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The Illusion of the Modern Progressive

By: Justin Wishart

I have a confession to make – I love reading philosophy books.

I know, don’t judge me too harshly. I enjoy reading them from different cultures and times. I have a few eras that I am interested in, but one of my favorite eras and subjects is atheistic writings of the 1500s to around the first half of last century. I like to figure out why people think that there not being a God seems reasonable to them.

But, I have to explain why I cut off my time at about 1950s or so. The reason is the intellectual side of Atheism has taken a dive for the worst; Betrand Russell was much more compelling then Richard Dawkins for example. That is not to say there are not some compelling modern atheistic philosophers today, it just seems as if atheism has already reached its zenith and is in slow decline. Time will tell if it makes a comeback. 

So, what does this have to do with the Modern Progressive? Before we explore this, we need to look a little into the past. At the time of the Reformation, spiritual information was taken out of the hands of the Catholic Magisterium. This put sacred knowledge out of the hands of Latin speaking clergy and into people outside the Church’s influence. The domino effect of this eventually put education out of the influence of the Church as well. Yet, things remained “Christian” for a while. But, then a new birth was happening, a new “light”. It was thought that we were moving from the darkness into the Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment was fundamentally a separation of what was viewed as “subjective” things (like purpose and meaning), from “objective” things (like logic and sense perception). While Christianity sought to combine all these elements, the Enlightenment broke them apart and dissected them.  Then we put “subjective” ideas into the realm of personal preference, and made “objective” ideas discussed in the public square. Things like religion were relegated to the home, while things like science were allowed in political arenas. 

This is the idea that certain things that were traditionally thought to be a matter of truth — like religion and morality and ethics — are actually only personal “values,” and that real truth comes only from scientific and empirical investigation. This explains why, when religious conservatives try to advance a position in the public square, it is dismissed out of hand.” Nancy Pearcey

Thus, modern day ideas like the creation of the “Secular State” and the Scientific Method were created.

The Scientific Method grew during this time and became a force in schooling, eventually gaining such stature that if you were to be thought of as “educated” you needed to subjugate your thinking to a “scientific” system. To be an educated man was to be a scientific man. And few could deny the promise of this new science. It opened up new lands, new inventions, and a new Utopia. Instead of waiting for the New Heavens and the New Earth, we set about creating it here on Earth. Utopian literature sprang up and dotted the literary landscape, with authors presenting their view of the new scientific age to come, the perfect society. Science was now the new religion that promised a better world and people were very optimistic. But, two events happened to change this, WWI and WWII. As the terror of nuclear weaponsfell on two cities in Japan, the idea of a scientific utopia was shaken. We saw that science could be to our ruin instead of our savior.

Replacing earlier utopian visions where science was the key to progress, were now stories of supposed scientific “Utopias”, but now the hero of the story fought against this oppressive Utopia (think stories like Star Wars). What was at one time something we eagerly hoped for became something we found suspicious and even frightful. 

So, what does my extremely short history lesson have to do with Modern Progressives? Well, first notice the word “modern“. By this, I am meaning people who define themselves as “progressive” that are born sometime after WWII. This is the era where the Utopia was in ruins, Marx fell with the Wall, and there was no objective goal for us to reach. We now fight against the oppressive Utopia but put nothing in its place. Second, we look at the word “progressive.” This word denotes movement towards a goal. Here we have a problem. We can’t move unless we know what is the goal we are to move towards. 

There is no goal, there is no Utopia.

The Utopia has been burned to the ground by two atomic bombs. For every Utopia set up, a hero comes and brings it down. So, how can we know any movement we make is “Progressive”? Sure we can change things up, but with no goal in sight, how can we know progression had been made?  Some might think that anything new is “progressive.” We allow for abortion and this makes us a “progressive” society. But, unless a society has some end goal in mind, an Utopia, then movement away from existing societal norms can hardly be thought of as “progressive”. This is merely movement. Is this regression? Is it lateral movement? How can we know? The moral of the today’s age, our zeitgeist, is that perfection is unknowable (the main moral in the movie, Tron Legacy “The thing about perfection is that it’s unknowable“).

In other words, modern day progressives cannot argue that their views are a sign of progress for our society if they don’t know what progress looks like. Progressives may have some fuzzy ideal in mind, possibly looking a little like the lyrics of “Imagine” but this is hardly something we can use as a measuring rod. With the death of God in our society, we built our Utopias. When these fell by the fire from the sky, we killed any concepts of progression.

Progressives are therefore in an illusion as they push for a movement forward with little indication they are progressing. The term is therefore, meaningless to the Agnostic or Atheist, who most often uses this term to describe themselves. In other words, rather than moving us forward, modern day atheists who consider themselves progressive can’t even tell us which direction is forward.