JOPLIN, Mo. —
A beast passes its life in the present tense, whereas we humans live simultaneously in the past, present and future -- creatures of anxiety, remembrance and hope. The beast in "Beauty and the Beast" was a notable exception. The victim of enchantment, he required hope and love to return to human form.
There has never been a time when men and women did not attempt to conjure prospects more favorable to themselves than the pain and disappointment of everyday living, and the prospect of oblivion at the end. With Christianity came certain hope.
We have all encountered people who pretend to affirm only what science teaches, consigning everything else to superstition. They are wrong. Compared to the believer, the science-obsessed layman is relatively ignorant. There is a limit to what science knows, and what it does know, it maintains only as hypotheses subject to revision.
Granted, no one has succeeded in reviving the flat-earth theory. Nevertheless, even a cursory glance at the newspapers reveals that what was scientific "fact" just yesterday is something revised or discounted today.
The scientific world is an arena of conflicting theories and provisional truths. Science is best at describing how things happen -- it is hopeless at explaining why they happen or, for that matter, how anything came to exist in the first instance.
Science is premised on an orderly universe. The scientist cannot cope with chaos, nor could we cope if we lived our lives strictly on the basis of what we could prove without a shadow of a doubt.
Hope is premised on faith. All of us, believers and skeptics alike, survive by dint of little faiths that resist corroboration in a laboratory -- that our families love us; that we will pass the day without accident; that our health will hold; that the airline will not lose our bags. There are foolish faiths and cockeyed optimists, of course, but no one can survive a day without faith.
Christians maintain that God not only provided the order of the universe, but its purpose as well -- its fundamental predictability, but also its unpredictable wonders.
Before science, and before Christianity, people thought differently. They were inclined to believe that the universe was more whimsical than orderly, as likely to take life as to give it. They were quicker to curse than to bless.
Born in a hope-starved world, Judaism and Christianity accepted the ancient premise that humans are both physical and spiritual, that our lives are precarious and that we need hope. What the new faiths rejected was that there are fickle spirits to be seduced, insisting instead that there is but one all-powerful creator spirit from whom all good, and only good, comes.
What distinguished religion from the pagan reliance on magic is that the former is obedient to God. Unlike magic, religion does not seek hope by manipulating God or nature. Rather, it recognizes that one God is lord of the universe who alone has the power and inclination to fulfill the hope common to us all.
May we all find hope in the New Year.
David Yount is the author of 14 books. He answers readers at P.O. Box 2758, Woodbridge, VA 22195 and email@example.com.