Today in class we were discussing the issue of stewardship as an act of co-creation with God, and the issue of technological development to manipulate creation came up. Technology is not evil, we are told, nor can we draw a neat line between what is good and what is bad technology; rather, all human endeavours are shot through with both the glory of God and fallen human sinfulness. I get that, and it makes sense to me; I don’t believe that we will be perfect this side of the eschaton. But what doesn’t sit well with me is the notion that we have not, and will not, and cannot make moral progress.
What is progress? Getting better. We make scientific and technological progress at extremely rapid rates, and our new science and technology, while not being morally neutral, is always morally ambiguous; there’s always some good and some bad. Genetically modifying crops to produce more is good; wiping out heirloom varieties in the process, or making terminator genes, is bad. Uses of technology can be morally good or bad, and some technology is more bad than good or more good than bad, but there’s no escape from our fallen human sinfulness. Even the best technologies can be used for evil. In this sense, there is no moral progress, just morality as evidenced in our scientific or technological progress.
What about cultural progress? Is there even such a thing? That would imply that there are some cultures that are better than others – and since many believe that morality is itself a cultural term and construct, any effort to say that one culture is more moral than another is like saying that an apple is more apple-y than an orange. Yet, assuming for a moment that God really exists and has established some moral and ethical principles and norms that he has revealed to his culture-bound people, I think we can say that we’ve made cultural progress. For example, we no longer accept slavery as a cultural practice, nor patriarchy (for the most part), which were immoral in that they denied the dignity that God has given to human beings. But the question of whether or not we’ve progressed morally will hinge not on the evidence that we’ve made some moral improvements to our entire society, but whether or not we’ve just replaced slavery and patriarchy with some other evil. Have we made any net gains? I’ve been told that we have not, and part of me is inclined to believe that. But.
Sanctification. What is it, except God working in us as individuals and (hopefully) as Christian communities to make us into His image in a fuller sense – we are becoming human, in its fullest sense, as we become more like Christ. While I agree that we should not identify progress (any of the above forms) as sanctification, surely we can see sanctification as a type of progress – either I am progressively becoming more like Christ, or I am not. If I am not, then what is the purpose of the Holy Spirit in me? Am I empowered to do good in this world for the glory of God, or not? And if not, then why am I even here? I might as well just give up.
Yes, I was told today, I should. That would be a good Lutheran thing to do, because it would remove any notion of self-justification and I would have to rely on God. But if nothing is going to change in this world, then I must ask, rely on God to do WHAT? I don’t do good in the world, I don’t seek after moral progress in my life and my community, because I want to justify myself, but because Christ gave me an example to follow. Because I actually desire to see and embody God’s goodness. Because I want to embody Christ, as we are called to do together in unity as the Body of Christ. It’s one thing to say that nothing will be perfect until the eschaton, but it’s quite another to say that nothing will get any better until then; that would imply that God isn’t working. We always talk about the “already-not-yet”, and that we can see only glimpses of God’s glory in the world now and it will all be completed when Christ returns, but if none of us are really getting any better at all then there’s no already. And if we only have the “not-yet”, then we might as well seek to escape this fallen world, because God isn’t working here – something that class today rightly concluded by saying that this is precisely what we should not do, because God IS working here. If God is working here, then should see him at work; to say that we haven’t been changed for the better by the Holy Spirit, to say that we are just as sinful and wrong as we ever were, is a cop-out that ignores much of scripture. I can only guess that it does so in order to emphasize a Lutheran notion of grace, or to try to reconcile the level of sin that still exists in the world.
My professor is a very smart man, and I respect him very much; I can only assume that we’ve miscommunicated somehow. Marc, Joel, you were there; have I missed what he was saying completely? It got awful quiet when I asked the question. I apologize for the tone of this post; I’m somewhere between utter hopelessness and righteous indignation.