Honest hope. I have insisted upon it
for several years now, ever since reading Dianne Dumanoski, who
finishes The End of the Long Summer with a short chapter by that title. “In times of danger,
bitter truths serve us better than sweet lies.” Blind hope kills,
whereas honest hope accepts the immense uncertainty of the survival
of civilization, even higher life, in an era beset by accelerating
climate disequilibrium, which is offset by the tremendous capacity
for adaptation and resilience shown by human evolutionary history.
Honest hope is
like tough love, continually tested by the realization that the only
certainty is immense uncertainty. Nature has always been uncertain.
But since we've flourished during a long calm, the 10,000-year
Holocene Epoch, we have become lazy. We take it for granted that
farmers will continue to feed 7 to 9 billion people and that we will
be able to suck out all the fossil fuels the Earth has sequestered to
replace animal power. We are used to easy street. The Big Easy
– New Orleans before Katrina. Though humanity has made it through
some very tough times, especially repeated eras of glaciation, we
have never faced rapid warming and all that sets in motion in the
biosphere. As one climate scientist recently said, “They have no
idea of what's coming.” The scale of climate disruption we face is
honest hope, hydra-headed denial fuels a flight from uncertainty into
Providence. Dumanoski outlines three forms of providential
salvation: faith in the technological fixes that have gotten us
through every bottleneck until now; deliverance by the invisible hand
of the market; and the clincher – deliverance through Apocalypse
and the end of human history. Though these may all sound like the
overconfidence of the political right, these fantasies lurk in us all
to some degree.
to my last thread of honest hope, I recently led a retreat entitled
“Collapsing Consciously.” Readers of this blog might recognize
the title from my review of Carolyn Baker (
March 31). Though the very
structure of my retreats, which are based upon Joanna Macy's work in
moving through despair to an awakened level of coping, insures
residual or renewed hope, my dogged reading of the latest climate
science made my statement about honest hope the most tenuous ever. I
told the group that honest hope remained, but that it was tied to the
thinnest of moorings.
I was completely
honest with the group, outlining the latest IPCC report (as well as
its glaring omission of the Arctic methane emergency), the
tenuousness of the world economic order, and the continuing
geopolitical impasse over an international treaty on climate. The
latter was leavened by my joining the People's Climate March the
preceding week, but we don't know yet if that remarkable event will
lead to the necessary shift from protective nationalism to an
awakened last-hour accord. And in the central exercise, the Truth
Mandala, I once again confessed my fear that we would not survive
imminent climate apocalypse.
But the process
was resilient enough to allow the group to leaven my darkness and
fear, as participants shared their openness to the movement of the
Spirit in the midst of dire uncertainty. One person, who had spoken
twice of her despair, anger, and deep sadness over the earth crisis
came forward, placed both hands on the floor, and testified to the
hope that upheld everything. This brought me to a place of
wonderment, for shortly before I had pointed out that the very ground
of this ritual confession of our deepest feelings was hope. But I
had not experienced hope as I spoke. Her eloquent act brought
the Buddha's mudra, touch the earth, to
bear on our ritual.
As I reviewed
the retreat afterwards, rereading Dumanoski's chapter on honest hope.
I was startled to realize that my utilization of her concept had
subtly morphed over time into a desire that, with some tweaking, the
established order would survive. Despite years of wrestling with the
central moral dilemma of anthropogenic global ecocrisis, I am still
seized by our cultural myth, fearing a break with comforts and the
tenuous security of the established order. Thus when I experience
myself as cooly rational, I am still provisionally open to
techno-fixes like geoengineering, nuclear power, or GMO's as
inevitable in the brave new Anthropocene. But this is not honest
hope. Honest hope means accepting the challenge of devolving from a
complex extractive civilization to a cultural order that is resilient
in the face of warming.
“We don't know.” So often my
audience says this when I point fatalistically to our impending end.
Too often this simply covers a deep-rooted denial of the gravity of
our situation. Sometimes it is the simple child-like faith that “God
wouldn't let us perish.” But it can also be a genuine openness to
the possibility for something new and unforeseen hidden in the
nucleus of our uncertain moment in history.
Towards the end of that retreat, I
actually found myself saying we don't know for the first time.
A sense of wonder and possibility was moving through the room; one
man named it the Holy Spirit. The place from which that sentence
surprisingly emerged was different from honest
hope. And since I later realized that what I was
calling honest hope was really a rationalization for a last-ditch
confidence that our way of life could be salvaged in some way, then
the statement was a tentative doorway to something deeper, even
scarier, and more real.
is a people's climate movement building, with many laudable efforts
such as fossil folly divestment, Transition Towns, rapid renewable
ramp-ups, shifts in agricultural practices, and a growing call for
replacing capitalism with an economic system that is responsive to
the earth's stability as well as a chastened but sustainable human
presence. But it appears as if we simply don't have time to make
changes; we have squandered too many chances. The days of
honest hope are coming to an end.
if we relinquish honest hope, what are we left with? We are in a
chiasm strongly reminiscent of the Hebrew community after the fall
of the First Temple. It is time for a prophetic response that
acknowledges the deep sadness and regret of our seemingly impossible
dilemma. Such a response would acknowledge that You
have broken God's covenant and will suffer for your ecological sins –
be nevertheless grounded in a deep place of hope. The Hebrew word is
security, without care. It is redoubled in the New Testament with
the Greek elpis
(“whence cometh our help”) -
is the root of “help.” Neither of these terms can be modified by
a downside, as we do with “hope” in everyday
speech. Biblical hope is complete, total. It is an unshakable
reality, not a feeling.
Even spiritually-minded moderns do not
often show this kind of hope. Usually when I hear folks testify to
it, I doubt them; surely their faith has not been sufficiently
tested. Well we are being tested, and “honest hope” is not going
to answer the test.
No matter how bad things get, we need
to continue to act as if our actions mattered, honest hope or no,
cultivating batah/elpis by
something like Paul's continual prayer. When asked the reason for
our hope as the world as we know it crumbles around us, answer as
Paul did in I Peter 3:15 – Be prepared to give the
defense that the Light (Christ) is in your Heart...
The experience of hope gives grounds for faith, what I call
cosmological faith. This
is not collapsing into the arms of Apocalypse, confident of a place
in heaven, but seeding the hope of the new Phoenix, whose form we
know not. Cosmological faith, rooted in biblical hope, is my anchor
when honest hope has become thin to the point of vanishing.
Labels: Anthropocene, Apocalypse, batah, climate change, Collapsing Consciously, cosmolgical faith, elpis, End of the Long Summer, geo-engineering, holocene, honest hope, Joanna Macy, technofixes, Truth Mandala