Lewis: When Progress Is Not Really Progress

I think the words “progress” and “progressive” have been terribly abused in our day. The latter has been captured by the Left of the political spectrum and is now used for anything that gets the government more involved in our lives, as if that should automatically be considered progress.

C. S. Lewis wrote about progress in a much more reflective vein. For instance, in his essay, “Is Progress Possible” (which has as a subtitle “Willing Slaves of the Welfare State”), he defines the term differently than how others might:

I care far more how humanity lives than how long. Progress, for me, means increasing goodness and happiness of individual lives. For the species, as for each man, mere longevity seems to me a contemptible ideal.

Yet isn’t longevity an obsession for most people? Medical science is always trying to make our lives longer, which is nice, but when that becomes our measuring stick for progress, we’re focused on the wrong thing.

Progress can only be measured by looking at our lives from an eternal perspective. We need to realize that there is One who has given us the standard for what is good and what is not. As Lewis notes in another essay, “Evil and God,”

If things can improve, this means that there must be some absolute standard of good above and outside the cosmic process to which that process can approximate.

There is no sense in talking of “becoming better” if better means simply “what we are becoming”—it is like congratulating yourself on reaching your destination and defining destination as “the place you have reached.”

Another irritation, to me at least, is when people say, “You can’t turn back the clock.” As a historian, I reject the concept that history’s path forward is already determined, that there is an inevitable flow that all must accept. I have far too  often heard the silly comment about being “on the right side of history.”

In his classic, Mere Christianity, Lewis deals with that whole turning-back-the-clock cliché and ties it in neatly with an understanding of true progress:

First, as to putting the clock back. Would you think I was joking if I said that you can put a clock back, and that if the clock is wrong it is often a very sensible thing to do? . . .

We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer.

If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man [emphasis mine].

Let’s use words like progress and progressive in their proper sense, based on God’s standards, not man’s.

Free Speech on Campus: A Tipping Point

Free speech at our secular universities is in danger. That’s probably not news to anyone who is alert to the trend. Conservatives, in particular, are under attack whenever they are slated to speak on campuses. They get shouted down and violence is often threatened.

One of the best organizations dealing with this threat is Young America’s Foundation (YAF). It works to place influential conservative speakers on those campuses to help students get an alternative viewpoint—all too often, they are treated to progressive, Marxist indoctrination in the classroom without other options.

This past week, one of YAF’s sponsored speakers, Ann Coulter, faced a possible uproar for her scheduled event at UC Berkeley, which is hardly the campus that comes to mind if one thinks of balanced perspective in higher education.

I used to appreciate Coulter’s boldness, but she seems to have morphed into a complete provocateur in recent years, looking more for a fight than illuminating truth. The last straw for me, honestly, was her latest book, In Trump We Trust. Amongst all the fine speakers YAF sends to campuses, she is at the bottom of my list, and I wonder why she is still on theirs.

Nevertheless, the threats against her were real. There is controversy over who actually called off the event, but Coulter came out of it angry at YAF, for some silly reason. It’s as if she wanted confrontation that would lead to violence. I have little sympathy for her approach.

Yet that doesn’t excuse the university officials who have apparently lost control of the student agitators who want only speech they agree with. We have reached, in my view, a tipping point in higher education. Parents need to think more seriously about where they are sending their almost-adult children for college degrees.

It’s become all too easy to make fun of this current generation of college kids:

Given the drift of our culture away from its Biblical roots, things may only get worse on campuses. Don’t think we’ve hit rock bottom just yet.

All this controversy only intensifies my commitment to Christian higher education. Yes, I know there’s a lot wrong on evangelical campuses; progressive tendencies pop up there as well. But professors like me who attempt to bring their Biblical principles into the classroom and apply them to history, government, and the culture are not silenced. We still have a voice.

After what I’ve experienced in some of Christian higher education, I sometimes joke that it is one of God’s minor miracles that I still believe in it. Yet that’s just the point: God is still in the business of performing miracles. I will remain faithful in my calling and hope He can use me and others to help whatever students He has placed in our care to see the world through the principles He has established.

Trump Backtracking on Religious Liberty?

The Trump Justice Department, headed by pro-life AG Jeff Sessions, is inexplicably backtracking on promises of religious liberty. Obamacare, which many of us had hoped would be gone by now, attempted to force a birth-control mandate on Christian organizations that opposed it in principle.

Trump loudly proclaimed throughout his campaign that he would be a champion of religious liberty, that the federal government would not interfere in deeply held religious beliefs. But look what’s happening now.

A district court ruled in favor of the religious organizations, which led to the Obama Justice Department (yes, I know the oxymoronic quality of that title) appealing the decision. Everyone expected the new Justice Department, led by the conservative Sessions, would drop that appeal.

It hasn’t happened. In fact, . . . well, I’ll quote from a newspaper report:

Several religious groups are dismayed and confused by the Trump administration’s move, including the Little Sisters of the Poor — a group of nuns — that fought the mandate for several years but expected an immediate reprieve under the GOP president. They believed either the Justice Department would halt its appeal in the case or the administration would seek a rules change from the Department of Health and Human Services.

East Texas Baptist University and other plaintiffs represented by the nonprofit law firm Becket are now asking the Justice Department to drop its appeal of a district-court ruling in their favor, allowing them permanent relief from the mandate.

Conservatives who oppose the birth control mandate on religious liberty grounds are bewildered by the move at a Justice Department headed by former Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who is well known for his conservative views.

As things stand now, it appears that Justice plans to continue defending the way the Obama administration applied the birth-control mandate, said Eric Rassbach, a Becket attorney.

