Thursday, March 15, 2007

Father Thomas D. Williams and the Catholic Ideology of Progress

Fr. Thomas D. Williams:
The Enlightenment had taken the idea of progress as its leitmotiv, preaching a secular humanism that would usher in an age of reason, where religion would be replaced by science...the Enlightenment...also had a marked materialistic and anti-religious dimension as well. Man became his own savior, able to resolve his own problems, and no longer needful of a transcendent and personal God.

Nineteenth-century ideologies built on many of the aspects of the Enlightenment, and came to see progress as a necessary and inexorable phenomenon, an expression of Darwinian evolutionism...Add to the mix Hegel's philosophy of dialectical progress, whereby society necessarily progresses through conflict -- thesis, antithesis and synthesis -- and we had the perfect setup for the tragic totalitarian experiments of the 20th century... Paul VI taught in "Populorum Progressio," the Christian idea of progress is not merely material or technological....If a society doesn't advance in goodness, in justice and in love, it doesn't truly advance....Christians do not see human progress as a necessary phenomenon....Moving forward in time doesn't guarantee that we are moving forward in virtue....because progress isn't automatic, all of us must take responsibility for the direction our society takes. We are not simply swept along by the winds of change; each of us also influences the direction our culture takes....As Christians we believe that each of us has a specific vocation and a mission to fulfill. In this context, progress means doing our part to bring about the Kingdom of Christ in human society.

Finally, the progress of the earthly city does not exhaust the human condition. No matter how much human society progresses, our temporal existence will come to an end. We are called to eternal life in Christ. True progress must take into account man's spiritual dimension and transcendent vocation as a child of God destined for heaven.

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