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R. J. Snell on Hope and Despair

For many people today, avoiding existential despair is like shoveling water from a damaged ship: the effort, no matter how valiant, is ultimately futile. Stuck in an immanent frame, a frame which lacks any real transcendence, one is left without a substantial source for hope.

The above remains true, though in different ways, even for believing and practicing Christians. As children of our current culture, that culture shapes even our faith. 

This week on HeightsCast, we welcome back Dr. R. J. Snell, the Director of Academic Programs at the Witherspoon Institute and the editor-in-chief of Public Discourse. In the episode, Dr. Snell discusses his recently published book, Lost in the Chaos, in which he offers an examination of the theological virtue of hope and an application of that virtue to our current times.

More than an optimistic personality trait, more than a virtue that looks forward to a time in which all shall be made right, and more than a nostalgia that pines for a past in which all is thought to have been right, R. J. encourages us to see hope as a supernatural gift whereby we trust now in the agency of God even while evil perdures around us.


  • 2:55 What is hope? 
  • 7:30 The “in the end” attitude 
  • 11:00 Job and hope in the darkness
  • 14:00 The metaphysics of despair 
  • 18:55 Safety-ism 
  • 21:55 Despair as the desire to disappear 
  • 24:30 How immanence affects even the believer
  • 26:46 Temptations of believers and non-believers 
  • 31:40 The twin dangers of utopianism and fundamentalism 
  • 36:35 The small teams and the little flocks
  • 42:20 The importance of loving people as they are 
  • 44:15 Re-evaluating our approach to reason and our capacity to see reality
  • 50:50 Expanding reason 
  • 54:35 Feelings as hooks into reality
  • 1:01:00 Towards a more human way of seeing
  • 1:02:00 Take-aways
  • 1:05:05 A parting blessing

Also on the Forum 

Work and Acedia: On Our Original Vocation with R. J. Snell

Leisure and Acedia: On Contemplative Homes in a Frenetic Age with R. J. Snell

About the Guest

R. J. Snell

Editor-in-Chief of Public Discourse and Director of Academic Programs at the Witherspoon Institute
R.J. Snell is Editor-in-Chief of Public Discourse and Director of Academic Programs at the Witherspoon Institute. Previously, he was for many years Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Philosophy Program at Eastern University and the Templeton Honors College, where he founded and directed the Agora Institute for Civic Virtue and the Common Go...

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