This essay, by Martin E. Marty, was originally posted on January 2, 2017 on “Sightings: Religion in Public Life” by The Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion
For more than a year I engaged in the visual and oral analog to “fasting.” Fasters discipline themselves not to eat. I chose not to comment on the election campaigns. A digital word-search will find no mention in 50 Monday Sightings of any presidential candidate or party. The choice was an implicit protest against or retreat from the grossness, waste, distortion, and distraction in what elections have become. Now the bad year of 2016 is past, and it is time to join everyone else in the sighting-and-commentary professions and to re-emerge actively.
What struck me all year was the sense and sight of extreme despair on many fronts, accompanied by some new notices of the meaning and potential of hope. The headline of a column by fellow Chicagoan Neil Steinberg was “The Necessity of Hope.” The column began with a quotation from Michelle Obama: “Now we’re feeling what not having hope feels like.” It ended: “Hopelessness is not an option. Hope is a tool, a hammer. Never let it go. You’re going to need it.”
This paralleled the long holiday essay in The Economist on “The agony of hope,” which focused on President Obama, who had written at book length on “hope,” and who kept embodying and exemplifying it against all odds, as the story recalled. The article traces the President’s career and evidences of his outlook through his bad recent year, in which he had no choice but to act and speak. Conclusion: he had to do the best he could. “Sometimes it was all he could do. The possibilities seem shrunken. After its collision with history, so might hope itself.”