bollywood christ

Time, Hope, and Bollywood

6:30:00 AMMeredith Kuzma

Time is a concept that has been subject to many different perspectives and definitions. Many religions understood time to be cyclical in nature. A good example of this is the Hindu religion, where believers hold to the idea that each person passes through life again and again (reincarnation), constantly going through a process of purification until enlightenment is reached. Westerners are familiar with defining the word enlightenment as rational, scientific, and grounded in reason and fact, yet the Eastern definition relates the word to fulfillment as an end of the process of reincarnation.  

For a Westerner, the relentless push of time, when paired with an explicit rejection of God, will lead to either a worship of industrial progress or to despair at the inevitability of death. The cinematic offerings of both Western and Eastern culture offer up interesting conclusions: Western cinema often places an emphasis on pleasure and actualization via wealth or power, though there are also many films that affirm optimism. Eastern cinema (particularly Bollywood), on the other hand, often features stories with rich symbolism surrounding the cyclical nature of life. The way each culture relates to hope, then, is very different.

In Chapter 7 of The Art of Living, Dietrich von Hildebrand touches on the concepts of despair, pleasure, and captivity in order to discuss hope. Von Hildebrand says that “historical time can be a reason for despair” (p 96), pointing to the “finality” of time. We understand that once an event has occurred, we can never go back and live it once more. Here, the concept of cyclical time in the Eastern religions is understandable: if time is cyclical, then the pain of finality is lessened because it is possible to return to a “place” in time once again. Von Hildebrand points out that the Bible revolutionized the conception of time, showing that it can operate as an irreversible movement forward, toward the fulfillment of a promise. Jesus comes, however, both as a historical person, sanctifying it, and  as a “transhistorical, eternal promise” (p 96).

The influence of biblical Christianity on the West included this concept of time. The modern, “desacralized” Western man who rejects Christ is left with the biblical interpretation of time, and this has “opened the door wide to despair” (p 96). Hope, after all, is never merely placed within the power of inanimate objects: we hope for things, but we place our hope in someone. Von Hildebrand makes the point that anyone who hopes, even if he is unaware of this fact, is implicitly, metaphysically placing his hope in someone.

In his remarks on pleasure, von Hildebrand shows that pleasures are bound by time. They begin in time, reach a climax, and decline. Here again, there is a “finality.” Even for the man who chases pleasure, ultimately it can never be caught and held. Pleasures give only enough to “whet the appetite.” Pleasure pushes man forward into “a state of restlessness and tension that makes it very difficult to meditate on the hopelessness of this state.” There is a consumptive nature to pleasure that drives us on to desire more. “Pleasures give less than they promise” (p 81).

Hope is intimately connected to love, as both are a response. Hope is a response in time for something and in someone, someone who loves me. Hope echoes the promise heard in the response of love; “I promise to love you all the days of my life,” or “I promise I will be there for you.” Von Hildebrand calls hope the “fundamental gesture” of a man who is conscious of his creaturehood and shows that this is drawn out especially in the act of loving. “The true lover, shaken out of all mediocre security, experiences his creaturehood and, through it, turns to the Creator” (p 100). Man, conscious of being a creature, must throw off his pride and recognize his own weakness in relation to the strength of the Creator who fulfills his promises.

Man is not trapped in an endless repetition of life, forced to either learn from his mistakes or find himself trapped by them. The future offers a promise and even an expectation of good things which man can look forward to and, indeed, hope for. Coming from the Eastern tradition, man can work on a kind of “resilience” to the finality of time by understanding the metaphysical promise connected to hope. The Western man must grow out of his tendency to cling to pleasure as a buffer against the despair of a seemingly meaningless world so that he may choose hope over despair. A man who recognizes that there is a source for his hope knows that hope is reasonable. We are called to deepen the relationship which begins as a voice crying out by humbly embracing our creaturehood and living in relation to our Creator.   

Dietrich & Alice von Hildebrand, The Art of Living (Manchester: Sophia Institute, 1994)
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