February 2008

           HOPE—PEOPLE’S BEST OPIATE

                            By Seymour Schechtman

 

     In  Corinthians 1:13, in St. Paul’s famous epistle to the Corinthians, the last exhortation was   “and now abideth  faith, hope, and charity; but the greatest of these is charity.” Universally  every translation of the bible,  from the much revered King James  one of Elizabethan times  to our current time,  “charity” has been rendered as love;  and since  the word love is not completely unambiguous,  as in “ he nearly loved us to death”  I prefer to emphasize the hope aspect of Paul’s immortal triad  of human aspiration.  Karl Marx  rather sneeringly referred to religion  as the “opiate  of the people”  but I would rather think of religion as more of a balm and solace,  when the incomprehensible and downright unpleasant still seems to triumph  over the very many manifest victories  of the march of secular science  against all the material discomforts of disease, pain, economic uncertainty---and the complete oblivion of earthly death  after  too short a time even though vastly and healthily prolonged in the last century in this “vale of tears”. 

          Indeed,  many of us are living much longer, more comfortably  than ever before, but man (and woman, his constant companion, loved one and persistent goad) is ever a restless and striving  spirit, tending to  overlook the miracle of creation surrounding  him  and taking it for granted---muttering under his breath  All that’s  all right, Lord, but what have You done  for us lately? That is, humankind is a relatively restless hybrid of animal animus and soulful longing,---some form of lust and spirit---  and is basically searching to bring these two clashing drives to some sort of harmonious balance.  A seeming contradiction of values in the socio economic fabric of our culture makes this uneven and unreasonable imbalance of time frames  seem contradictory and self vitiating. The eternal and the instant mundane reality.  The here and now and the long range retrospection which either sanctifies the current action or not,  and the hope that if wrong we can still  rectify our mistakes as we progess and gain more insight.

          Another way of stating this is that while hope does “ spring eternal” in most every breast it is still a most fragile flower, and in most of humanity can wither or shrivel if not nurtured by favorable or loving(?) care.     And  the surrounding environment for nurturing is not always the most optimum.  In fact, as Dickens put it in a Tale of Two Cities in a somewhat   different  context….. “It was the best of times  and it was the worst of times”….referring to rebellious Paris and stable London just across the English channel  during the French revolution is not so uncommon  in one’s daily life in the routine minutiae of surviving  and hopefully prospering.  There are negative and positive aspects  every day  as to the perceived  success of each project planned and undertaken in our jobs and other life experiences making us more or less hopeful or dubious in our optimism for the momentary  achievement of  each daily task, and thus our hopeful current mood.    Or temporary depression of having “a bad day”.    This daily  balance, or struggle,  can deplete  one’s total reserve of psychic hope,  of whether one  looks at life as if the glass is more than half empty,  but not at least half full, or even more.   That there is positive potential in one’s future and is well worth the effort of  trying to attain it.   A  hopeful  feeling for the future.

          Still another way of saying it,  in the still immortal words of

FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt)  “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”    In  the depths  of  the depression,  a rallying cry  that  proclaimed  the hope that human effort and not  despair would overcome  the spiritual as well as economic malaise the nation was afflicted with.   That Rooseveltian clarion cry  has always served us well,  even though  at that time it was uttered the economic heavens did not exactly immediately  produce sunshine and good fortune.     Indeed,  as I write this in the last days of January 2008  the economic skies seem to be falling   and fears of recession are becoming  common.  Almost as if  in those almost cyclical New Yorker cartoons of the very gloomy, shabby sign holder  with the grim announcement that the End of The World  was nigh.   Then FDR had a series of  radio  fireside chats  over his  four terms in office—about 34—which gave hope and support to a still ailing electorate.    
As if he were giving the frail flower of human hope much needed nourishment and emotional sustainance  by his very compassionate concern.   A dose of real love,  if you will.    And today some echo of those dire times  every politician  seems to reprise.      In Wall Street street parlance  we are climbing another credit market  crunch, another “Wall of Worry” market scenario; this time an overbought condition of too much credit extended  in the form of mortgage loans to poor risk owners.   But the extreme price swings,  and  price declines now reflect an oversold situation and correction of the   value of the faulty loans  of the past.    A nourishing price rally back up from  some of the recent losses  seems now well  underway. 

          Fear and hope are counter forces  in life,  and certainly in financial and commercial situations,  and the bargains are certainly greater  when  rational decisions are  forestalled by  too much pessimism,  but calm, cool logic devoid of  “irrational”  emotional pressure is a classroom mirage,  not  a real life  scenario.     In the Biblical account  the Children  of Israel  had to wander  for  forty years in the desert because  their  faith and hope  had to be constantly  reinforced with life sustaining  manna daily,  and twice on the Sabbath,  the day of rest when no work was allowed,  and  several times a week   flights of pigeons would appear to assuage their need for proteins.     But despite these manifest miracles  they were still a “stiff necked people” at times, and once even the sainted Moses  doubted the Lord’s command  to strike a certain desert rock to produce the additional miracle of the  much needed water  for his very thirsty  Jews.   (Apparently the main reason  Moses was not allowed   into Canaan,  the Promised Land).  And, primarily,   their fate was forty years of desert    wandering  until a new generation was mature enough to have faith  and  obey God’s commandments.

          Faith, Hope and Love, still a triple threat  prescription for  the good life.   Hope for me is still the centerpiece,  but nourished by strong instances of Love when necessary,  as in Roosevelt’s fireside  chats,  or, even better!, the miracle of the parting of the Sea of Reeds, when God revealed His awesome power. And Love and  Faith are very necessary  psychic nutrients to build  the fragile flower of  Hope  into an enduring and  strong  emotional support  to aspire to the full potential that one is  capable of. 

          And for me to have the small temerity to ask one small hopeful favor----in the Super Bowl this Sunday (February  3rd) ----no severe injuries, please; may the best team win,  and hopefully that will be the Giants,  whom  I have supported quietly but loyally   for three quarters of a century!  …. perhaps a few providential “innocent” turnovers  that the Giants may benefit from  somewhat…….