Monday, April 1, 2019

The ascent of man. . .

Even Christians have learned to see human history as an ascent, a rising path from meager beginnings to the triumph of man over limitations great and small.  Christian children are immersed in this idea from the earliest days of their lives -- from cartoons to school texts to the history of civilization.  So it is no wonder that it is hard going when they go to Sunday school or catechism class and are taught that God created all things and not simply as a deity who flips a switch to start the ball rolling.

As a child we read National Geographic and watched all the programs that detailed the plight of primitive man in a modern, educated, and scientific world.  The goal of civilization is to bring into the main thrust of life all those tribes left behind by accident or geography.  The ascent of man is presumed to be fact and truth unassailable by any real challenge and technology is considered the prime example of man's ascent, the triumph of intellect.

But what if man's technological ascent is not some rising tide over time?  What if the primitives that we have found were once superior and experienced dramatic decline?  How is it that great achievements like the pyramids could happen side by side such primitive societies?  Could it be that man's ascent is not some neat trajectory toward a peak but zig zags, ups and downs, or, worse, a decline?  Could it be that it is a descent instead of an ascent?  Could it be that an ascent of technological progress could be accompanied by a moral and cultural descent?  Take a look at the arts and the intricate refinement of music or painting and then listen to one note popular songs or vulgar rap or art that shows a crucifix in a vat of urine -- is this progress?  Can we compare the great fugues of Bach with the silly trivialities of modern music and say things are better now?  Or can we compare the complex tonalities of great music masters with the atonal inventions of modern composes and say these will have the same staying power?  Can we look at the Michelangelo's great work or Botticelli and look at a the random splash of color on a canvas and say that this is the shape of progress?  Can we look at the breakdown of the family, the vast numbers of children aborted, the preoccupation with sex and desire, the promotion of vulgarity in the media and say this is the triumph of man?

I hope I am asking a question that many others are also asking.  I hope that this challenge to the single rising line of progress is enough to challenge the idea that technological progress is enough to say we are improving as a race and a people.  In the Scriptures we read of a real Fall -- not a symbolic failure but the seeds of evil that have sown corruption to challenge the whole idea of progress and offer us another picture to describe what is going on in the world around us.  Science has become values neutral and has tried to teach us to see things in the same way but this is surely not a sign of our improvement but a mark of our decline.  Until we begin to challenge the whole idea of progress, we will be left trying to reconcile the idea of sin with a world that most folks have been conditioned to see as a line of ascent, a triumph of mind and will, and the improvement of what either squirmed out of the swamp or began at the command of God.  Evolution is not a nice and neat explanation to the question of beginnings but the propaganda of secular humanism that is so full of itself it has come to believe its own lies.  That, my friends, is no April Fool's joke.

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