“Progressivism” is rotting our brains, and souls are never far behind in the process when brains are rotting. Now, if you, reader, are already turning away in outrage and disgust at my blasphemy against “Progress” (a.k.a. “Social Change” or simply “Society”), the chief idol of our age, then I’m afraid I have to warn you that you are exhibiting a symptom of the very disease against which I was hoping to warn you.
In case it might help, let me reassure you that I fully recognize that “progress” is by definition a good thing, assuming we define it as “change for the better.” But the problem with the rampant ideology of progressivism is that it refuses to take responsibility for the moral judgment inherent in the term. To judge some change to constitute progress, we have to be ready to affirm that it makes things better and thus to stand behind some understanding of what is good.
But the rotting power of progressivism consists precisely in its dazzling power to make apparently intelligent people think that they can advance a moral cause, and thus of course advance themselves as enlightened leaders in this moral cause, without taking responsibility for an actual moral judgment. In fact they propel their cause forward and themselves upward in status by castigating the moral “judgmentalism” or “narrowness” of those with whom they disagree. They brandish the virtue of intellectual humility – as something that obviously needs to be applied to those who lack their full faith and confidence in the progressive cause. It is this purely logical or intellectual dimension of the Progressive rot that concerns me here – I leave it to God to search souls.
Only Good Change is Good
The intellectual problem is at bottom extremely simple, but apparently very elusive for those already caught up in the dynamics of Progress: only good change is good, and society does not always change for the better; but “Progress” provides a cover for evading the question of goodness.
This evasion is at the heart of the spiritual-intellectual rot of “Progressivism” that continues to work its way throughout our Western Societies, and the membership of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to my great disappointment and indeed alarm, is proving to be no exception. To be more precise, one would have to suppose that the rot has been working its way for a generation or more, hollowing out the cognitive fiber of citizens and believers, until a moment of decision arises in which the individual’s supposedly independent moral structure collapses in the face of popular pressure (or intellectual-media elite pressure so disguised), because the heretofore invisible process of decomposition has undermined all sources of resistance.
One might momentarily be inclined, by some ancient inclination or dimly remembered promise, to stand up for some substantive understanding of the good or some moral principle, but one finds no conceptual legs of support, no bones and no sinews.
How the Mormons Conquered America
A recent and particularly lamentable example of effects of this insidious cognitive decomposition, with its all-to-familiar moral-spiritual effects, is an article published at “Nautilus,” a serious and substantive online journal (as far I can tell) that addresses “the sciences, culture and philosophy.”
Under the heading, “Mutation Creates the Most Successful Religions,” we find the article “How the Mormons Conquered America.” And if you will excuse my going straight to the punch line, the answer is: By Letting America Conquer Mormonism.
The keynote is taken from the Broadway version of The Book of Mormon, which offers this distillation of the Mormon genius: “We are still Latter day Saints, all of us / Even if we change some things, or we break the rules.” The subtitle states the bracing (if not original) thesis more academically: “The success of the Mormon religion is a study in social adaptation.” Any backward readers who might “associate the church with the squeaky clean image of the Osmond family and Mitt Romney” are invited to chill and have a sense of humor, to join the Broadway laughter about Joseph Smith having sex with a frog to rid himself of AIDS.
The article’s well-worn premise, ultimately, is that “the Mormon story is quintessentially American,” and the resulting imperative, naturally, is that Mormonism should change with Americanism.
Mormonism’s secret (no longer a secret should this article become well known, of course) is this: “being able to change without having practitioners feel like they have changed is a powerful adaptive tool.” (My emphasis) This “fascinating… sleight of hand” (R. Sosis, evolutionary anthropologist) is supposed to be possible, I read further, largely because, according to the University of Virginia’s new Professor of Mormon Studies, Kathleen Flake, Mormonism is built on “a narrative structure rather than a philosophical belief system.”
Professor Flake’s favoring of a “narrative structure” over “a philosophical belief system” is a common intellectual move that seems to allow a member to be faithful to a “story” without becoming too attached to definite beliefs, since such an attachment might be socially and historically inconvenient.
But I must point out that, from the point of view of an actual “practitioner” of Mormonism, it is hard to see how the great story of Mormonism, the “great plan of happiness,” which of course includes the need for a Savior, for commandments, for covenants, for repentance and forgiveness – it is hard to see how such a “narrative” can be separated from definite beliefs, such as the belief in the eternal significance of the difference between male and female, for example, and in the sacred laws that surround sexual activity.
Of course there are some beliefs, some elements of the Grand Narrative, that must be considered more fundamental than others, and we know that some less essential beliefs have changed under the guidance of continuing revelation. But in general the attempt to separate “narrative” from “belief system” seems to be an example of the “fascinating sleight of hand” by designed to facilitate “adaptation” or “mutation” by separating ordinary “practitioners” from their “belief system.”
The key “changes” in question in this article will surprise no one. In the past, there were (1) polygamy and (2) extending the priesthood to male members of black-African descent. The (3) prospective or presumably ongoing changes can be reduced to one word – one powerful word, the keystone, I would say, of our secular religion of Progress: Equality. As Professor Flake notes (paraphrased in the article), “two of the three major social movements in America and much of the world in the last 100 years include equal status for women and gays and lesbians. The Mormons are among many religions that do not give full equality to women, gays, and lesbians.”
So the agenda seems pretty clear.