May 18th, 2014

Don’t Confuse Progress With Apostasy

In my last post, I argued that ideally we should progress past the point of constitutionalism and find even better ways to secure individual liberty and promote the common good. But I was careful not to use the word progress, because it is so charged and ill-defined—like many words, it has been commandeered and contorted.

When somebody describes their political ideology as “progressive,” what do you think? Do they support or oppose elective abortion? Do they support or oppose imposing new or higher taxes? Would this person object to, or advocate for, redistributive welfare programs? What, exactly, is a progressive?

Those who apply this label to themselves often believe that they are intellectual—smart in the sense that they have risen above the ignorance of past generations. Where tradition, culture, and political or religious views prevent others from being similarly enlightened, the progressive has evolved beyond such caveman-esque thinking. After all, who can object to progress? Its very name suggests a positive development that every sensible person should support.

But progress is only a positive thing when heading in the right direction; every step taken up a ladder leaning against the wrong building is a step upward, yes, but a step in the wrong direction all the same.

We can appreciate progress to the extent that it entails bringing systems or individual actions more in line with fundamental principles. For example, terminating the legal sanction of slavery was important progress that was consistent with the ideas evoked at the heart of secession from, and defense against, the British crown. (Obviously, how progress is achieved is equally important; ending war is good, but ending it by exterminating mass quantities of innocent individuals is not.)

Progress cannot be divorced from its context—what is being accomplished must be understood in terms of what is being abandoned, changed, or superseded. Because much of political progressivism involves a rejection of the Judeo-Christian ethic and the classical liberal ideology developed during the enlightenment era, it should be seen for what it is: an apostasy from the American tradition.

Apostasy is generally used in the religious realm, and its use in this context remains consistent: many individuals feel that they have progressed past the alleged superstition and subjugation of Christian religion. They might be “spiritual” as opposed to religious, or tolerant whether others are dismissed as bigoted. Theirs is the customized gospel—the comfortable, sanitized set of guidelines (not commandments) that are made to fit their lives (and, of course, not the other way around).

But as with politics, this is not progress within Christianity, but the abandonment thereof. And because progressives are merely abandoning previously held traditions and beliefs, they are joining forces with plenty of people throughout history who have done the same. Progress, to be defined as such, would require advancement beyond what was previously known or done. But in this case, those who reject political or religious principles are repeating what has occurred many, many times in the past. Some progress…

It cannot be emphasized enough: there is such a thing as progress, and to the extent that it is founded on correct principles and done in the correct manner, then we should support and seek it. Moving away from these principles, however, is not at all progressive—as C.S. Lewis once said, “If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

Given how off course most people are, the world could use more (true) progressives.

6 Responses to “Don’t Confuse Progress With Apostasy”

  1. Darren Andrews
    May 19, 2014 at 12:00 am #

    “And as I view conditions today in the light of Jefferson’s prophecy, a great apostasy has taken place from “the law and the testimony” of American democracy, or the Constitution of the United States. Just as there has been an apostasy from the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, there has been an apostasy from those divinely given principles of Government which have been transmitted to us by the inspired’ men who founded this great nation.” – Elder Joseph L. Wirthlin, Second Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, October, 1941.

  2. Matt Freestone
    May 19, 2014 at 11:09 am #

    At the heart of progressivism (started in the early 20th century) is Eugenics. It has always been the heart of everything they do and it is their ultimate goal, and I think that needs to always be pointed out.

  3. Clumpy
    May 27, 2014 at 9:03 am #

    Eugenics? Do you mean like that “white genocide” nonsense, or are you using the term in some tortuous, convoluted way that I’m not familiar with?

  4. Saxoclese
    July 10, 2014 at 10:49 pm #

    Who then decides whether progress is “founded on correct principles and done in the correct manner”? Is that the same for everyone of every faith, religion, and walk of life? Does one philosophy or religion or individual have those “correct” answers?

    What if “previously held traditions and beliefs” are wrong such as slavery and the unequal treatment of women in the 1800’s? Was it “apostasy” from these “American traditions” that the “progressives” who fought for change were guilty of?

    You have written a wonderful piece Connor, but it raises far more questions than it answers.

  5. Matt
    July 15, 2014 at 7:23 pm #

    From a religious perspective, I’d argue that God defines those correct principles (so it would apply equally for all religion and philosophies, as well as for all people of all walks of life across the globe, since God’s existence presumes moral absolutes), and among those principles are found freedom from enslavement and equality of treatment under the law (though not equality of outcomes) regardless of gender, race, creed, etc. Religious justifications given at times for slavery and lower social status of women were far from representative of their religious foundations.

    So, how do we know which principles are from God and which are not? From a specifically LDS position, we have living prophets and apostles, as well as modern scripture, as a resource for obtaining the will and mind of God.

  6. iimx
    July 15, 2014 at 8:46 pm #

    D&C 101:77-80 endorses the constitution, and it was composed in 1833. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in 1865. But until then it was legal in the US to own another person. What is the LDS view about D&C 101? It seems like the passage accepts the constitution as was it was written at the time, without the specific statement abolishing slavery in 1865.

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