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Peter Gomes

Peter Gomes is an American Baptist minister who has served in The Memorial Church at Harvard University since 1970. Gomes is also the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and is[…]

To be hopeful is to be ultimately realistic in the face of every reason for despair.

Question: Are you generally optimistic or pessimistic about the way the world is headed?

Peter Gomes: I am hopeful. There’s a difference between being optimistic and being hopeful. Optimistic suggests that I … I expect everything to turn out right and I have good vibes about everything. Hopeful means that, in spite of all the bad things that you really do see, and that really are out there, you take the long view. And in the long view you have confidence that right will out … I am hopeful. I have the long view. The short run is rather nasty, brutish and short to quote Mr. … . And that’s my view of the world. This is a difficult, tough place. And people will, when given the opportunity, usually do the wrong thing. They’ll try everything until the right thing eventually comes along. So I’m not optimistic in the immediate sense that, you know, that I think there will be peace in the Middle East, or that we’ll give up our addiction to oil, or we’ll be nice to our neighbor. I’m not optimistic in that sense. I am hopeful in the long run that we’ll find a way through all these dispiriting realities and unhappy truths … we will find a way to make our way through that. And the only way that I can think of that is to think of things that transcend that. That’s why I reread every two years St. Augustine’s “City of God”. There’s a great moral there. There’s a great ideal beyond this fallen world in which we find ourselves. It’s why I still believe in inspirational biographies. I sort of quote Jesse Jackson. You know, “Give hope a chance! Keep hope alive!” and so on and so forth. I’m not altogether sure that the social or political process is the way to do that, but I think people need to be possessed of powerful ideas and ideals … almost the impossible thing. Again, Don Quixote kind of gets people moving, and I’m convinced that that hope … To be hopeful is to be ultimately realistic in the face of every reason for despair. So that I am, as Mr. Kennedy once described himself, I am an idealist without illusions. I think that’s a lovely phrase.

Recorded on: 6/12/07


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