Monday, November 5, 2007

The verbal irony of "progressive" thinking, part 1

How many times have we said to our parents that they should leave us alone and let us learn from our own mistakes?

Not an easy thing for a parent to do, especially one who has had enough life experience to know that there simply isn't time to make and learn from all of the available mistakes on one's own.

Part of learning to think for oneself is learning that the perspectives, experiences and advice of others are worth considering, especially when it is offered with our own well being in mind. If we can learn from the errors and successes of those who have come before us, this frees us up to do things right the first time.

G.K. Chesterton wrote the following on this issue in 1909:

The modern man says, "Let us leave all these arbitrary standards and embrace liberty." This is, logically rendered, "Let us not decide what is good, but let it be considered good not to decide it." He says, "Away with your old moral formulae; I am for progress."This, logically stated, means, "Let us not settle what is good; but let us settle whether we are getting more of it." He says, "Neither in religion nor morality, my friend, lie the hopes of the race, but in education." This, clearly expressed, means, "We cannot decide what is good, but let us give it to our children.

The case of the general talk of "progress" is, indeed, an extreme one. ... We meet every ideal of religion, patriotism, beauty, or brute pleasure with the alternative ideal of progress--that is to say, we meet every proposal of getting something that we know about, with an alternative proposal of getting a great deal more of nobody
knows what."

Decades after Chesterton published the above words, Baby Boomers were teaching my generation to "question everything". This made things very difficult for those parents who actually tried to provide answers to many of those questions--it made it a lot easier for us children not to listen.

By the time we reached our legal adutlhood, the 'question everything" mentality left most of us in two categories: those who questioned everything with the intent (and eventually the result) of settling on answers, and those who found themselves in a state of aimless wandering--with lots of questions, little curiosity (or at least little of the necessary patience for satisfying it)and no answers to use as a foothold for their lives.

Within the Church, those in the former category often confound their elders by becoming interested in things that used to be part of the "establishment"--traditional liturgy, for one; traditional Catholic morality for another. The tables have turned. "Question Everything" is now the establishment--the standard set out by a slowly (and reluctantly) aging preceding generation. We hear it from parents, teachers, and even the occasional authority figure within our parishes.

Those in the latter, wandering category are...well... all over the place. Many no longer even in the Church, often carrying the spiritual baggage of those who came just before us.

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