Monday, August 26, 2019

We are most hopeless who once had hope

At the luncheon the day before Encaenia, [Graham] Greene make a remark which had a lasting effect on my life. Greene and myself, and another guest, the Oxford publisher Dan Davin, were all, to varying edges, lapsed Catholics. The conversation turned to the following question. Since, to the unbeliever, faith is only a delusion, why do those who have given up their faith feel a sense of loss? Greene quoted the words:

Of all the creatures under heaven's wide cope
We are most hopeless who had once most hope,
We are most wretched that had most believed.
[Easter Day, Arthur Hugh Clough]

A. Kenny, Brief Encounters (SPCK 2018), 174.

Imagine a war orphan. He's been stuck in the orphanage for 3 years. He was told his parents died in a bombing. Then one day, out of the blue, the superintendent tells him it was a case of mistaken identity. His parent are still alive. The fog of war separated them from their young son, but they are coming back for him. He's deliriously happy. 

Then the next day the superintended tells him, sorry, it was a mixup. Indeed, the parents of an orphan survived, but it was the parents of a different orphan. 

Now he's worse off that before he got his hopes up. He'd be better off if he never had his hopes dashed. The disappointment is inconsolable. 

Loss of faith means there's aways the invidious comparison in the back of one's mind between something indescribably better and what you're left with. If you never had the hope of heaven, that would be bad enough, but to have it and lose it is so much worse. It spoils you for anything less. It was just within reach, then snatched away. Like torturing an inmate with false hopes of early release. Dangle it before his eyes, then whisk it away. 

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