THE ILLUSION OF PROGRESS AND THE FALSE PROMISES OF EMANCIPATION

Pastor Mark Anderson

My great-grandfather moved around his parish in Southwestern Minnesota with a horse and buggy. Over one hundred years later I visit my church members (at least before the Covid crisis) in an automobile that would leave him speechless, dumbfounded actually. The extraordinary explosion of technological progress in the last 100 years has served to create an illusion. And that illusion is that the human race is progressing toward an emancipated state of perfect equity and perfect social justice.

But you may have noticed something as we ‘oogle’ our iphones, enamored of the glories of science and the progressing technological age; people remain stubbornly self-centered, malicious and seem to be perpetually dissatisfied with themselves, others and the sluggish pace of a justice that never seems to arrive. Terms like ‘justice, equity, inclusive, and utopia’ are thrown around like so much cheap confetti, in defiance of what is, as if just saying them will speed things up and bring about a new world. But these terms stubbornly remain in the realm of abstraction. And when they have managed to touch down (as in Mao’s China and Lenin’s Russia) the result has been the catastrophic, murderous destruction of freedom and human rights.

Again today these abstractions are being shouted at us from the streets by people who have no real plan that they can positively put forward into the arena of rational thought and open discussion. Instead these utopian abstractions are being used, as they always are, to level annihilating, self-righteous rage against every attempt to create a world that is anything short of the perfection they dream of. And the problem with this is obvious. The abstract ideal negates, dismisses every flawed attempt at social organization that falls short of that ideal and serves to justify all hostility toward the prevailing, imperfect state of affairs, no matter how much good it may contain. The clenched fists and shrill voices are summoning us to support a movement that exists in an abstract world of slogans and idealistic dreams where progress toward the Utopian ideal will only be made after the we de-construct (destroy) everything as it is. Then what?

In a sense, those who march in the streets and seek to dismantle the prevailing order are a window into the greater human dilemma. The frustrated, errant world, trapped and bound in the closed, imperfect system of mortality, with the law as the only tool at their disposal, are unable to free themselves. There is no breaking out of the prison of mortality, law and death.

This, in large part I believe, accounts for the angry, existential panic we see all around us. You may feel it yourself. The mortality clock is ticking even as the world (and that normally means others) stubbornly resists the remedies that the self-righteous think will bring final emancipation of humanity and clean up the planet.

The abstractions and idealisms of Utopian dreamers are inappropriate substitutes for the authentic hope and future revealed in time and space in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. For the Christian faith, justice is not an ideology, it is a person. And that person is the incarnate God, Jesus Christ our Lord. On the cross of Jesus God announced that mortality, life under the unblinking law and death are not obstacles for us to overcome. They are our fate in this world. In the resurrection of Jesus God ushered in a new future, witnessed to in this world by the Gospel, and that one day will be revealed in a new heaven and new earth.

Jesus made quite explicit what lies at the heart of His kingdom’s ‘platform’ – the radical unfairness of Divine mercy and forgiveness, not equity and justice. Jesus Christ wants nothing to do with the oppressor\victim narrative. The gospel of God’s realm is not a bid for power among groups, not even a balance of powers. The gospel creates the only real freedom and makes possible honest, truthful, relations between people, the creation and God. The nourishment, stability and love that human beings claim to long for is not brought about by the endless transitions, the dangled carrots of false hopes that promise a fulfilled tomorrow. Those gifts are given now in faith, as permanent possessions in the Word of the Gospel; where the restless, anxious heart is led out of the ideological fog into the light, peace and rest of God’s forgiveness and mercy in Jesus Christ, even as we await in patient hope the authentic future that only God will bring.

So, here is a suggestion. If you or someone you know has an irresistible urge to take to the streets, with signs and slogans, try this. Let you signs proclaim the power of God’s mercy to reconcile neighbor to neighbor. Shout at the top of your lungs the name of Jesus Christ and that His ‘platform, has one plank, a plank that is inclusive of every race and nation – mercy and the forgiveness of sins.

Published by Pastor Mark Anderson

Lutheran pastor, husband, dad, archaeology nut, serious blues guitarist and aspiring luthier.

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