Nicholas Lash, Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity Emertus, University of Cambridge

January 14, 2022

Does belief in a transcendent God help or hinder human flourishing? Atheists accuse Christianity of using hope in an after-life to sap societies of their ameliorating strengths. Christianity, they say, has nothing positive to offer humanity in this life and therefore robs cultures of the desire to promote the potential of the species.

Some Christians in their desire to respond to such criticisms, seek to eliminate transcendent hopes in Christianity and direct the Gospel toward the betterment of temporal societies. Thus some attempts to promote justice often render Christianity nothing more than a social service organization that uses the scriptures and the liturgy as tools for galvanising the masses.

Dominic Doyle, in The Promise of Christian Humanism: Thomas Aquinas on Hope, tackles this question through a recovery and rereading of Aquinas’s understanding of the theological virtues. Doyle masterfully demonstrates that the virtue of hope inspires a distinct Christian humanism that offers “concern for the human good and promotion of religious transcendence

Christian hope prevents secular hopes from becoming false absolutes and, in turn, totalitarian: one need only consider some of the tragic secular utopias of the 20th century to understand this point. Second, it liberates positive secular hopes – the hope for justice, peace, etc – from despair in a fallen world that often impedes such aspirations.

Finally, it places secular hopes within the human desire for God. Secular hopes, in effect, prepare one for the enjoyment of higher goods: love of neighbour opens up one’s capacity for the enjoyment of God.

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