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"Christians believe a hopeful habit of mind is worth cultivating." Elizabeth Oldfield - 14/01/16

Thought for the Day

In the early hours of yesterday morning, President Obama gave his last State of the Union address.
It's always a difficult speech, with time running out to propose a legislative agenda... Instead, as well as delivering a robust defence of his legacy, he returned to the language of his presidential campaign, with a speech focused around hope.

Political rhetoric often swings between two poles, two defining elements of human experience: hope and fear.

Sadly, fear is the one that usually comes more easily, both in life and politics. And so despite the President’s efforts, the current political landscape in the U.S. is evolving into a competition to see who can paint the most apocalyptic vision of the future.
Neither side is immune from using the politics of fear, painting a picture of horrors to come - that only they are qualified to deliver the nation from.

Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks recently raised serious concerns about this trend, calling on the Republican presidential candidates to back off from what he calls a “fear-driven brutalism” and adopt a more hopeful approach.

The trouble is, hope is hard, and not just politically. It feels naïve and dangerous. Many people listening to the President will feel sceptical. I certainly did. Surely all this ‘Hopey changey” stuff just leaves us open to disappointment and mockery. In the ancient biblical book of Proverbs, it says "hope deferred makes the heart sick". The hard headed, grown up thing to do often seems to involve taking Camus' advice to "think clearly and not hope any more".

I spend quite a lot of time thinking about what Christians might be able to offer a society, which in the main, no longer calls itself Christian. What we could give, as those who feel we've been given much. And maybe it's partly this: acting as cheerleaders for the gritty work of hope. Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Marilynne Robinson has written repeatedly on this. She makes two points: “first, contemporary America (and I would argue the UK too) is full of fear. And second, fear is not a Christian habit of mind”.

Christians believe a hopeful habit of mind is worth cultivating. Not because hope is easy, or that there is nothing to be afraid of, but because there is something to hope in. And because, as behavioural psychologists would agree, our habits of mind become habits in our lives, and habits affect outcomes.
Choosing to hope draws us out beyond ourselves, while fear drives us inward. Hope gives us courage to face the very real pain and horror of the world, and not to cower in fear, but to set about doing what we can to make a dent in it.

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3 minutes