Archives For Progressive politics

IMG_3628At a recent family event, the person I was talking with deliberately identified themselves as a “progressive”.

It seemed odd to me that this person felt the need to qualify their ideological position. Based on his choice of words and a few popular socio-political slogans dropped in between them, his position was clear enough.

It’s how things are. Although there was polite disagreement, I didn’t fall in line with the controlling socio-political narrative. Consequently, I was treated as dim-witted and ignorant.

I even attempted to shift topics, mentioning that my father had passed away in March, but that was only met with silence and indifference.

I wasn’t hurt or at all that surprised. In other non-face to face conversations a lack of respect and sense of superiority has always tainted his participation in our conversations. In this instance, however, he came across as arrogant. Even if he was making a strong effort to conceal contempt for my questions and tentative conclusions, it was clear that my educated theological position was considered unscientific and therefore, illegitimate; of no value.

I was curious about why he was comfortable with dismissing my theologically trained position, and yet confident about his own knowledge of theology; mostly sentimental fragments of information, drawn from his youthful association with a church .

I walked away with the strong impression that he was uninterested in my position. He appeared hypocritical and prejudiced against anything a thinking Christian might have to say or offer.

This is nothing new. It’s a bit like what G.K Chesterton experienced at the turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries.

Experiences which lead him to write observations like this:

 ‘In the Catholic twelfth century, in the philosophic eighteenth century, the direction may have been a good or a bad one, men may have differed more or less about how far they went, and in what direction, but about the direction they did in the main agree, and consequently they had the genuine sensation of progress. But it is precisely about the direction that we disagree. Whether the future excellence lies in more law or less law, in more liberty or less liberty; whether property will be finally concentrated or finally cut up; whether sexual passion will reach its sanest in an almost virgin intellectualism or in a full animal freedom; whether we should love everybody with Tolstoy, or spare nobody with Nietzsche;— these are the things about which we are actually fighting most.’ (Heretics, 1901, pp.15-17)[i]

Chesterton falls into three categories. Insightfully relevant: elements readers cannot help but agree with. Intensely relevant: the wordy elements that unsettle even the most devoted of his fans. Irritatingly relevant: elements that make a whole lot of sense, but would be cast aside because they speak too loudly against certain predominant socio-political agendas.

Reading Chesterton is a lot like reading Jean Bethke Elshtain, Albert Camus, Hannah Arendt, or the anti-Nazi theologians Karl Barth or Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Their works are better savoured, than rapidly devoured.

They’re part of a movement and a counter-movement. Each unsettling us as we are directed in heart, thought and attitude towards something not of this world – pointing us to the God who, in the world through covenant and Jesus Christ, speaks to humanity from outside humanity. Humanity can never speak this Word to itself or by itself. It can only speak God’s Word in reference to where, when, how, who and what, God has first chosen to speak it. God’s Word; His grace and law comes to us – encounters us. It’s possible to say that genuine progress is framed and protected by law, but brought to life by grace.

Like conservatives, progressives don’t own the concepts of progress, tolerance, emancipation, compassion, enlightenment, grace or even charity. No creature, without the Creator, can truly claim them, or truly offer them, without eventually perverting progress, turning it into a lordless and tyrannical task-master instead of a servant.

As Chesterton said,

 ‘Progress, properly understood, has, indeed, a most dignified and legitimate meaning. But as used in opposition to precise moral ideals, it is ludicrous. So far from it being the truth that the ideal of progress is to be set against that of ethical or religious finality, the reverse is the truth. Nobody has any business to use the word “progress” unless he has a definite creed and a cast-iron code of morals. Nobody can be progressive without being doctrinal. For progress by its very name indicates a direction; and the moment we are in the least doubtful about the direction, we become in the same degree doubtful about the progress. Never perhaps since the beginning of the world has there been an age that had less right to use the word “progress” than we […] It is not merely true that the age which has settled least what is progress is this “progressive” age. It is, moreover, true that the people who have settled least what progress is, are the most “progressive” people in it. The ordinary mass, the men who have never troubled about progress, might be trusted perhaps to progress.’ (ibid)

In sum, you don’t have to be a progressive, to be for progress.


Notes:

[i] Chesterton. G.K. 1901, Heretics Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle Ed. (pp, 15-17).

 

English: Location of South Avustralia.

English: Location of South Australia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Contemporary Western society both beguiles and reviles its ideological heritage.

This stems from the 19th and 20th centuries and is evident to the plethora of antagonists who aspire to deconstruct, in order to defend this heritage, or completely write it off as part of the inevitable devolution of imperialist Western civilisation.

This is manifested in the ”replace it with something else – bulldoze it”; revolutionary ethos, advocated by a large amount of people who align themselves with ”progressive” socio-political agendas.

Atheist and comedian Pat Condell is right, (even if a bit hypocritical in his defence of the freedom of speech), to point at that the problem is, progressives are now trending towards accepting ideology, without critique.

This necessarily means that ideology will enslave those that it is supposedly serving. For instance: ‘human beings do not have to serve causes, causes have to serve human beings’ (Barth – Against the Steam p.35).

My point is that in reality, ideology rarely delivers the freedom it promises, if at all.

Alister McGrath wrote that ‘the past not only shapes and illuminates the present but anticipates the future’ [1].

No matter how much we try to justify it, when reality bites, history corrects us. History presents those of us who abandon politics for theology, and vice-versa as the fools we truly can be.

This is evidenced in the eerie example of ‘Hitler, who only tolerated those clerics who applauded his will to be the absolute ruler of the state’. (Eberhard Busch ‘Barmen theses’, 2010, p.1)

It is true that ‘grace leads us to rebel against the powers which keep us in servitude’ [2]. In light of this it is certainly difficult to disagree with the caveat against appeasement, penned in 1940 by  C.S Lewis,

 ‘I think the suppression of a higher religion by a lower, or even a higher secular culture by a lower, is a great evil…though the world is slow to forgive, it is quick to forget’ [3].

I come now to the Australian Minister for trade, Craig Emerson, who staged this (see below) last year in order to ridicule Opposition claims that Whyalla, a mining community in South Australia, would be seriously hindered by the implementation of a ‘carbon tax’.

I support responsible management of the environment. I am, however, in complete disagreement with any cheap political gains that feed off what is pushed by a ”mob”.

This is because ‘truthfulness is not determined by customer satisfaction surveys’ [4].

The reality – 2013:
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”Whyalla Mayor Jim Pollock said he was shocked by the announcement, which dashed hopes of 1000 new jobs for the industrial city.Whyalla has suffered a series of blows in recent months, with BHP Billiton postponing its huge Olympic Dam expa…nsion and jobs at OneSteel under threat”.[5]
The theology – timeless:
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‘It is better for a person to hear the rebuke of the wise  than to hear the song of fools. For as the crackling of thorns under a pot,    so is the laughter of the fools;   this also is vanity’ Solomon, Ecc.7:5-6. (ESV)

References:

[1] McGrath, A 2007 Christianity’s dangerous idea, p.10 HarperCollins Publishers.
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[2] Marquardt, in Gorringe, T. 1999, Karl Barth: Against Hegemony, Oxford press
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[3]Lewis, C.S 1940, ‘why I am not a pacifist’ in Essay Collection, 2000 pp.287 & 293.
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[4] Shuster, M. 2008 Performance in Preaching: bringing sermons to life, Baker academic
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[5]Sarah Martin, The Australian (pay-walled content) via Andrew Bolt