Have you ever heard an old progressive saying? Neither have I. There aren’t any. And there never will be.
Neither are there progressive great books, ancient stone monuments to progressive achievements, or any record of great “progressive” civilizations in world history.
But for the progressive-minded, departing from history is an asset, not an error—it’s “progress.” The whole point of progressive movements is to free us from the oppressive confines of the moralistic past, to open up the dusty cathedral doors and escape into a free new world in which we may express ourselves fully without fear of being silenced.
It’s no coincidence that some of the most “progressive” people I’ve ever known are fellow musicians and artists, and it’s also no coincidence that the music industry has lately become one of the most prominent mouthpieces of the gay movement.
For many tradition-loving Catholics, the rallying cries of the gay movement are discredited precisely by their departure from long-lived, time-tested institutions—such as marriage itself. History is full of lessons, events that teach us what works, what doesn’t, and what is permanent and above transient revolutions and political movements. When progressives pay no attention to these historical landmarks and refuse to ask for directions, we lose confidence in them as fit leaders for us to follow. As C. S. Lewis once wrote:
“There is nothing progressive about being pigheaded and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistakes. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.”
There’s a Christian saying that has become clichéd in this era of progressive public discourse: That the greatest trick the Devil ever devised was to convince the world he doesn’t exist. This cliché was recently challenged by Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln Nebraska, who offered an unforgettable insight in First Things: “The greatest trick of the devil isn’t convincing the world he doesn’t exist—it’s convincing the world that Jesus Christ is the champion of his causes.”
After all, as Budziszewski points out in his brilliant book What We Can’t Not Know, “Every evil thing is a good thing ruined. There are no other ways to get an evil thing.” And it’s long been held in Christian tradition that when it comes to good things being corrupted, the bigger they come, the harder they fall, or as St. Thomas puts it, “the best things corrupted, are the worst.” So what will we say of Christianity when it’s ruined?
Many progressives today are indeed engaged in something more insidious than simply being pigheaded about their mistakes. Budziszewski recognizes something ancient—even timeless—in the gay movement and other causes that progressives promote: something that resembles nothing more than black magic. “Their methods do not require eye of newt, but they might as well: in essence, they are forms of goeteia, of the ancient practice whose goal was to acquire power by ‘breaking’ nature, unpatterning its patterns, uncreating creation.”
It’s by recognizing this agenda that Budziszewski comes to understand the seeming “diversity” of movements within progressivism as all belonging to one, “uncreating” movement. “The homosexual movement ultimately seeks not the protection of homosexuals from cruelty, but the annihilation of natural boundaries.” This may sound more or less liberating from a homosexual perspective, but it should be remembered that this denial of reality is the same agenda that pervades other, less palatable movements. The many progressive social movements that we see today “are not isolated phenomena, but branches of the goetic arts; they are united in their hatred of the human design, and, by extension, of its Designer.”
Budziszewski is well aware that some use good things, even Christianity itself, as means to horrific ends. But the progressive use of the best (Christian) language is to be resisted if we are to avoid “the worst” results.
We must “abstain from the polluted languages of incantation. … The euthanasia movement ultimately seeks not an end to pain, but endless death. … The abortion movement is not about choice, but about death. The feminist movement is not for mothers, but against them. The homosexual movement is not gay, but whistling in the graveyard. The Brave New World of cloning and fetal tissue research is not about healing, but about playing God.”
Given Budziszewski’s account of the “uncreating” agenda within progressivism, we shouldn’t be surprised at how uncreative our culture has become. A quick compare-and-contrast study of the history of historic Western art v. “Modern art” will reveal the extent to which artistic culture has all but flat-lined insofar as it has sought to escape the real world of its historical roots.
Just the other day I was listening to the radio and heard “She Keeps Me Warm,” a song of gay pride in which the heroine sings the melancholy refrain “I can’t change … even if I wanted to.” Once we’re “freed” from the limits of reality, we become strangely confined, pressed between the periphery of reality and the void of unreality, denying the one and unable to pass the boundary of the other without pushing ourselves into a kind of monomaniacal embracement of whatever lie we’ve been told we are.
But in the same song, we hear a choir repeating again and again, “Love is patient, love is kind,” a quotation from … well, the greatest Book ever compiled. The Book in which we are all called to leave our disordered desires behind and move forward in the service of a God who frees us of them. We can change if we want to. God loves us as we are, not as we are enticed to be by the serpent.
As a Christian and as a songwriter, I’m deeply moved and saddened by the fact that, after all the “progress” of the last 50 years (which honestly offered a certain dignity and promise in what we in the trade call the “Singer/Songwriter Revolution” of the 60’s) what we now hear is the beautiful voice of a trapped girl in the radio. A girl who seems merely to be settling for what she can’t help.
I spent my most rebellious years with artists—with gays and revolutionaries. Creative people trying their best to make their mark on history as singers, songwriters and musicians. I wish they all could understand that nowadays we’re dealing with a new “dark age” to overcome. A new pair of “dusty cathedral doors” must be flung open, and another generation needs to be freed. But this time, we’ve got to think very carefully about what direction we take as we exit.