Increasingly, progressivism is about cancelling the past that doesn’t fit its narrative. The Church is often a target. CNS photo/Patricia L. Guilfoyle

True progress ends in union with God

By 
  • January 19, 2023

The supreme virtue of our secular culture is progressivism. To be a progressive is to be enlightened, tolerant and woke. It is to be on the right side of what are determined by secular elites to be the most important issues of our times. 

These issues are familiar to anyone who follows the media, who is employed by government or any of our larger corporations, or who is in school or higher education. It is through these media and in these fora that the secular progressive is catechized.

The progressivism of today’s creed is diversity, equity and inclusion. How broad or narrow diversity is and how inclusive one needs to be is not always clear. Among progressivism’s liturgies are the so-called acts of “cancelling” or de-platforming of those who fail to adhere to the creed. These are the heretics and apostates of today’s public square but perhaps not tomorrow’s. 

Progressivism’s scriptures are the texts that diversity, equity and inclusion training employs. Progressivism is a powerful secular religion, but what is the progress it seeks? 

One has to be very diligent in keeping up with the myriad and ever-changing goals of progressivism. The progressive who one day is the champion of a certain orthodoxy for redefining sexuality or human anthropology finds the next day that she is now being cancelled for her heresy of no longer being sufficiently woke and affirming what now counts as orthodox. It’s an intellectually exhausting business to be sure. 

But, here is the question that exposes the emptiness of progressivism: what is it progressing towards? What is the goal of the progressive? With its constantly shifting emphases and diffuse ideologies, it is unclear what its destination is. Some might say in looking at progressivism’s effects that its destination is the destruction of the human person. There is some merit to this critique, but such a goal, if genuine, is irrational and nihilist and while it may be supported by some of the most extreme progressives it does not appear to be a universal goal. With its internal contradictions progressivism may ultimately be the author of its own demise.

All of this raises the question: what is progress? Progress, like freedom, cannot be its own goal. The end of progress cannot be everlasting progress just as the goal of freedom cannot be freedom itself. An ordered understanding of freedom is the freedom to pursue what is good. We could say that a correct understanding of progress is that progress is fulfilled when it meets its stated end, its stated goal. We can all appreciate this in our own lives. The progress of a family vacation is judged by how close you are to reaching the cottage by car; the cottage is the destination. The progress towards being a trained electrician is how you steadily move through the stages of apprentice, journeyman, et cetera; the stated and understood goal is getting your red seal.

Christians understand this ordered view of progress. We are the true progressives in that sense. From our baptism through to our death we progress along the path of holiness, living the life in Christ, striving to become saints. There are diversions, those slips, falls and our sinfulness that leads us into the ditch, yet through our participation in the sacramental life of the Church we continue forward knowing our destination. God’s grace propels us ever forward. 

Our destination is union with God and participation in the life of the Most Holy Trinity. It is the fulfillment of every human life. There is no true progress without God’s love for us, that same love that ushered us into the world. That same divine love, please God, will greet us at the end of our journey.

(Rev. Andrew Bennett is program director, faith communities, at think tank Cardus.) 

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