In a Word. . . Hope

In turbulent times it is necessary to remember that hope is the greatest virtue

Far be it from me to disagree with St Paul – not least on this weekend when Christians mark the most significant feast of their year – but he is wrong about love being the greatest virtue.

He told the Corinthians many things but that of the three virtues, faith, hope and love, “the greatest of these is love”. No, Paul. Yes, it’s a nice warm feeling/thought but love won’t survive too long without hope. Nor can faith.

And, by the way, many people confuse a lack of belief in God, or a god, with a lack of faith. Belief exists before, even without a god, as we see, for example, with ‘godless’ ideologies which have ruled with similar consequence in human slaughter as witnessed in the many wars of religion during previous centuries.

But ideological faith is similar to religious faith in another way too – it cannot exist without hope. So Paul, just as you were wrong about the role of women being to submit themselves to men, you are incorrect here too.

Hope is the greatest virtue. In these times of plague, wars and rumours of wars, and as our planet succumbs to seeming apocalyptic climate change, it is good to know that. It is also necessary.

In 1945 this was recognised by that interesting Belfast man CS Lewis.

Speaking in the aftermath of the detonation of atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he said that when people then asked him how they were expected to live in this new atomic (nuclear) age, he was tempted to reply: "As you would have lived in the 16th century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents."

People should just pull themselves together, he said, and if anything was to happen then let it be while they were doing sensible, human things, not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. So be it.

Going therefore do ye likewise.

Hope, from Old English hopa, for "confidence in the future".

inaword@irishtimes.com

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