Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Past and Future

Should we be progressive or conservative? A progressive is one who thinks the latest thing or idea is the best. The conservative is for holding on to the old things that need to be preserved. But what does this really mean?

Progress seems grounded in the idea that things naturally get better over time. But what we we see is things all around us falling apart and decaying over time. Or else we see things involved in a series of cycles. An acorn becomes a tree which produces a new acorn. The only thing that fits this idea is scientific and technological progress. But progress in this area is the result of conscious and concerted effort.  I see no evidence that progress in any area is accomplished without work. I also see no reason to assume that scientific and technological progress proves we are making progress in any other area. We have, after all, in the modern age seen this type of progress as the panacea for all of our problems. It seems at least possible that our concentration on progress in this area has caused us to neglect others. There is no basis for the idea that progress is natural and inevitable. Nor can we conclude that whatever is new is necessarily best.

However, just because the new is not necessarily good does not mean the old is necessarily good either. Now the old does have one advantage over the new in that it is tested over time. There are always a number of new ideas which begin to show holes or fall apart after they have been put into practice. Some may be around for a while before they begin to show cracks. But while the fact that ideas have been around for a long time may prove they are workable, that does not mean they are good. War, murder, thievery, prostitution, and tyranny have all been around for a very long time. Also, the human race shows a tendency toward inertia. We tend to follow well established customs until some disaster forces us to reconsider. Now as a Christian I am convinced that God has been dealing with humans from the beginning, and some of what has come down through the centuries reflects His principles. But I also believe we have a constant tendency to drift away from God's truth. And where we have drifted to can become the new tradition.

What then is the solution? We must weigh any idea, not based on whether it is old or is new, but whether it is true and good. We must recognize that the age of origination of an idea is no more relevant to its value than the color of a car is relevant to its mechanical condition. And it is then, as G. K. Chesterton points out, that real progress is possible. Because if you do not know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?    

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