A Culture of Hope

“Shame and necessity give rise to a culture of tragedy. Guilt, repentance and responsibility give rise to one of hope. If we have free will, we are not slaves to fate. If at the heart of reality there is a forgiving presence, then we are not condemned by guilt. ‘Penitence, prayer and charity avert the evil decree’, goes one of the most famous Jewish prayers. There is no fate that is inevitable, no future pre-determined, no outcome we cannot avert. There is always a choice. There are tragic cultures and there are hope cultures, and, though some combine elements of both, the two are ultimately incompatible. In hope cultures, we are agents. We choose. All depends on what we decide, and that cannot be known in advance. In tragic cultures, we are victims. We are acted on by forces beyond our control, and they will eventually defeat even the strongest. The only redemption of victimhood is to refuse that self-definition. In the long run no good can come of it, for it belongs to a world of tragedy. It divides us into victims and oppressors – and we are always the victims, while the others are the oppressors. Look at any conflict zone in the world and you will find that both sides see themselves as the victims, therefore innocent, and the others as the wrongdoers. That is a recipe for perpetual conflict and perennial disappointment. There is only resentment, rage and desire for revenge, all of which achieve nothing since all they do is provoke a reaction of attempted retaliation. The choice of freedom brings the defeat of victimhood and the redemptive birth of hope.”

Morality, Chapter 14, pp. 210-211