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  • Sean O'Leary

A Profound Progress

Throughout the Western world, the open society values of international corporations and neoliberal institutions have taken root. While some of this may be a correction of sorts against particularly narrow forms of traditionalism, it is useful to be aware of some of the wider issues at play in the world.


Equality movements that overtly focus on division, human identity and the misrepresentation of history have spread from country to country with a limited appreciation for local context and little focus on solving the most difficult challenges facing society, such as poverty, homelessness, crime, addiction and the breakdown of the family.


The interests of an educated elite have formed the impetus for popular changes that fuel the cultural revolution of our time. Categories of division have increased radically in recent decades. Traditional values have been dismissed or attacked with little appreciation for their historical context, their relevance in today’s world or their value for shaping the future.


Renaming public spaces, toppling statues and deplatforming people who hold diverse points of view are now commonplace. It won’t be long before literary figures, traditional works of art, saints, faith schools, pro-life ethics in medical care and wider society, natural gender protections for children and morally sensitive sex education programmes in schools will come under sustained pressure.


Indeed, these developments are already underway and are being shaped by political processes, such as citizens’ assemblies and expert panels, that have the appearance of a fair process while firmly pushing an agenda for radical change. Often, progressive movements utilise a narrow reductionist view of science without any reference to a broader morality, which leads to wider inconsistencies.


Amidst the incoherent ideologies favoured by modern cultural life, there is always the inevitable focus on individual wellbeing as a sort of non-religious panacea for reducing the damage caused by new choices. This begs the question: If all of these changes are beneficial, why is there such a need to focus on individual wellbeing?


It is important to remember that progressivism itself has a chequered history and has been linked with movements as damaging as eugenics or as aspirational as the temperance movement. Clearly, not all progress is good progress and representing the interests of ordinary people through political change does not always lead to the common good of all. There is often not enough emphasis on the wider consequences of societal instability, the need for sustaining overall community flourishing or the impact of changes on the generations yet to come.


Traditionally, significant social progress has been achieved through religious movements that provided practical solutions for educating the poor, healing the sick and protecting the dignity of people through the establishment of human rights. This history is largely ignored by modern progressive movements who strive to reshape the world according to the needs and interests of the present without carefully considering the past or thoughtfully contemplating the future.


Allied to all of this societal change is a move away from any mention of God in the public sphere, a tendency that must surely affect the spiritual lives of all, regardless of religious belief. An overt focus on division blinds us to the need for true progress in relation to common understandings of the dignity of the human person and the need to protect our common home.


Real progress is more than just an idea and is far broader and deeper than the most common conceptions of progress espoused in today’s world. Catholics are encouraged to avoid actions that diminish the fullness of personhood in oneself and others. Unreal ideologies that seek to alter reality in largely unknowable ways without due regard to personhood, the common good and universal rights inevitably challenge the Christian faith.


Within the Church, the advancement of the Kingdom of God on earth is the direction of positive progress, a divinely ordered progress that protects humanity and elevates the human spirit away from the imprisonment of an isolated individuality towards service within the community and the lasting freedom of self-transcendence.


All Christians are ambassadors for the Kingdom of God and share in its blessings, which transcend human nature and action. People often misrepresent the Kingdom of God on earth by focusing solely on laws, regulations and individualistic approaches to human progress. In reality, the Kingdom is about righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.


Imagine for a moment a world where people united to focus on combatting poverty, homelessness, torture, modern forms of slavery, forced migration, all planned forms of death, genocide, environmental damage and religious intolerance. This would be remarkable progress!


In confusing times, or what some might even describe as dark times, it is more important than ever to strive for the deep unity that can be found through sharing in the Spirit. This profound unity is the spiritual mission of the Church and forms the sacramental rhythm of our individual lives, which brings us ever closer towards communion, joy and love.


Disunity is painful but it should not be about abandoning the old to bring in the new. Instead, it should be the impetus for seeking out unity. The reality of division asks us to more seriously examine our own faith, its life-giving message and its spiritual treasures. Real progress is about renewing ourselves through finding the depths of our spiritual heritage and reaching out to all people regardless of religious belief.


By moulding our soul, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son moves us towards a deeper prayer life so that we share in God’s life, respond always with love, strengthen the bonds of communion and progress forward in hope to our inheritance in heaven. Prayer shines a light on the divisions and disunities in our culture so that we can open our minds and hearts to ask ourselves what we can do to heal, even in some small way, the disunity that surrounds us.