I am convinced that we are getting dumber every day. I am persuaded that those people that we call “archaic” and “primitive” are really the geniuses of history, not the 20th century Einsteins. If there’s anything like evolution, it is a backward evolution. Yes, ours is the age of marvelous inventions and innovations. Space exploration, computers, the iPhone… All these “look” like marks of increased intelligence and brilliance. But I am not so sure that this is the case. I feel that there are questions that we no longer bother to ask today, which need to be asked if notions such as “progress” and “development” are to remain coherent. Questions that are pivotal to our understanding of how real progress or true intelligence look like.
Yes, I am persuaded that questions about what constitutes “reality” and “truth” have become obsolete today. Yet, our understanding of progress turns upon our answers to such questions. Reality has been subjectivized as truth gets even more relativized. What constitutes reality has been delegated to the purely empirical, based on our senses. This means that “objective” definitions have become obsolete. We are no longer responsible for our senses, we respond to them. We are no longer in control of our whims, we are under their control. For example, we all want to shout the loudest when it comes to advocating for gay marriage, but no one even bothers to look up the original definition of “marriage”. If we took even the briefest time to examine our definitions, we’d quickly see the folly of pre-fixing marriage with the word “gay” or “same-sex”. The need to re-word marriage betrays our attempts at re-defining marriage.
And we all [should] know that “re-defining” is just an academically polite way of “doing away with” the original concept of anything. It is to destroy the vision for what is being re-defined, thus making incoherent any talk about “progress” regarding that concept. True progress stands or falls upon our ability to stay focused on a pre-established vision or goal.
My greatest contention is that we cannot speak of progress without having a “fixed” vision of what we are progressing towards. If truth is relative, then it is folly to speak of progress. In his timeless work, Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton confronts the modern day definition of progress head on, exposing it’s logical folly:
“We need not debate about the mere words evolution or progress: personally I prefer to call it reform. For reform implies form. It implies that we are trying to shape the world in a particular image; to make it something that we see already in our minds…
We have mixed up two different things, two opposite things. Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to suit a vision. Progress does mean (just now) that we are always changing the vision…
Silly examples are always simpler; let us suppose a man wanted a particular kind of world; say a blue world. He would have no cause to complain of the slightness or swiftness of his task; he might toil for a long time at the transformation; he could work away (in every sense) until all was blue. He could have heroic adventures; the putting of the last touches to a blue tiger. He could have fairy dreams; the dawn of a blue moon. But if he worked hard, that high-minded reformer would certainly (from his own point of view) leave the world better and bluer than he found it. If he altered a blade of grass to his favorite color ever day, he would get on slowly. But if he altered his favorite color ever day, he would not get on at all. If, after reading a fresh philosopher, he started to paint everything red, or yellow, his work would be thrown away: there would be nothing to show except a few blue tigers walking about, specimens of his early bad manner.”
The folly of the modern day idea of “progress” is that we have abandoned vision for sight-seeing. We have abandoned the destination for the thrill of the journey. And for many Christians, we have forsaken the object of our faith for empty experiences of “faith”. Just look at many liberal and “progressive” Christian movements. They are so caught up with keeping up with the culture, conforming to the latest trends and becoming “relevant”. They no longer bother to check whether they are still on the right path, or headed in the right direction. This is because, in the guise of progress, many have forsaken the notion of a right path, and embraced a theology of “many” paths to God. Even more have forsaken the notion of right direction and embraced an “open” approach to biblical interpretation.
No, don’t talk to me about this modern progress. It is nothing short of a pursuit after shifting shadows. A vain chasing after the wind. This is not progress, but regress. The ship is swirling around in the tempest of the latest cultural trends and forces. But the anchor has been abandoned, and the faith of many is being shipwrecked. All because “smart” preachers and church planters have embraced a skewed notion of progress, and in the process, their hands have become too full to have any room for the gospel. Yes, the anchor, the gospel, has been found too heavy for the ship, too restrictive, and many have picked up the axe of progress, and severed the chain that attaches the ship to the Anchor.
May we be delivered from this false “new” gospel shrouded in the twisted notion of progress.
For the fame of His name,