Monday, June 29, 2009

Hope as a Neglected Category

Kant presents three questions that should direct the inquiry of reason:

1) What can I know?
2) What ought I to do?
3) What may I hope?

I find that Evangelical theology has beat the first one to death. Despite the fact that there are still lots of diverse understandings of God, life and humanity. We tend to focus on the knowing as the prime mode of becoming. It is knowing the right thing (such as your sinfulness and need for Jesus) that matters. If you get it right then you can rest assured.

The second question has really animated what we call our liberal sisters and brothers. I really dislike the liberal/conservative dichotomy, especially when it is used to paint everything we distrust as evil. But there definitely are streams of Christian thoughts that are all about action, doing. The moral imperatives of the faith are the substance for these folks. And while they tend to do great things, they are in just as much danger of missing the boat as those who focus exclusively on the first question.

See it is not what you know or even what you do that matters. But it is about why you do what you do. The third question takes us into the realm of why. But the funny thing is that this third question is not taken up a lot. And when it is taken up it is perverted into otherworldly categories that are more about our comfort than about hope (which is a main theme of The Future of Hope edited by Volf and Katerberg). Taking up this question is the main theme of Hope Theology.

I find that the third question guides the other two. If our hope is based on a way of knowing and being in this world, then we have a context. Dogma, in that context, matters. If there is no hope implicated in dogma then it matters not what you believe. But belief and hope are dialectic with each other - hope keeps us from endless genealogies, that is theology with no practical impact on anything. And hope is also dialectic on how we live, move and have our beings in this world. Hope prevents us from simple charity meant to assuage our consciences. It calls us to action that brings justice, life and freedom to this world. It believes that this world is the object of God's love and that we participate in God's redemptive thrust in history.

Hope is an important category. What may I hope? It is a good question.

No comments: