The Reason to Hope by Carol P. Christ


Carol in Crete croppedRecently, Valentina Khan touched many of us when she wrote a blog entitled The Powers of Evil are Well at Work and I’ve Lost My Spirit. Valentina spoke of the weariness and despair many of us feel when we think about the problems the world is facing today. She said that “right now it just seems like my voice of peace is lost to the voice of fanatics who get more media attention than I ever will.”

Last week I met a young man who has recently begun to try to save a large wetland pool on the island of Lesbos. He told me he feels frustrated that “no one else” is doing anything to save the important and fragile ecosystem of our island. I explained to him that there are many of us who have been working to save the wetlands of Lesbos for fifteen years, but with few or no results.

Refugees awaiting transport

Refugees awaiting transport in Molivos, Lesbos

In the past month—since the weather turned to spring—thousands of refugees have arrived on the shores of Lesbos. Most of them are fleeing war. They come from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and other countries. They have been told that Lesbos is Europe—which technically it is.

What they don’t know is that the small country of Greece does not have the resources to cope with a humanitarian crisis of vast proportions. Or that the European Community does not have a plan to feed, house, and then integrate so many people into European society.

I cannot even begin to think what the possible solutions to this problem are. I say we must end war, and I know that is true. But no one is even talking about doing that.

Responding to Valentina, I said that I had written in one of my books that asking whether any one of us—or many of us together—can defeat the forces of evil is the wrong question. Because this issue seems so pertinent today, and in hopes that it will help some of the readers of this blog find the reason to hope, I offer a slightly edited excerpt from chapter 7 of She Who Changes.

A review of Jane Goodall’s spiritual autobiography Reason for Hope provoked a quantum shift within me, releasing the paralysis I had felt about the fate of the earth. Goodall’s book taught reviewer Katy Payne that “hope . . . is not found in optimism so much as in a primal understanding of what matters most.”* In other words, the reason for hope is not to be found in the knowledge or rational calculation that our efforts will succeed in saving life on earth but rather in the conviction or inner knowing that it is right to try.

This thought was liberating for me. Like many others, I have spent quite a bit of time wondering whether anything I can do could make enough difference to save the earth. In light of the enormity and different kinds of problems we face, no action that I could imagine taking seemed like it would make a difference.

What I learned is that I do not have to know whether or not my efforts combined with those of others will actually end up saving the earth. What I do need to know is that it feels profoundly right to me to make whatever efforts I can to help others and to protect life. Since then, the energy I once wasted in trying to know what cannot be known anyway—the future—has been freed up to do what I can do. I no longer ask: Will it be enough? I feel grateful that I am in a position to do something, and ask instead: what more can I do? No one of us can do everything. We all need to find something we can do.

It now seems to me that the question of optimism or pessimism about the fate of the earth is the wrong question. What if all our efforts to save the earth come to nothing? The assumption implicit in this question is that if in the next fifty years we have not ended war, and if in a hundred or two hundred or five hundred years the earth is so poisoned or degraded that it cannot sustain human life and the diversity of life, then all of our efforts to save life on this planet will have been in vain.

But this, I now see, is not the right question. Even if we knew for certain that in two hundred years there would be absolutely no more life on earth, would it be reasonable to say that all of our efforts to save it were futile? Yes, if the end result is our only concern. But if we look at the process rather than the end result, it makes no sense to say that our efforts to preserve and enhance life come to nothing.

If one child is helped and goes on to help others, that is something. If even one life is saved, that is something. And the truth is that we really cannot know the long-term consequences of any action we take. One small act could be the one that turns the tide.

The reason for hope is the creative process of life itself. If human beings have created many of the problems that limit and threaten the possibilities of life on this earth, then we have the capacity to solve them as well. The way we use our creative freedom will help to determine the fate of life on earth.

*Katy Payne, “Among the Apes,” New York Times Book Review, October 24, 1999, 21.

Photograph of refugees in Molivos by Michael Honegger

Carol leads the life-transforming Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete (facebook and twitter).  Carol’s books include She Who Changes and and Rebirth of the Goddess; with Judith Plaskow, the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions and forthcoming next year, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. Explore Carol’s writing. Photo of Carol by Maureen Murdock.

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Categories: Activism, Evil, Feminist Theology, General

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14 replies

  1. Valentina Khan struck a chord in me too, deeply, thanks Carol.

    Evolution is worked through trial and error, and likewise, intelligent life on Earth will need to change the error of its ways in order to survive, and I believe it will, because it must. But the evolution of compassionate beings is also very likely occurring throughout the universe. We are part of a process.

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  2. Really nice post, thoughtful analysis of good questions to be asking. Thank you for this.

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  3. Thanks for practical, heartfelt, mindful inspiration.

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  4. She Who Changes is probably my favorite of your books. It’s filled with wisdom. I, too, have been wondering what Greece, Italy, and all of Europe are going to do with that multitude of refugees from the endless wars of the Middle East, and I see no solution to the challenges of feeding the people, housing them, clothing them, or integrating them into European societies. But if even a few of them are helped, that’s progress…….

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  5. Thanks for this post and the link to the New Yorker article. I had not been aware of the extent of the problem as it relates to Greek islands. But then I live on an island (Manhattan) that I have to admit induces a certain myopia regarding many issues. Thanks for adjusting my vision.

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  6. “… the reason for hope is not to be found in the knowledge or rational calculation that our efforts will succeed in saving life on earth but rather in the conviction or inner knowing that it is right to try.”

    Liberating for you and now this thought has become most wonderfully liberating for me. Wonderful post Carol. Many thanks for this.

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  7. Thanks, Carol. I love your last paragraph: “The reason for hope is the creative process of life itself. If human beings have created many of the problems that limit and threaten the possibilities of life on this earth, then we have the capacity to solve them as well. The way we use our creative freedom will help to determine the fate of life on earth.” Our creativity is a powerful force. My hope for the world was enormously enhanced when I went to a conference put on to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day 5 years ago. The University of Wisconsin’s Nelson Center for Environmental Concerns not only put on the three-day event and invited amazing speakers, but also gave out $100,000 in prizes to students for the best ideas to move us towards greater sustainability (the money was from a major donor). The graduate student and undergraduate entries were phenomenally creative, and made me realize that a lot of people are focussing their creativity on sustainability from many different angles.

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  8. I love this post. I find that as I get older, I am more and more optimistic for no real reason other than perhaps I have a longer perspective and I see how many problems appeared insurmountable until solutions were found or attitudes changed and what once seemed impossible became a part of daily life – cures for infectious and other diseases, women’s suffrage, the momentum towards marriage equality, and more. I also have to say that I was greatly inspired by an address given by Pedro Noguero, a New York University researcher and advocate in education and poverty, at the Lesley University commencement (where my son just graduated magna cum laude!). He was speaking about how a year ago ebola seemed poised to be a global catastrophe and now Liberia is ebola-free because of the work of physicians who did what needed to be done to make it happen. His words to the graduates to not be afraid to do what needs to be done still resonate with me as essential advice to all of us working to do what needs to be done in so many areas. Don’t be afraid, don’t be discouraged, don’t worry about whether your goal is possible – just do what needs to be done.

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  9. Thank you: “But if we look at the process rather than the end result, it makes no sense to say that our efforts to preserve and enhance life come to nothing.”

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  10. Oh yes! Beautiful and inspiring. Ultimately the process is really all we have. Thanks for reminding us all – brings tears to my eyes

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  11. Thanks for your comments, glad my thoughts were helpful.

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  12. The British philosopher, Gillian Rose, known particularly for her adoption of Staretz Silouan’s saying, ‘Keep your mind in hell but despair not’ seems apposite to the article. Yes, we have to see things clearly. No, we are not excused from the effort and the work. Despair is not an option. This is what it is to be human in this time. In “Love’s Work” Rose is reported to have said in a lecture that ‘the future is the time in which we may not be, and yet we must imagine we will have been.’ (ix) There’s something about that which appeals to me. Thanks for the post — I found it as nourishing as it was necessary.

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  13. I’m a bit slow in catching up with posts these days, so late in saying how much I appreciate this one, Carol. It is full of wisdom and truth and liberation.

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