Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Pilgrim's Progress

My niece's graduation announcement came in the mail today and got me musing. I remembered quite some years ago helping one of my bosses pack to move when we stopped to look at a class poster with all their pictures which his father's class had printed a good 80 years ago now on their graduation from Columbia University or its medical school. The poster imaged the progress those young grads saw in the world of their day and which they hoped to share as they went out into the world of work. The picture's backdrop was a huge factory with all sorts of billowing smoke stacks! For them, I guess, back before World War II that, smoke-spewing, unshackled industry, looked like progress.

This morning there was a short filler piece in the newspaper about economic recession in Spain and the danger stagnation in the Spanish economy represents for the whole Euro zone. Here in the U.S. you still hear (we seem to have forgotten Fanny Mae?) about economic recovery as involving increased consumption of all sorts of goods, of more money being spent on homes, cars, phones, electronics, vacations, and what all. "Shop until you drop" would seem to have replaced the smoking factory as the emblem of progress? There must be some school of philosophy out there which is built on the notion "I consume, therefore I am". It's hard to believe just how blind, passive or indifferent we can become. I read a book review recently where the author was raging against all the money spent on advanced education, preparing people for useless or consumption oriented careers. As bright young Columbia graduates of 80 years ago didn't see the danger in industrial pollution, it would seem we now have a world oblivious to the fact that it is on the verge of burying itself under the packaging of its unbridled consumption.

As bad as all that might be, since getting into a book by John M. Wynne, entitled "A Catholic Assessment of Evolution Theory", I have become much more sensitive not only regarding the use of evolution theories to deny the existence of God and His creative and saving will, but to all that more which would tie us still to 19th Century Protestant historical critical methods for interpreting Scripture to spite the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, methods for a time embraced by Catholic scholars but now judged both passe and harmful, as well as to the folly surrounding material gains and living on credit which continue to be passed off as progress, regardless of the lessons we should be learning from the ongoing world economic crisis.

On the one hand, it would be illusory to think that people would embrace the kind of subsistence farming my grandparents knew without being forced to do so. On the other hand, it shocks to think that people so readily live beyond their means indifferent to predictions as to when in the next 5 to 10 years both medicare and social security will no longer pay. The neighbor next door tells us he is moving to a new neighborhood in town where he'll have to go on a waiting list for internet service... they've reached their limit. What is progress? Is it a value? 

Society's love affair with a silly notion of progress as more and flashier consumption is, well, bad enough. My worry has to do with the abandonment of faith in the living God, regardless of whether that abandonment is ideological or practical. Let the horrible notion behind the word "creationism" stand for the whole and challenge us to think about what is happening to our world! We may soon be deprived of the word group "Creator, create, creation". How did a two-bit propagandist like Charles Darwin with his unsubstantiated stories from a trip to the Galapagos Islands ever gain such a hold on our world? Why should I be shackled to the babbling of a long dead bigot like Charles Darwin? What do I owe to a man whose wicked heart was set on destroying my universe as created by God, Who created me to know, love, and serve Him, so as to be happy with Him forever? Our world might gain more from a return to some early 20th Century smoke stacks (unfiltered).

If only we were as alarmed by some of the propagandists who distort God's world, depriving it and us of our Creator, as we are of polluting smoke stacks or radioactive fallout! "Creationism" is not an honest word; it is a slur on the way to denying Truth itself.

What would I put in the background on my niece's graduation poster today? It certainly wouldn't be smoke belching factory chimneys nor would it be the glitzy world of Marvel Comics and the endless possibilities of material opulence. Maybe "progress" is a dirty word in search of a new definition? Maybe the hopes and optimism of a graduating class can be depicted without reference to that word.

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