Do I believe in progress? That question has been on my mind the last few days. I recently started reading N.T. Wright's Evil and the Justice of God
and was forced to ask myself that question before I finished the first chapter.
Wright claims that our conception of evil and inability to process it is due in part to our having bought into the Modern myth of progress. He writes -
The heady combination of technological achievement, medical advances, Romantic pantheism, Hegalian progressive Idealism and social Darwinism created a climate of thought in which, to this day, a great many people - not least in public life - have lived and moved. In this climate, the fact that we live "in this day and age" means that certain things are now to be expected; we envision a steady march toward freedom and justice, conceived often in terms of the slow but sure triumph of Western-style liberal democracy and soft soft versions of socialism. Not to put too fine a point on it, when people say that certain things are unacceptable "now that we're living in the twenty-first century," they are appealing to an assumed doctrine of progress - and of progress, what's more, in a particular direction. We are taught, often by the tone of voice of the media and the politicians rather than by explicit argument, to bow down before this progress. It is unstoppable. Who wants to be left behind, to be behind the times, to be yesterday's people? The colloquial phrase, "That's so last-year" has become the ultimate putdown: "progress" (by which we often simply mean a variation in fashion) has become the single most important measuring rod in society and culture.
Wright is surprised that this belief in progress has survived Auschwitz and that some people still think the world is basically a good place. He welcome the postmodernism because it deconstructs the "dangerous ideology of 'progress'" and "encourages a cynical approach: nothing will get better and there's nothing you can do about it."
I'm having a hard time with this. I don't buy into the fairy tale version of progress or think that science will solve all the ills of the world (which is why I was always amused by the gravity stones
at Wheaton and other colleges). But cynical though I am, I don't buy into Wright's portrayal of postmodernism that preaches that the world will never get better either. Since I have barely started the book, I have no idea where Wright is going with this but I'm uneasy with his distinctions so far.
How can there be redemptive history without some sort of progress? I don't place my trust in government systems or technology as the key to a Utopian dream. I'm not part the postmil camp that thinks things are getting better and better all the time. But I'm also not premil "we're all going to hell in a handbasket" either. God seems to have a purpose in history, a story that is unfolding, a redemption that is taking place. Within the Judeo/Christian worldview we generally hold to a linear view of history. We are moving forward in history and there are eschatologies to be had. We have goals to achieve and a Kingdom to spread. If we are working at all towards such things I would say progress is occurring.
What good is there to work for the good or to fight injustice if things can never get better? I'm not interested in letting evil triumph or living in some world where the Force has achieved perfect balance. I want to see the Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven. And I think that after 2000 years of practice, we should expect that some things should have changed by now. So if Christ and Paul were preaching it then, the church should be doing it by now. I have no problem in seeing redemptive trajectory at work in scripture and then applying that same concept to history. If the point is to bring Christ's message to the world, I would hope that doing so not only is possible, but is actually happening.
Maybe I am misunderstanding terms here. Perhaps Wright is referring only to trust in political systems and science as an obstacle for our understanding evil. I need to read more and figure out where he is headed with this.
Labels: Book Reviews, Theology