WARNING: This may be more than you want to read or think about over your morning coffee or before bed.
With so much dystopian art, literature, and film these days it seems clear we live close enough to it to imagine it – dystopia that is.
The Balkanization of the unUnited States into hostile camps makes the youth novel Hunger Games seem plausible (although as the rest of the world will note, the USA has no leftist extreme only rightwing, center-right, and slightly progressive). Even an eight year old could write our global litany of human maladies, malfeasance, and misanthropic policies and misadventures. From the acute public knowledge of an inevitable meteor collision, to the tragic certainty that we are clobbering ourselves with climate change, to the age-old wars routinely surpassing former lethal thresholds there is no denying we are in deep shit.
Is hope the willful shuttering of our vision?
Can we stand flat-footed with a sober embrace of the facts and still hope?
This is the same question every one of us faces as an individual. Does my life matter even though I am going to die? Does the meaning of my life hinge upon its reverberating beyond my last breath? If this is all there is, then what is the meaning and purpose to it?
We can and have invented hundreds of scenarios in which our individual and corporate existence has meaning: the continuation of a family name or genetic line; serial lives or reincarnation based upon some measure of practice or goodness; an afterlife tethered to morality in this life; or conversely, the end of individual existence as the goal. But all of those are rooted to some extent in ego.
What would a non-ego meaning look like?
Is it possible to imagine meaning unrelated to personal identity?
The dystopian evolution of human meaning depends upon our ability to imagine it beyond personal identity because the inevitability of global death is now perched on our horizon like crows on roadkill. Whether of our own making, or a random slam with a meteor too large to fail, or the certain explosion of our sun death to earth will come.
We have difficulty claiming meaning that does not have human life, especially our own, as its reference point. Can we do it?
The ethic of now may be sustainable in a dystopian shadow.
What I do right now, in this moment, is what matters and has meaning regardless of what happens in the next. If we begin with an assumption (something we always have to do), that life has the value of a gift given by the author of Life, then its value is in reference to the Giver (God) not the gift (human, mammal, earth…). God has given me this moment and therefore this moment and my life has divine meaning and value.
Hope is not based in my life or in me (ego), but in the God that gives life here, there, and everywhere. Hope is no longer centered in this body, this city, this country, this religion, this planet – but now, because we have begun to have an inkling of how unimaginably massive the cosmos is, hope is in God the giver of life everywhere. Life, as gift, has meaning and value in this moment and every moment whether or not we are in the moment any longer. It is not about our lives or even human life, but the gift of life God has surely scattered as stardust across the cosmos. Perhaps it is bigger than what we imagine as Life?
It is possible to hold onto hope in the darkening light of a dystopian shadow but in order to do so we have to let go of ourselves, and what we so desperately cling to, as the reference point. Instead, we need to keep stepping back to get a broader and broader perspective. We have to stand in the dark, surrounded by the glimmer of night lights above us, and with the elegant wand of imagination, expose our connection to it all.