When Pope Francis was installed as pope, he immediately issued the “The Gospel of Joy,” and in doing so, he offered his implicit judgment that there is a reason for people to be hopeful of what the world can be. While Immanuel Kant believed that there were a few different questions a person must ask in order to live a fulfilled life, one of those questions was, “What can I hope for?” In the world today, it might seem as if there is no reason to hope. On the surface, the world seems like a dangerous place. People are beheaded, children die of disease, and the world seemingly watches all of this happen even while it has the resources to promote peace and harmony. When one considers whether it is proper to have hope for the world, one must consider not just the current reality, but also the capability of human beings to fix the problems in the world. While looking at the current reality might lead one to lack hope, a careful analysis reveals that for all of the problems in the world today, human beings, with the help of God and the capacity to tap into resources, can help to bring an end to some of the problems. This means that the situation is not hopeless, and this reveals that human beings should be hopeful about the current reality.
Perhaps the most pressing overall issue in the world today is a culture in which people – even Christian people – are seemingly ambivalent toward the question of a fair economy. People seem willing to seek their own wealth and their own ends rather than seeking an egalitarian arrangement. As Pope Francis wrote, “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion.”
As he notes, the world is full people of people who are concerned more with their own search for greater wealth, and this comes at the exclusion of average individuals who are struggling to get by. This situation might prompt one to abandon hope, but the Pope provides a picture of the role that the Church can play in fixing the situation, and this is a reason for hope. One cannot simply read the Pope’s words to find out about the problem, but rather, to understand the solution. He writes, “A financial reform open to such ethical considerations would require a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders. I urge them to face this challenge with determination and an eye to the future, while not ignoring, of course, the specifics of each case.” The potential presence of reform leaves hope, and the ability of the Church to play a role in that should be seen as an opportunity rather than just an obligation.
The world is also full of actual violence, with people being killed both because of their faith and just because of the way the world is structured. Have people become more violent? It is difficult to say, and often, people get stuck in the moment rather than having perspective. While many of the problems today are terrible, and they are especially so for the people struggling under them, these problems may represent a movement forward when compared to the problems of the past. While some forms of slavery and human trafficking may exist today, the world has moved past a system of legalized chattel slavery that took place less than two hundred years ago. While harsh punishments like the death penalty still exist, and certainly give pause to those looking for hope, progress has been made in the realm of human rights.
Taking a short view, one might think that the difficulty in the world presents no reason for hope. The long view is more instructive, however. The world has collectively put aside a number of former ills, and it has the capacity to do the same again. Religious people, and specifically Christians, have often been at the head of the movements to eradicate the problems in the world. From feudalism to slavery and many movements in-between, there has been an understanding that in order for humanity to move forward, it needed to correct itself. One can take hope, and one can preach the gospel of joy, by focusing not on how far the world has to go, but rather, on how far the world has come. This provides some reason to believe that the world can correct itself again.
There is some difficulty involved in trying to find joy in what seems to be a joyless world. With war and human rights abuses ripping through even the most respected countries, and with economic disparity fueling an imperfect arrangement, finding hope is harder now than it might have been in the past. There are solutions, though, if people are willing to accept that the reality of today is not a sustainable long-term plan. And when one considers that over the long run, the world has been able to eradicate some issues already, it becomes easier to imagine that the problems of today could be eradicated in the future.