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The sustaining of hope in dark times

By Dorothy McRae-McMahon - posted Thursday, 17 May 2007

As a scholar in theology and a person who believes in a loving and creative life force at the centre of all things, I nevertheless respectfully place my perspective alongside those of others who may come from a totally different understanding of reality.

Hope is, in itself, an act of faith - not, of course, faith which is necessarily religious. It can equally be what I would call a foundational expectation of joy. To live with hope is to be fully alive and to give up hope is the entry into death. Hope rises in the human spirit and challenges what is with the dream of what might be.

I have had enough tough journeys in my own life to know that any superficial approach to the inviting of the dream of joy is an offence and a betrayal of those who enter the grave and costly struggles for universal hope. Hope is often hard-won. Its cost is sometimes life itself.


I want to suggest that the diminishing of hope is fundamentally about the undermining of ethical life in general. Oddly enough, I don’t think that hope is dependent on people doing the right thing all the time - obviously none of us do that. It is about doing our best and genuinely accepting responsibility when we make mistakes.

Hope thrives on encouraging reference points in the lives of others and our capacity to trust those who lead us. It is rebuilt when integrity rises up before us and reminds us of who we can be and who we sometimes have been.

It is an irony that, as we are surrounded by incessant talk of “Australian values”, we are demonstrating such a paucity of ordinary human values in our corporate, political and social life - both here and globally. Mary Zournazi, editor of the book Hope (Pluto Press 2002), in my view, rightly says, “The success of right-wing governments ... lies in reworking hope in a negative frame. Hope masquerades as a vision, where the passion and insecurity felt by people become part of a call for national unity and identity. ... It is a kind of future nostalgia, a ‘fantastic hope’ charged by a static vision of life and the exclusion of difference.”

I would also suggest that genuine hope is automatically diminished when we define ourselves as good and others as evil. We enter the most dangerous territory of all, in fundamentalism - that which engages us with an absence of doubt.

Having said that, I want to now discuss five main strategies for the restoration of hope:

Determined perseverance with analysis

The incessant spin in our environment creates, what I would call, a superficial virtual reality. This “reality” is founded on brief grabs of ill-considered information and propaganda, which usually advantages the speaker or writer rather than inviting analysis. It regularly dismisses alternative views with stereotypical labelling of their authors and without any genuine discussion of the ideas presented.


To take just one issue - why do we not hear responsible people pointing out that we, of the so-called “west”, do not require of ourselves and our friends what we so self-righteously demand of other countries? Now that our friends are well-armed, these countries virtuously sign non-proliferation treaties and act as though others like Iran and North Korea are shocking and aggressive when they want to have the same destructive toys we and our friends have.

One of the ways in which we might raise the possibility of our so-called enemies contributing to hope is by acting towards them with honesty and integrity.

We hold world trade negotiations as though we are doing good works for the world when they are primarily for our own benefit.

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This article is an edited version of a speech given to the 2006 Annual Conference of the Independent Scholars Association of Australia held at the National Library of Australia, October 19-20, 2006.

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About the Author

Rev. Dorothy McRae-McMahon was originally a preschool teacher. She has worked in international aid and community development for the NSW Ecumenical Council, as Minister with the Pitt Street Uniting Church in the City of Sydney and National Director for mission for the Uniting Church. In retirement, she works voluntarily for the South Sydney Parish of the Uniting Church, co-edits the South Sydney Herald, and is writing her fourteenth book.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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