I encountered this phrase in a review by Andrew Klavan of John Derbyshire's We Are Doomed (The New Criterion, October 2009). Derbyshire is a resolute conservative whose book debunks the world of "political correctness" and its silly ideologies of "hope and change" (my new favorite bumper sticker: "So how's that 'hope and change' workin' out for ya?"). Derbyshire insists, and Klavan agrees, that we must not be pollyannish about the future; the world will always have its inequalities, and liberal wishful thinking and iterating over and over it ain't - or shouldn't be - so will only make things worse.
But I think both men go too far when, as Klavan summarizes what he recommends as the conservative outlook, "the mendacity of hope is poison to intelligent discourse." We must not hope beyond what we can see or have already seen. To talk about anything other than what is real is not worthy of constructive discourse. The world, Klavan insists with Derbyshire, is in a bad way because of false hopes hopefully foisted on hope-starved people. Better to be realists and accept that inequalities exist, differences are real, and merit is the surest way to the best of all possible worlds.
But isn't that a kind of hope? The hope that the world could be content with no more hope than what we can see? I, for one, would not be willing to sign off on that, for I think there is more to hope than what we can see or have ever seen before. Indeed, the Christian faith - which both Derbyshire and Klavan politely eschew - is promulgated on hope, on the hope that they who believe can engage and express the glory of God. By engaging God's glory believers go beyond themselves and what they can see into a realm that truly exists and in which the faithful may participate; from there they go forth to bring that realm to concrete expression in every area of their lives - thus going beyond what they've ever seen in themselves before.
The idea that hope is a lie is itself part of The Lie. The Christian's hope is real and tranformational. The fact that we see so little of it in evidence among the followers of Christ today does not render the Biblical promise invalid. It merely testifies to the fact that perhaps the vast majority of Christians have embraced the wrong hope. If it is a believer's highest hope that he will go to heaven when he dies, then he will surely consider this life of little account, even though he hopes to postpone his "highest hope" as long as possible because he really suspects it will turn out to be little more than the better of two alternatives. This hope is not the Christian hope, although the Christian hope encompasses this. The Christian hope - the hope of glory - is the daily, moment by moment expectation of meeting God in His glorious presence and being, participating in that transcendent reality, being delightfully shaken and reformed by it utterly, and then going forth by word and deed to radiate that glorious reality by every possible means.