Optimism is the theological virtue of a new god, and a new religion, the virtue of deified history, of a god ‘history’, and thus of the great god of modern ideologies and their promise… [As despair] is the sin against the Holy Spirit because it excludes the latter’s power to heal and to forgive and thereby rejects salvation, [so] in the new religion ‘pessimism’ is the sin of all sins, for to doubt optimism, progress, utopia is a frontal attack on the spirit of the modern age: it is to dispute its fundamental creed on which its security rests, even though this is always under threat in view of the weakness of the sham god of history.
To Look on Christ, 43
Reflection – This passage from Ratzinger is an interesting one. It well reflects the distinctive spirit of ‘modernity’ – a spirit that many would argue has given way to something quite different in post-modernity.
Modernity is characterized by just this idea of marching towards a glorious future, of the inevitable progress of history, of a certain historical determinism in which events unfold according to a definite program, and in which we are either to ‘lead, follow, or get out of the way’… or be crushed under the wheels of history’s vanguard.
Has this modern sense eroded, fractured under post-modernity’s weight? I’m not so sure. I was living in
The aggressive movement towards same-sex marriage bears much of this same ideology of historical inevitability. Those opposed to both Obama and same-sex marriage have been characterized as ‘on the wrong side of history’ – as if history is a living entity with its own agenda.
I identify myself as a conservative, politically. Truthfully, I despise labels, and particularly the almost meaningless labels of ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ which seem to mean whatever the person using them wants them to mean, and more often than not are either tribal totems of belonging or terms of abuse hurled back and forth.
However, my overall perception after 45 years on the planet is that contemporary political liberalism seeks to fundamentally re-order society so as to usher in some sort of ‘new age’ of justice and equality, whereas conservatism accepts that human beings and human society will always be as they are, and the role of the state is fundamentally to restrain the worst excesses of human behavior and otherwise allow people to live their lives as best they see fit. This seems more in line with reality to me; hence, I call myself a conservative.
I am not a pessimist; I believe that God is indeed going to create a new heavens and a new earth, and the redeemed will live forever in the light of his glory. But that is His work, not ours. Our work is to live in peace and love, to serve and suffer and give ourselves away until we have nothing left to give. Our work is not to create this new heaven and earth by our own ideas and energies.
The world, or rather the human beings alive in the world today, will keep blundering along, not too bad and not too good, with flashes of beauty and heroism here and there, and a strong undercurrent of love and sacrifice running through nearly every human life. God’s grace active everywhere and in everyone, and the shadow reality of sin present in all hearts, too. So it always has been, so it will be until God comes to usher in the real New Age, the fullness of the kingdom of heaven.