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  • Writer's pictureH. Paul Putman III, MD

The Survival Pledge 7: Faith, Hope and Charity

(The Survival Pledge is an eight-point plan to refocus each of us on taking responsibility for our own thoughts and behaviors in ways that benefit ourselves, others, and support peace and non-violence.)


I will allow myself hope but not confuse this with faith.


In the early 1960s, Project HOPE launched the SS HOPE, the world’s first peacetime hospital ship.[1] It traveled around the world offering medical care and medical education to remote areas not exposed to even basic health care. Through 1973, the ship made eleven health education and humanitarian assistance voyages. Since 1974, the charity has continued its mission by conducting land-based programs.


The choice of the name for this ship is telling – Hope. Rather than Universal Health Care, Humanitarianism, or even Faith, a name was chosen that reflected a desire rather than a promise. The ship could not be all things to all people and could not promise or achieve the elimination of every health care need in the world. The ship and its staff simply provided what they could and hoped they were making a difference. No guarantees, just hope.


Hope is an attitude. It is believing that the future may be bright, that the glass is half full - that there is reason for optimism. It is not a guarantee or a promise. It is not a prescription for behavior, not a guideline, but a way of thinking. It can have a positive influence on our mood and on our decisions about how we treat others.[2],[3]


In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,[4] a therapist helps a client identify meanings or thoughts that an individual has attached to feelings and manipulate them in order to change the feeling. Pessimistic thoughts of uselessness or hopelessness are identified, then removed and replaced with hopeful ones that contain optimism, pathways towards goals, and maybe even self-forgiveness.[5] The attitude, usually directed at the self, is changed, and changed to one of hope.


Faith, however, is expectation - a promise predicated on belief. It is an “if… then….” transaction, paid for by a belief or behavior. If you live a good life you will go to heaven. If you believe in Jesus, you will have eternal life. If you are good, Santa Claus will bring you gifts, not switches and coal. If you follow the Ten Commandments, Yahweh will bless you and honor your requests. If you confess and perform penance, your sins are forgiven. Even, “if you look both ways before crossing the street, you will not get hit by a car.”


Of course, this last example is not true: a car may speed up, seemingly from out of nowhere, and hit you, no matter how careful you are. The behavior gives us hope, however, so we cross. If we are hit anyway, though, our faith is shattered. There is also no redress because there was no guarantee. If people truly thought about the risk of having an accident within five miles of their homes (as that is where we exist most commonly), there might be far fewer excursions. Since we don’t, we enjoy the hopeful expectation that an accident will not occur and travel regularly.


Faiths collide most often on this point: confusing hope with belief. When a belief appears challenged, it feels more as though the guarantee is threatened than that an attitude may need adjustment. Battle may ensue in order to prolong one’s faith that a particular outcome is guaranteed. Exploration of the original attitude is too seldom a choice. This will provoke some of the most severe violence on the face of the earth because we humans are so reluctant to give up our expectations of what we feel is owed to us. Previously we examined how people of one faith may resort to violence to compel others with different faiths or meanings to follow suit.[6] The alternative is to question the truth of their own beliefs and doubt their own expectations. When these include eternal life or earthly reward, the cognitive dissonance can be overwhelming. The result is often the use of denial and other unconscious defenses in order to suppress the conscious awareness of perceived risk.


Faith or religious and political beliefs are too common an excuse for violence, either sincerely or as a screen for simple aggression. When we confuse hope with faith and then demand and assert the latter’s authority over all other beliefs, faiths or ideologies, we resist opportunities for self-actualization, learning, growth and peace. Were we to understand the difference between the attitude of hope and the expectations and demands of faith, we would allow ourselves more flexibility. This would lead to a brighter future as we would grow, exploring and learning from each other, rather than living in conflict and fear (conscious or unconscious) that our faith may be wrong.


Hope is an attitude; our attitude can be hopeful. Faith is expectation. One is a process, the other a contract. Hope doesn’t arrive, faith expects to. Hope is about the future, but impacts the present. Faith expects an eventual payday. Hope is flexible, faith is specific. If you have faith, see it very clearly for what it is and also try to develop hopefulness that is separate from it. An individual may carry both, but only by keeping them consciously distinct. Otherwise, faith can smother and subdue the simpler hope in each of us and in our societies, with disappointing consequences.


“Absolute faith corrupts as absolutely as absolute power” - Eric Hoffer[7]

I will allow myself hope but not confuse this with faith.

[1] Our History: More than 60 Years of Impact. Project HOPE Web site. https://www.projecthope.org/about-us/history/. Accessed November 19, 2021. [2] Joseph Ciarrochi, Philip Parker, Todd B. Kashdan, Patrick C.L. Heaven, Emma Barkus, “Hope and emotional well-being: A six-year study to distinguish antecedents, correlates, and consequences,” The Journal of Positive Psychology 10, no. 6 (2015): 520-532, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2015.1015154 [3] K Martin, L Stermac, "Measuring Hope: Is Hope Related to Criminal Behaviour in Offenders?" International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology. 2010;54(5):693-705. doi:10.1177/0306624X09336131 [4] Putman, H., 2021. The Survival Pledge 2, Part 1: The Evolution of Meaning. [Blog] drpaulputman.com, Available at: https://www.drpaulputman.com/post/the-survival-pledge-2-part-1-the-evolution-of-meaning. [5] CR Snyder, SS Ilardi, J Cheavens, et al. “The Role of Hope in Cognitive-Behavior Therapies.” Cognitive Therapy and Research 24 (2000): 747–762, https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1005547730153 [6] Putman, H., 2021. The Survival Pledge 2, Part 3: Conversion ≠ Coexistence. [Blog] drpaulputman.com, Available at: https://www.drpaulputman.com/post/the-survival-pledge-2-part-3-conversion-coexistence.

[7] Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition (New York: Harper and Row, 1974)

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