Hope for a nation in peril

8

Once upon a time on Tralfamadore, there were creatures that weren’t anything like machines. They weren’t dependable. They weren’t efficient. They weren’t predictable. They weren’t durable. And these poor creatures were obsessed by the idea that everything that existed had to have a purpose, and that some purposes were higher than others.

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These creatures spent most of their time trying to find out what their purpose was. And every time they found out what seemed to be a purpose of themselves, the purpose seemed so low that the creatures were filled with disgust and shame. And, rather than serve such a low purpose, the creatures would make a machine to serve it.

This left the creatures free to serve higher purposes. But whenever they found a higher purpose, the purpose still wasn’t high enough. So machines were made to serve higher purposes, too. And the machines did everything so expertly that they were finally given the job of finding out what the higher purpose of the creatures could be.

The machines reported in all honesty that the creatures couldn’t really be said to have any purpose at all. The creatures thereupon began slaying each other, because they hated purposeless things above all else. And they discovered that they weren’t even very good at slaying. So they turned that job over to the machines, too. And the machines finished up the job in less time than it takes to say, “Tralfamadore.” (Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan)

Human beings do not like purposeless things. A purposeless cosmos cannot give hope to creatures desperately seeking ultimate significance. And without hope for the future, humankind will perish either through nausea or revolt, according to Teilhard de Chardin.

Quantum physicists are not very sure about how the observable universe is going to end, even as they cannot come to terms with the fact that it came out of nothing. Once the notion that the universe started with the Big Bang became accepted by the majority of scientists, they were forced to discuss what the ultimate fate of the universe would be.

Ultimate fate
Their speculations depend upon the physical properties of the mass/energy in the universe, its average density, and the rate of expansion. Some believe that the ultimate fate of the universe is dependent on whether the shape of the universe is positively or negatively curved and what role dark energy will play as the universe ages.

A few cosmologists say that the universe is flat and will continue to expand forever. They conceive of the end of the universe as a vast space populated by dead stars and black holes billions of years from now.

And what do the poets say? “This is the way the world ends/ not with a bang but with a whimper” (T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men). “Some say the world will end in fire,/Some say in ice./ From what I’ve tasted of desire/ I hold with those who favor fire” (Robert Frost, Fire and Ice).

Some of Shakespeare’s most quoted lines are “All our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death,” and “Life is a tale told by an idiot, all sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Combative, militant atheists look down on religion as collective hallucination or idiotic superstition when it talks about meaning and death, ultimate judgment and a new heaven and a new earth. The roster includes Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Sam Harris’ The End of Religion, Victor J. Stenger’s The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason, Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, and Christopher Hitchen’s God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. For them, this is an absurd, purposeless universe devoid of all meaning.

“You must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Mt. 24:44). As Christians celebrate Advent in expectation of Christ’s return at the end of time, every believer is called upon to think about what the end of the universe will be. In the star-crossed twilight between birth and dying, we search endlessly for the meaning of our lives and the basis for our hope.

Christianity is a religion of hope because of its expectation of a final future fulfillment. It therefore should have the ability to think differently, to be creative enough to see reality from a wider perspective in order to engender intellectual convictions, ethical responses and spiritual strength. With commitment to a common hope—scientific, ethical, and personal—we can overcome the many crises of poverty, corruption, conflict, and unsustainability that confront us. This is what being historical creatures mean, pilgrims in the space-time continuum—to be embraced by history and yet touch history too by personal acts of courage, compassion and creativity that leave the world a better place than when one came into it.

Overcoming disunity
In the transcendence of the God who is future, faith is carried by the forward momentum of anticipation and openness to what is new, carried forward into hope by the transcendence of the future. Only in hope’s light and warmth can Filipinos overcome their tendency toward disunity and self-destruction.

