundamental to Christians. Christ died on the cross, but he was resurrected and lives eternally. Jesus is our hope, as Paul writes in the First Letter to Timothy, namely he is the basis for the faith that we too might live eternally. Heaven, as they say, is real.
In his Letter to the Romans, Paul inadvertently confirms Prometheus’ gift of blind hope. He asserts that hope in what is seen is not hope at all, “For who hopes for what he sees?” On the contrary, we should “hope for what we do not see” and “wait for it with patience.”
Now, fast forward to us. When Barack Obama describes how he came to write his keynote speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, the speech that instantly shot him to fame and laid the basis for his presidential campaign and indeed his presidency, he recalls a phrase that his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., used in a sermon: the audacity of hope. Obama says that this audacity is what “was the best of the American spirit,” namely “the audacity to believe despite all the evidence to the contrary.”
It is precisely this kind of hope that I think we should try to give up. It is not audacious, but mendacious. [Continue reading…]