Anti-Progressive Heresy

Anti-Progressive Heresy June 29, 2016

A faith has been shaken, illusions shattered, pieties punctured,” writes Damon Linker at The Week. The faith is progressivism, which Linker characterizes as liberalism-plus. Progressives believe in rights and all that but “add something else: a quasi-eschatological faith in historical progress that gives the movement its name. This belief has many sources, and it takes many forms. One stream flows from liberal Protestant theology on down through Woodrow Wilson’s hopes for moral advances at home and an end to armed conflict abroad—with both of them realized by an elite class of public-spirited experts. The same theologically infused faith informs Barack Obama’s frequent invocation of an ‘arc of history’ that ‘bends toward justice.’”

The progressivism future “will be a world beyond particular attachments, beyond ethnic or linguistic or racial or religious or national forms of solidarity. In their place will be the only acceptable form of solidarity: humanitarian universalism.” Politics in the broad classical sense will end, politics as concern for “this particular community in this place with this history and heritage, determining its own character for itself, deciding who is and who is not a citizen, who will rule, and in the name of which vision of the good life.” It will end because there will be nothing left to debate. All the big questions will have been settled.

This, Linker argues, explains the reactions of “moral indignation and outrage” in response to Brexit. It is “as if the very fact that millions of voters have cast ballots for a candidate who strongly opposes immigration and free trade is some kind of moral and theological betrayal, or an offense against capital-H History itself.” It is a betrayal of the E.U.’s dream, that “purest and most ambitious experiment in progressivism ever attempted.”

Linker asks, “what if progressivism isn’t inevitable at all? What if people will always be inclined by nature to love their own—themselves, their families, their neighbors, members of their churches, their fellow citizens, their country—more than they love the placeless abstraction of ‘humanity’?”

Linker is right that progressivism is rooted in an eschatology, in his implication that progressivism is a Christian heresy, and in highlighting the Inquisitorial outrage against Brexit’s heresy against heresy. But there’s a danger on the other side. People are indeed inclined “by nature to love their own,” but Jesus demands that we love Samaritans and others who are not our own—against nature, in conformity with a new nature that is the gift of the Spirit.

And, while progressivism distorts the “arc of history,” it is fundamental to Christian faith that history has an “arc,” or, better, is a vector heading to a particular consummation. God is faithful, and one of His promises is that the nations will stream to Zion, beat swords to pruning hooks, and give up war. The E.U. is a Kantian dream, but Kant dreamt it because he was haunted by the Bible. Jesus is king, and He will reign until His enemies are placed beneath His feet. The Christian response to progressivism is not to distrust God’s promises, which are Yes and Amen in Him.

Progressivism is a heresy, but anti-progressivism distorts Christian faith just as much.

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