What Do We Mean By Progress? (1 of 4)

Language, by its very nature, is built upon incalculable layers of assumption – because not only is it inescapably mired in the ethos of cultural idiom, it exists in a constant state of revision, driven by the ever-shifting value assessments of our unarticulated philosophical presuppositions. In other words, a simple statement like “I only want to change the world for the better” may seem like an innoxiously vague sentiment, until it occurs to you that every totalitarian regime in history assumed itself to be the arbiter of how better should be defined . . . which invariably determines what changes will need to be made.

This is why the powerful, and those who seek power, place so much value on controlling the narrative – because if they can convince you that they only want what’s best for you . . . then anyone opposed to them will be seen as a threat to you. And if they can keep you from examining too closely what they’re actually changing – then you won’t realize that they’re idea of what’s best isn’t actually the way you would have defined it . . . which is why they need you to assume that they’re good intentions are all that matter.

There’s an innate tension between what is, and what ought to be, and it’s a tension we largely experience intuitively – it’s that nagging feeling we get that things aren’t right the way they are . . . which is why someone advocating change tends to get our attention. We want to believe that things are somehow progressing towards something better, something good – even if we haven’t established a criterion for what better and good should even look like. We just assume that progress is good, whatever shape it takes . . . as if there were no philosophical implications to consider.

Philosophically speaking, any notion that we might be progressing towards something is inescapably entertained as a teleological question – do we exist for a reason, or is our existence meaningless? Because to assume progress, is to assume a preexisting purpose – otherwise, how would progress even be measured? But even the word purpose, much like the words progress and better, will always be susceptible to an ambiguous and malleable definition, if not tethered to a more transcendently sourced ontology. Because an existence that denies a pre-existing telos (purpose) inevitably devolves into the disunity and deconstruction of competing presuppositions.

So either we seek to be in harmony with the very purposes that spoke us into existence, or we imagine existence is nothing more than a meaningless blank slate, where we struggle for significance by constantly reinventing purpose out of thin air – as if reality could simply be pronounced into being. Either we find ourselves in the dim light of Babel pouring over our latest architectural plans for a new tower, we intend to build for our own glory and sovereignty – or we seek first the Kingdom of God, declaring that we serve none but the true king of heaven and earth, Jesus Christ . . . the Word, spoken from the beginning – the only Word that transcends all language.

“. . . unless the Lord builds the house.”


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