The Knight of Hope
Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Than all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of your is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.
--C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair
Let us assume, without argument, that faith is a kind of believing. We can leave open and unanswered the question what sort of believing faith is. I explained and defended a particular definition of faith in Why Faith is a Virtue, but the reader need not approve my view. It’s enough, for now, to say that having faith implies believing something. Perhaps you think faith means more than merely believing something (I would agree), but still it includes belief. And to believe something means you think it is true.
Imagine a person—with complete fairness, we can call him Louis Pojman—who was taught in childhood that a person must have faith to be a Christian. His Catholic education taught young Louis a list of important propositions that all Christians must believe. “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…” Young Louis dutifully learned catechism. Perhaps for a while he believed every required proposition.
However, as an adult and a careful, honest philosopher, Pojman confessed that he did not believe some of these crucial propositions, for instance, that there is in fact a transcendent, all-powerful, beneficent and all-wise eternal being. Again, as a careful, honest philosopher, Pojman did not deny that God exists. Finding neither theistic nor atheistic arguments convincing, Pojman thought it possible but not certain that God exists. Unsurprisingly, he came to the same conclusion about other parts of the creed. If you’re not sure that God is real, it’s hard to believe that the Son of God became a man, being born of a virgin, etc.
As a mature philosopher, Pojman confessed that he did not have faith. Nevertheless, being unconvinced by atheistic arguments, he thought Christianity might be true. And, he believed, if it were true it would be a very good thing. Thus, Pojman wrote, he could hope that Christianity is true.
At its core, hope has two parts. We desire something (the appetitive part) and we believe the thing we desire is possible (the intellectual part). And by “possible” we mean it is neither certain nor impossible. Pojman’s attitude toward Christian doctrine fits this definition well. Is it possible to have genuine Christian hope without having Christian faith?
Someone might argue that the core definition of hope isn’t accurate when it comes to Christian hope. For Christian hope, one must desire that the gospel be true and one must believe that it actually is true. But this objection has the odd result of making Christian hope a singular exception from the general theory of hope. (It might also be a surprise to Aquinas, who first explicated the core definition of hope.) So let us put aside this first objection. Christian hope is a species of hope in general.
A second objector might agree with the core definition of hope, but say that in regard to Christian hope the core definition is not enough. That is, Christian hope involves something more than desiring that the gospel be true and judging that it might be true. What is that something more?
The marsh-wiggle Puddleglum illustrates a possible answer. Puddleglum and the two children, Jill and Eustace, have come to an underground world to rescue Prince Rilian. After many adventures, they have found Rilian and freed him from the cursed Silver Chair. But then the evil queen of the underworld appears. Under the power of her magic, Puddleglum, the children, and Rilian all become confused. Everything they thought was true seems questionable. They cease to believe in the sun, trees, grass, Narnia, Aslan, etc. If faith requires belief, they have lost their faith.
At the crucial moment Puddleglum stamps on the witch’s fire, producing a horrible smell of burnt marsh-wiggle and a great deal of pain, two things that greatly help Puddleglum to think straight. Then he launches into the speech I quoted above. Notice the ending: “I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.”
Puddleglum desires that his memories of Narnia, sun, moon, trees, grass, and especially Aslan be true. He judges that these things might be true (although under the spell of the evil queen’s magic he came close to thinking they could not be true). And he acts as if these things are true. Immediately after the words I quoted, Puddleglum says: “So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once…”
Soren Kierkegaard, the father of existentialism, wrote that we have a “task” of hope. He meant, I think, that we need to order our hopes, so that we hope for things of real importance. We need to clear our hearts of inconsequential hopes, or at least make them all subservient to our central first hope, our hope in God. If I understand him rightly, Kierkegaard’s “task” of hope is not exactly Puddleglum’s action of hope. Still, the idea that we ought to order our hopes is cousin to the idea that we act in hope.
Puddleglum fits Kierkegaard in another, more obvious way. The Danish philosopher insisted that Christianity requires commitment, what is often called “the leap of faith.” We do not know that Christian dogma is true, he thought, and we must commit ourselves—with a passion that holds nothing back—without having such knowledge. When Christians persuade themselves they have proofs of Christianity, Kierkegaard thought, they hide from passionate commitment.
Now, Kierkegaard uses “faith” language: the knight of faith, the leap of faith, etc. But it may be that his insights really help us understand hope. Maybe we could call Puddleglum the “knight of hope.”