One Thinking Friend (Craig D.) wrote (and doesn’t he write eloquently!) in response to my previous posting about the “struggle over the definition of ‘progress.’" I think he is right. Communication is often difficult, because words and concepts are not understood by everyone in the same way. So let me say a little more about what I mean by progress.
I certainly do not think that all change is progress. But all progress involves change. That is my problem with a cyclical worldview; it understands the world in terms of repetition (like the seasons) rather than in terms of change. Sure, there is change from one season to the other, but it is the same every year; there is never a new (a fifth and then a sixth) season.
“Do we have any choice other than to look for progress?” Craig wrote. Well, not looking for progress (at least on earth during one’s lifetime) was the position of most of the people of India for centuries (or millennia). The best example of a circular worldview is that of traditional India, which was basically a view of accepting what is with little thought of or effort toward effecting societal change or progress. The only choice, it seems, was accepting the situation (caste) into which one was born.
Certainly there were some Asian Indians who sought change. Gandhi is the best example. But before he began to work for change (progress) he studied in England and was, by his own admission, greatly influenced by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Tolstoy, and John Ruskin, a British artist who was an advocate of Christian socialism.
Another good question from Craig: “Can we define progress in such a way that it furthers peace and justice, life and hope, rather than just measuring acres of trees cut down?” Yes, we can and we must, I believe. As I wrote in the last paragraph of the previous posting, “Our challenge is to join with all people of good will to work for progress so that at the end of this new year the planet and those who dwell on it, especially those who are suffering the most, will be better off than they are now.”
True progress is that which enhances the common good—for the planet and all who dwell on it. Progress on this earth is seen where, and only where, shalom is expanded. Progress is seen in material things only to the extent that they better provide the necessities of life for everyone: food, clothing, shelter, and (can’t we say) health care.
Progress is seen when chronic hunger and starvation are eliminated, when the sick are increasingly cured and diseases dispelled, when those who have been enslaved, abused, oppressed, and/or exploited are freed from such treatment, and when there is, truly, liberty and (social) justice for all.