First a dangerous pandemic, lockdowns, and 35 million unemployed. Then protests, tear gas, toppled statues, and twitter mobs enforcing the totalitarian dictum, “Silence is violence.” As if that were not enough, on Monday, June 25, the Supreme Court handed down a disastrous decision, authored by a supposedly conservative Justice.
I’ll admit that in February I had no inkling that we would experience such wrenching events in just four short months. And not just wrenching, but demoralizing.
It was with dark thoughts about our present situation that I read the great German philosopher Josef Pieper’s classic on the three theological virtues, Faith, Hope, Love. The book collects meditations he wrote at different times in his life. The first, on hope, he wrote during the 1930s after Hitler had taken power.
As Aristotle teaches, a virtue is the mean between two vices. Pieper explains that in the case of hope, the perils are presumption on the one hand, and despair on the other.
Presumption imagines that we can seize the object of our hope with bold actions. Many modern ideologies encourage this vice. Marxism and other utopian outlooks tempt us with the dream of an ideal society of fraternal cooperation. These days, proponents of diversity and inclusion cultivate a similar presumption.
This is not my temptation. Instead, I’m susceptible to despair. This mentality does not trust in God’s providence. It exaggerates today’s troubles, turning them into hopeless dead-ends. Despair can lead to bitter resignation and a curse-the-world defeatism. It can also lead to angry outbursts and flailing gestures.
As I reflect on our work at First Things and the mission we share with our readers, I’m sobered by Pieper’s reflections. We need to guard against despair. That means returning to the virtue of hope, which is rooted in our trust in God’s triumphant power. He will not fail us.
Hope is not a false optimism. It does not downplay challenges or pretend that we suffer no setbacks. First Things will not put lipstick on pigs. We’re committed to clear-minded, honest, and often sharply critical analysis of our present situation.
But we’re also devoted to fundamental, life-giving truths that neither our lassitude and stupidity, nor the decadence and failures of our society, can tarnish or weaken. First Things seeks to bring forward these truths: the nobility of a life of faithful service to God, the dignity of the human person, the blessing of our creation as male and female, the lure of the common good, and more. We don’t just critique, inform, and educate. First Things aims to nourish.
We are a strong enterprise. Our first issue came out in March 1990. That was thirty years ago. Since then we’ve maintained the highest level of intellectual and spiritual integrity.
I’m asking you to donate now in order to build on that tradition. We need your support to become stronger still.
Pieper says that the virtue of hope encourages “supernatural youthfulness.” By this he does not mean callow adolescence or delusions of perpetual youth. Supernatural youthfulness knows that the future is open. It anticipates further developments, cherishes powers yet to be realized, and looks forward to unforeseen opportunities still to come.
Let us enjoy a supernatural youthfulness, one that is confident First Things can be part of a springtime of new birth in our witness as religious believers who care deeply about the public life of our nation. Let us keep the words of the prophet Isaiah before our eyes: “Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
I urge you to contribute to our spring campaign.
R. R. Reno is editor of First Things.
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