The idea that creation is on one, long, glorious upward ascent is insidious when applied to the history of mankind, and it is especially dangerous when applied to individual souls.
Pope Francis continues to defy efforts to contain his message and ministry in neat boxes defined by the secular media. In one of his morning homilies this week, the Pope warned against compromise with the Spirit of the Age. Compromise leads to a dull uniformity, an “adolescent progressivism,” and human sacrifice. He called such compromise “apostasy” and likened it to adultery. Once again, he spoke openly about the dangerous deceit of the Devil.
The attraction in the modern and affluent developed world is to accept without question the pleasant, tasteful, and smiling materialism of our society. The way of the world is presented as beautiful, satisfying, and harmless. And in our desire to go with the crowd and just “fit in,” we accept all the comforts the world has to offer.
To do this is to love the way of the world more than the way of the Lord. Subtle temptations creep in to put worldly values and ambitions before the demands of following Christ. The temptation is to be conformed to the world rather than transformed by Christ the Lord. This dull conformity leads to what the Pope calls “adolescent progressivism.”
Progressivism is the naïve assumption that every day in every way, we are getting better and better. The progressive attitude is a fruit of an ideological acceptance of the theory of evolution. While the theory of evolution may be a useful model for understanding the development of life on earth, it is nefarious when it becomes an ideology. The idea that the whole of creation is on one, long, glorious upward ascent is insidious when applied to the history of mankind, and it is especially dangerous when applied to the individual soul.
The fallacy that we are all inexorably ascending to some sort of Omega point leads people to assume that nothing can go wrong. Advances in science and technology support this ingenuous view. Since we have satellites and space travel, iPhones and instant communication, we believe ourselves and our civilization to be the most splendid society ever. This view is even more naïve when it is applied to morality, and this is where the Pope’s mysterious and frightening statement that this progressivism leads to “human sacrifice” can be understood.
If members of a society are absolutely convinced that their culture is not only the best ever, but that it cannot help but get better and better, they will be blind to the horrors perpetrated by that society. Such ideological progressivism is a dangerously foolhardy optimism. Nothing will stand in the way of this kind of ideology, and those who believe in it will march forward confidently with whatever plan of social engineering, euthanasia, abortion, war, ethnic cleansing, and genocide they think will advance their glorious and infallible cause.
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Progressivism is a form of self-righteousness; like the self-righteous religious person, the progressive ideologue does not imagine that he or the members of his gang could possibly do anything wrong. The Pope is right to call this progressivism “adolescent” – like the typical teenager, those who profess this ideology are unswervingly convinced of their own rectitude, their arrogance only being matched by their ignorance.
The problem with progressivism is that it is incorrigibly dogmatic and incapable of self-criticism. The progressive cannot criticize himself or he would cease to be progressive. His underlying assumption is that he is not only good, but getting better, and if that is true, then there is no room for self-criticism. And where there is no room for self-criticism, there is no room for self-awareness.
The Christian practice of repentance is the only answer for such dangerous self-righteousness. Repentance is not simply groveling in shame for the bad things we’ve done; instead, it involves a healthy self-examination and a spirit of mature self-criticism that opens the way to mature self-awareness. With that comes a humble realization that without God, we are empty and lost. But we also come to see that with God, all things are possible.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s latest book, The Romance of Religion, will be published in February by Thomas Nelson. Visit his blog, browse his books, and be in touch at dwightlongenecker.com.