Continue defending the Obamacare mandate on birth control? Why on earth would this administration act like the Obama administration on this issue?

I’m willing to wait and see. My hope—giving the benefit of the doubt here—is that there is some confusion in the department that will be straightened out. Perhaps the outrage over this report will awaken them to what they are doing.

Meanwhile, I continue to offer the same caution I’ve been offering all along: don’t expect principle from an administration that is headed by a man without principle. Sometimes, he will do what is right, but one can never depend on that.

Principles and Christian character remain the cornerstones for good government. Without them, it’s like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get.

My Books

I thought this might be a good time (while I’m in the midst of grading) to just remind you that I’ve authored five books over the years. If you go to the link below, you can find out about them.

They all cover either history or government (or a combination of the two) and range from basic Biblical principles about government to a key moment in presidential history to biographies.

All are still available; only one is out of print, but Amazon has used copies.

I hope, if you haven’t yet perused any of them, that this will pique your interest. If you have read one or two, perhaps you might want to delve into the others.

Regardless, I am gratified that the Lord has allowed me to spend time reflecting on history and government and what we should learn from both.

If you click on the “My Books” title below, you will go to the site that introduces them briefly and gives you a link to their Amazon pages.

My Books

Democrat Clarity

Clarity from politicians is always a breath of fresh air, except when the clarity they bring reveals the heart of of darkness behind the facade they erect to soften their image. Here’s Tom Perez, former labor secretary for Obama and current chair of the Democrat National Committee, being crystal clear where his party stands on abortion:

Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health. That is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state.

At a time when women’s rights are under assault from the White House, the Republican Congress, and in states across the country, we must speak up for this principle as loudly as ever and with one voice.

Notice the word “abortion” is not used. Instead, the old tired rhetoric about women’s own bodies and their health attempts to cover up for the reality. Yet for those who know how terminology is misused, this is clarity. All Democrats are now on notice (as well as all Americans, it seems) that no one should be allowed to think differently on this issue. Abortion must be a right that all agree on.

Perez is the public face of the Democrats for at least the next four years. He won this position by staving off a strong challenge from Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison, a Muslim with a history of supporting Louis Farrakhan and his radical views. As a sop to Ellison, he was made the deputy chair under Perez.

These radicals at the top of the party are not there by mistake: this is what the Democrat Party now stands for.

I appeal to all those who say they have submitted their lives to Jesus Christ to be their Lord to look soberly at the worldview of this party and ask themselves how they can possibly, without rank hypocrisy, support a party that seeks to undermine the inherent value of each individual and casts aspersions on traditional Christian faith.

That’s not only cognitive dissonance, that’s spiritual death.

Lewis: The Spiritual vs. the Ritual

The sacred vs the secular; the substance vs. the external; the spiritual vs. the ritual. We deal with this tension all our lives. I question whether anything is truly secular. After all, the world and everything in it comes from the hand of God. What makes it secular is when we remove Him from his creation.

We focus a lot on externals and rituals, sometimes allowing them to substitute for the truly substantive and spiritual. When we do that, even though we may keep the form of godliness, we deny its essence.

I’ve never been one for promoting outward forms of our most sacred holidays. We taught our children from the start that Santa Claus wasn’t real; we never talked about an Easter bunny or emphasized the Easter basket. While I’m not trying to sound like a curmudgeon, I have always wanted to make sure we focus on the real—cliché warning–reason for the season.

C. S. Lewis, in his Reflections on the Psalms, uses the example of Easter to make the point I believe I’m trying to make.

There is a stage in a child’s life at which it cannot separate the religious from the merely festal character of Christmas or Easter.

I have been told of a very small and very devout boy who was heard murmuring to himself on Easter morning a poem of his own composition which began “Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.”

This seems to me, for his age, both admirable poetry and admirable piety.

When I was a small and not very devout boy, Easter was all eggs and candy. Jesus, at first, wasn’t even a passing thought. Perhaps that’s why I react so strongly today against all the outward trappings that hide the significance of Resurrection Day.

Yet for the very devout boy in Lewis’s story, his development spiritually is going to be different than mine. Lewis continues,

But of course the time will soon come when such a child can no longer effortlessly and spontaneously enjoy that unity. He will become able to distinguish the spiritual from the ritual and festal aspects of Easter; chocolate eggs will no longer be sacramental.

When that stage of development is reached, it will be decision time:

And once he has distinguished he must put one or the other first. If he puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat.

They have taken on an independent, and therefore a soon withering, life.

Whenever we give priority to the secular, the external, and the ritual, we lose the meaning of the event entirely. The same is true of our lives. We waste our lives when we banish the sacred, the substantive, and the spiritual. We become our own little wasteland.

What we need to realize is that even if we retain some of the spiritual, any subordination of the spiritual is just as bad as banishment. For all practical purposes, relegating God to second place is no different than pushing Him away altogether.

In Him we live and move and have our being. Anything less is an independent and soon-withering life.

Keeping Up with the Times

As a university professor, I’m naturally interested in keeping up with the times. As I survey the climate of campuses throughout our nation, I’m beginning to realize I’m truly out of step. Perhaps I need to change some things to fit better into that current climate.

As a start, maybe I can alter my courses so they won’t be so focused on learning actual facts from history and evaluating the various interpretations of those facts in light of a Biblical worldview. And I probably should make my courses more fun, right? What could possibly go wrong with that innovative approach?

Neither should I be so adamant about correcting students’ writing or be so concerned about their grasp of fundamentals. This is a new age, after all:

Yes, I have a long way to go before I will fit into this new culture.