Monday, November 14, 2011

Myths of Progress 1

In popular language, a myth is something we tell ourselves that is not true, a false story, if you would.  As we discussed in chapter 8, there are more sophisticated ways of looking at myths.  A more meaningful definition of the word would be a fictional story that we use to express something about ourselves and our sense of the world.  "A story expressing a mystery," is how we put it in chapter 8.

When we speak of "myths of progress," we could mean the word in either way and be saying something true.  In 1932, the psychoanalyst M. D. Eder wrote a piece called, "The Myth of Progress," in which he used the word "myth" in the first sense, as a false story we tell ourselves. "The myth of progress states that civilization has moved, is moving, and will move in a desirable direction. Progress is inevitable." [1]  He was reacting primarily to the idea that the human condition would inevitably improve over time, particularly through scientific progress.  He argued on the contrary that scientific developments were making humanity more unhappy on the whole and in some ways actually threatened its destruction.

We do not wish to linger long on this sense of the "myth of progress."  Surely most of us would agree that there is no guarantee that progress is inevitable.  From a human perspective, all it would take were a serious political mishap to wipe humanity from the face of the planet in a nuclear war.  Since every child begins the world anew, humanity is always one generation away from the total loss of any accomplishments it might have accrued in the past.  This is the stuff of science fiction, but most of us would surely agree it could happen on a human level.

As Christians, we believe in more than the human.  We believe in providence, God's guiding hand for ultimate good in the world.  That is not to say that God does not allow evil.  We saw at the end of the last section that Christians do not agree on how this age of existence will end.  Some believe Christ could return to a world that has been greatly changed for good by the good news of God's coming kingdom.  Others believe things will get worse and worse until God intervenes at the last moment... 

[1] "The Myth of Progress," The British Journal of Medical Psychology 12 (1932): 1.

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