We need hope as we remain stunned by the ravages of the siege in Zamboanga, the earthquake in Bohol and the devastation wrought by super typhoon Yolanda. Hope is a source of strength, an inner light that can strengthen our resolve to create a better nation and help us navigate the darkness of our times as we seek to rebuild the country in the face of unimaginable destruction and the grinding poverty of the majority of the populace.

What each of us decides as the meaning of our life and the basis for our hope guides our behavior and will mark the future for us all.

Fr. Benigno P. Beltran, SVD
The Rev. Fr. Benigno P. Beltran, SVD, was born June 5, 1946 in Kolambugan, Lanao del Norte, Philippines. Ordained in 1973, Fr. Beltran received his Doctorate in Theology from Gregorian University in Rome in 1985, and was Scholar-in-Residence at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago from 1985-1986. Author of numerous publications, he won the Manila Critics’ Circle National Book Award in 1988 for “The Christology of the Inarticulate.” His most recent publication is “ Smokey Mountain: Ravaged Earth and Wasted Lives.” Currently the parish priest for the Parish of the Risen Christ in Smokey Mountain, Tondo, Manila, Fr. Beltran has spent over a quarter of a century working with the “scavenger residents” living atop of the third largest untreated garbage dump in the world. He has helped to organize, house, educate and empower a community that truly embodies living on “the margins of society.” With a foundation of spiritual and value formation, Fr. Beltran has helped the people of his unique parish to help themselves, finding self-respect and hope.

frbensvd@gmail.com

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8 Comments

  1. Supporting Fr. Beltran’s article about hope, let me add that one could sense the hidden agenda in some columnists’ articles. Too bad that these are adding hopelessness to many people. The resulting effect is further confusion, disbelief in one another as a people, supporting the idea of to each his own, destroying anything in their path for some personal gains. These are misused opportunities to rebuild the country.

  2. Elmer Gendrano on

    Father Ben , I admire your logical and optimistic view of our future, hope is really very important and needed at this critical times. Only you and Rene Saguisag’s column are my daily read, others like tiglao and company who only see Aquino’s supposed mistakes and Arroyo’s infallibility, but do not offer a practical solution to our problems, I just browse at the heading and thrash them where they belong. Elmer

  3. excerpt: “What each of us decides as the meaning of our life and the basis for our hope guides our behavior and will mark the future for us all.”

    In the cases cited, (the earthquake in Bohol and the devastation wrought by super typhoon Yolanda), it was mostly the poor that died, whether due to being in sub standard structures or low lying areas. Hope lies in slowing population growth and climate change. I will work for that!!

  4. Brian Pelletier on

    Fr. Ben is a genuine and sincere person. I know from firsthand knowledge, from living in Smokey Mountain with him back in 1997 while in formation as an SVD. I do not know anyone else who gives of himself as Fr. Ben does. God bless you Father and the Parish of the Risen Christ.

  5. Claro Apolinar on

    This article by Fr. Benigno Beltran, a Divine Word (SVD) priest, is a culturally more pro-Filipino and pro-Philippine “Sunday Read” than the past articles under that designation by former Arroyo-administration Ambassador and presidential spokesman Tiglao.

    Tiglao’s column are apparently the most popular among Manila Times readers who are politically active and concerned. The Times owners and management must realize, however, that there is a silent majority among Filipinos who are serious believers in God and religion. This silent majority is what made the pre-martial law Manila Times the No. 1 daily and makes the Philippine Daily Inquirer the current No. 1. Included in this silent majority are businessmen and apolitical community leaders who don’t say what they feel about what comes out in newspapers but are decision makers in their homes, communities and corporations.

    • That’s why “Sunday Read” will be reflecting different philosophical persuasions. Hope you still read mine, which comes out once a mont for Sunday Read.

  6. BRO. ELI M. PONIO on

    Fr. Ben, we need such articles to give hope to the Filipino people in the midst of a corrupt society. Money has become the “god” of most of us. I hope to see more of your articles not only in The Manila Times but also in other broadsheets.