Christian Progress – the Story we are a Part of (Part 3)

This is the third instalment of a three-part series published here in Convivium, a publication of the Cardus think-tank, co-authored with Rev Dr. Andrew Bennett

Part 1 – the Rightly-Ordered Person – is available here
Part 2 – the Social and Political Good – is available here

The Story We Are a Part Of

Returning to where we began, to find out what ends we seek, what is the story we claim to be a part of?

The secular progressive story is one that is inherently ill-defined. The end, the telos, are goalposts that are constantly changing. Its gaze is shifting to the next shiny object and short-term goal, related as it always must be to physicality and finitude, positing them as fulfilling.

It is a story of Promethean attempts at domination of nature and ourselves. We are to be liberated from all the ‘constraints’ of norms, customs, history, and even one another by controlling our circumstances. The pursuit is restless, aimless, and ultimately futile. As a result, we are increasingly unable to pursue and fulfill our deepest need – that of the metaphysical, and the spiritual. The Christian understands this end as Truth itself, Jesus Christ, as St. John Paul II stated, “Jesus Christ is the answer to the question posed by every human life.”[1]

In place of a pursuit of truth, a cult of the novel for its own sake, is characteristic. In the place of connections in concentric circles to family, friends, community, people, nation, humanity, there is a direct leap to humanity in the abstract through programs, initiatives, and causes. The result is “universal non-belonging”, in the immortal words of Augusto Del Noce.

Over the course of the pandemic, we have seen that what we cannot control far outnumbers that which we can. In this worldview marked by successive pleasures that are equally evanescent and without significance, death has no meaning, so we must fear it with profound irrationality, and seek to avoid it at all costs.

Christianity understands Creation as a progressive unfolding of God’s creative act, and providence at work in the world. This is true progress. Our universe “was created ‘in a state of journeying’ (in statu viae) toward an ultimate perfection yet to be attained, to which God has destined it.”[2] It transcends all ideologies and all human attempts to define it or own it.

Christians live in the present yet at the same time on a journey towards what continually beckons us as human beings: the Trinitarian life. As we journey, we pass on to those around us and those coming after us the faith in the Resurrection of Christ we received from the saints that have gone on before us. This tradition is not something dead and lifeless but something that is living. This process of tradition-ing is like a tree that grows and unfolds over time, some branches die, and others blossom, yet we always remain connected to the roots, which is the revelation of God’s Word. The Christian life is progress – a moving towards salvation, accomplished ever so slowly by God’s servants, who are missionaries that bring light and progress with the joy of the Gospel, always connected to and building upon the truth to which they are witnesses.

Conclusion – Christians are the true Progressives

Today, after more than 400 years of steady assault against objectivity in all its forms – starting with beauty moving to the eye of the beholder, then goodness as a mere regulatory ideal or an aggregate of pleasurable states of mind, and now finally truth itself having become something that is ‘true for me’ – testimony and witness are more important than argument.

Because what the philosophies associated with modernity and postmodernity have rightly drawn attention to is the difficulty of finding truth, beauty and goodness in their fullness and manifestation in the institutions, cultures, and nations of the world. They have drawn attention to glosses, triumphalism, and exaggerations – all pathologies of how a rich body of teaching and understanding have only ever been partially applied.

All the more reason, then, to live an integrated life, where the distinction between love of God, neighbour, and one’s faith is indistinct from one’s other roles. Now more than ever, people want to see it embodied and lived, because deep down, we all want to love, to hope, and to have faith. But perhaps people do not see it in Christians themselves. Christians must lay it all on the line, and live an integrated life without fear, in lightness and in hope.

To live a life of integrity, resplendent in faith, hope and charity must be the goal – the life of a saint. For, Christianity is not an empty philosophy, but a way of life – truth, goodness and beauty are not meant merely to be articulated, but to be shown in a life lived in love of God. Indeed, they are personified in Jesus Christ. The Christian life is a life in which one dies to one’s self, and becomes united with God, which is to love ever more purely.

People need the authority of the law, institutions, and norms, and they need a new kind of leader to embody this spirit. But there is nothing new under the sun, and the example will always be Christ, who is the perfect model of the one who is self-effacing, noble, and the Servant of Servants.

In the Christian story, the end is theosis – union with God. Every human heart yearns for it, for we are ordered this way. The desire to have more and more people reach peace and union with God is the loftiest, fullest manifestation of the progressive spirit.

Christians are the true progressives. May they reclaim the title in the decades to come.

[1] John Paul II, Homily of His Holiness John Paul II at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, Sunday, October 8 1995 on His Apostolic Journey to the United States of America., accessed 10.11.2021.

[2] Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church: With Modifications from the Editio Typica. (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 89; 302, cf. Rom 8:19-23.

About Rev Dr. Andrew Bennett

The Rev. Dr. Andrew P.W. Bennett is Program Director, Religious Freedom and Faith Community Engagement. He is an ordained deacon in the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in the Eparchy (Diocese) of Toronto and Eastern Canada.

Fr. Deacon Andrew served as Canada’s first Ambassador for Religious Freedom and led the Office of Religious Freedom from 2013 to 2016 in defending and championing religious freedom internationally as a core element of Canada’s foreign policy. He simultaneously served as Canada’s Head of Delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance -a 31-country body which leads international efforts in Holocaust education, research, and remembrance.

As Director of the Cardus Religious Freedom Institute, Fr. Deacon Andrew works to promote religious freedom and the importance of public faith to our common life. He also leads Cardus’s engagement with faith communities across Canada and Cardus’s program of public theology. Fr. Deacon Andrew is a Senior Fellow at the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) in Washington, DC – a leading independent think-tank committed to achieving broad acceptance of religious liberty as a fundamental human right for everyone, everywhere.”

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