Real progress rooted in truthBy: Bishop James V. Johnston
“The Church also maintains that beneath all changes there are many realities which do not change and which have their ultimate foundation in Christ, who is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever” (Cf. Heb 13:8).
— “Gaudium et Spes” (“Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”), 10.
It’s funny what one remembers. I recall a lecture given by one of my philosophy professors during my first year in seminary. He described an incident with a developer in his neighborhood who proposed a project that would critically disrupt the peace and tranquility of the community. When my professor expressed his opposition to the developer, the developer responded flippantly, “Well, you can’t stop progress!” With sharpness and keen insight, my professor replied, “You’re off on two counts. First, it is possible to stop progress. Second, you are presuming that anything and everything new and different from what has gone before is progress, and that is flawed.”
Similar in premise is the business management maxim, “Change is inevitable, growth is optional.” However, Ellen Glasgow said it more elegantly, “All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward.”
I recall my professor’s lecture often. Current events remind me of what my professor confronted, and what we must confront if we are to be faithful to Christ. And, as Christians, being faithful to Christ is of supreme importance.
One frequently hears people today describe themselves as “progressives,” and that the latest thinking or position that differs from what has gone before is “progressive.” It seems that every modern idea is based on the simplistic notion that new is good and old is bad. This makes some bold, and false, assumptions. Remember when they decided to reformulate Coca-Cola? That didn’t turn out so well, did it?
Americans who have a fascination with technology and the increased productivity it yields, often assume the same for ideas—new is better. The fact is that sometimes new ideas, products, and technologies are better, but only if they are rooted in a deeper insight into the truth.
Chesterton said that by definition, the paradox is the truth that runs contrary to accepted opinion. In a world heavily influenced by an information industry and an entertainment industry, the accepted [read popular, trendy] opinion has a tendency to be wrong. The world is shocked when a prophet understands the future better than a progressive. But the prophet has the advantage of having a better grip on the past. It is dangerous to assume that simply because something is new it must be better.
We see this implied in the positions of those who advocate for same-sex marriage, abortion rights, mandatory contraception and sterilization coverage in health plans, and a host of other things. Those who oppose these positions are often said to hold “medieval” views, and are called foes of “progress,” and further, “intolerant”.
To be sure, many of us possess a certain bias or even arrogance toward our own time and place. Because we stand on the pinnacle between the present and the end results of what has gone before us, we presume that our point of view is more enlightened; that, because we are higher up the mountain, we can see more broadly. But history and experience demonstrate that for true progress to be achieved, in the sense of something that leads to greater human growth, an idea must be grounded in what is true and good. If it is not, then, by definition, that idea cannot lead to real progress.
Many well-meaning people tell me, “Bishop, why spend so much time and energy on resisting things like abortion or same-sex marriage. After all, they are inevitable.” This kind of thinking is not surprising, but it is also deeply flawed. It plays into the error of what my philosophy teacher exposed.
It is possible to stop so-called “progress” if committed people organize to action, even if they are relatively small in number. It is incumbent on Christians to oppose something wrong that is wrapped in a blanket labeled “progress.” The recent victories by the grassroots movement to protect the unborn show the fruit of persistent prayer, effort, and sacrifice. More Americans identify themselves as “pro-life” today than did 15 or 20 years ago. There are now more restrictions on this terrible procedure, and it is still very possible to eventually reverse Roe v. Wade. Now, that really would be progress! This is just one example.
Truth is, going backward is the best direction when you take a wrong turn.
We should not be afraid or intimidated in our duty to defend the weak, the unborn, the immigrant, marriage, religious freedom, and a host of other important matters that arise. Progress is not progress unless it is rooted in the truth. Humanity, society, and our world are bettered when we Christians make the effort to take part in the work toward true progress.