The BackShop Journal

A Gallery of Thoughts on Arts, Culture and Orthodox Christian Spirituality

A Short Rumination on Progress

There is one major flaw in the perception of history in the Western world. Most people are convinced that the world and humanity is making a constant progress. The prevailing worldview is that human beings are improving in one way or another, and that our lives are continuously getting better.

In part this belief is related to things like infant mortality, which we have been able to minimise in the past century or so. Nowadays, a parent can be pretty sure his/her newborn baby will survive, whereas this wasn't the case in the recent past. Life expectancy has also doubled in the past two centuries. Diseases like tuberculosis are not fatal anymore. Cholera, typhus and whooping cough have been largely suppressed.

It also has to do with technology. A hundred and fifty years ago, there was no electricity, no telephones. Seventy years ago, there was no TV. Fifty years ago, there were no personal computers, and thirty years ago there were no mobile phones, no internet. These devices have certainly made our lives more comfortable, our communication faster and more efficient.

It is also connected to education. Not long ago, schooling was not available to all the layers of the society as it is now. In the eighteenth century, the movement toward large-scale education and eradication of superstition was named "Enlightenment". It was supposed to illuminate the people who have been in the dark, without an opportunity to learn so many different things, and in such depth. In general, people consider themselves more civilised and cultivated now.

Apart from these accomplishments, there is a deeper set of convictions influenced by major theories that have been not only accepted during the past 150 years, but also deeply ingrained in our minds. They all originated in the 19th century, and they painted a world that is constantly improving. According to them, medicine, technology or education are not the only areas contributing to our progress. Our understanding of the world and our morals are on the rise as well. Those theories are connected to diverse areas of human studies - biology, philosophy, political economy - but they have contributed to an overall picture of the humanity marching toward a brighter future in every aspect. Let's briefly examine two of those theories, and the type of influence they have had on our happiness and prosperity.

The first influential idea is dialectics developed by the German philosopher George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. In his explanation of the conflict between opposing forces in the world, there is always a thesis colliding with an antithesis and resulting in synthesis. When applied to the civil society, this clash has brought us to the perfect economic system and ideology, capitalism, the one that engenders most freedom. Hegel's theory was taken up by Karl Marx, who took his predecessor's dialectic, extracted the concept of spirit (Geist, also known as Zeitgeist - The Spirit of Time) out of history, and left it entirely plain, materialistic. Marx extended Hegel's master/slave conflict and took it a step further, to a perfect society of the future called communism. Despite its numerous failed experiments, the theory, in its various forms and points of emphasis, is still popular to this date, especially in academic circles.

The second theory whose impact is strongly felt is the theory formulated by Charles Darwin. It explains to us that through natural selection, the fittest individual always survives and procreates, thus changing the appearance and characteristics of the species over time. It is called evolution, and it explains the origin of humans from the simplest organisms. The theory has served as a moral justification for individualism, competition and elitism since its inception. It did run into great opposition, especially from clerical circles, because it excludes any divine intervention, and it basically favours the mighty and the strong. In one of its offshoots, it was taken up by Nietzsche, who introduced the superman. Even though the theory of evolution has been relentlessly propagated in schools and the scientific world, even staunch Darwinists admit that the so-called "missing link" remains the biggest problem in actually proving the theory correct.

In spite of being enlightened by progressive beliefs and endowed with achievements that make our life easier, there is no doubt that humanity is found in a rapid moral decline. The idea of the superhuman, "the fittest" race, has lead to World War II, and the Bolshevik view of accelerated social evolution has lead to millions of deaths in the Soviet Union. The descendants of these two theories can easily influence decisions of the people in power, and soon cause a nuclear catastrophe.

It has to be obvious that we are increasingly distancing ourselves from the only belief that causes harmony, peace and well being, which is a far greater accomplishment than all the scientific breakthroughs of the past 500 years.

Even though a multitude of philosophers, social theorists and intellectuals of all colours and shapes call Christianity a thing of the past, it remains the only possible enlightenment in this world of ours. It has led humans out of spiritual darkness, and it has lifted them above the rest of the creation. It is the only way to escape the misery of our bodily confinement and restore the union with our Creator. Far from being progressive, the prevalent beliefs in the post-Christian world we now live in is just a regression into paganism.

Even those who claim not to be religious follow some sort of ideology. Even atheists feel a religious urge, they just cannot identify it. And everyone has a god. If it's not the Holy Trinity, it's either money, fornication or glory, and they all represents idolatry. With the appearance of Jesus Christ on Earth and the creation of his Church, the idols were put to shame. Those who claim Christianity belongs to the dark past and are turning to the "civilised" ideas are in fact returning to the disgraceful bygone years. They are reviving the fetishes of the superstitious darkness, rebuilding the golden calf. Ignoring and disregarding the living, loving and almighty God, they are bowing before a soulless, hollow effigy.

An average 21st-century citizen is stressed out, confused and depressed. Even though he has gadgets his great grandparents could have only dreamed about, he is a moral and spiritual wreck. Even though his life is longer, he lives in darkness. Albeit he has crammed into his brain all sorts of facts and figures, he doesn't know much at all. He will gain wisdom to understand who he is and what the purpose of his existence is only if he turns to the only true teaching. It won't bring him money, physical pleasures or fame, it might even bring him suffering, but the thing he will gain is priceless. It will give him life eternal.

Svetozar Postic

Featured Article
Do We Live in a Dystopia?
The literary genre "utopia" acquired its name from the novel by the same title, published by Thomas Moore in 1516. Various authors have tried to imagine a perfect society and describe it in the form of a project, tale, or novel. Plato's Republic is probably the first known utopia, describing th...
Read More
Recommended Links