According to the larger outside world, my religious background would be considered as part of restorationism or primitive Christianity . Yet within my own religious tradition I am considered to be a progressive, as if that were a bad thing (in the sort of progressivism of Woodrow Wilson, for example ). This particular situation is something that I regard with a fair bit of ambivalence, as much depends on the perspective that one is viewing me with, and even the specific issues that one is looking at, since few people (least of all myself) are either a rigid traditionalist or a progressive with regards to every issue. In truth, I consider the whole question of traditionalism or progressivism to be a false dilemma, and today I would at least like to indicate some reasons why.
I tend to be a person who both manages to have strong principles and opinions, but also someone who tends to view some matters on a case by case basis. Rather than being an ideological person who is rigid in my approach to the world, I understand that there are plenty of times in life where we need to restore what has been lost, whether that is in religious or whether it is in political terms. That said, there are also matters where we need to progress beyond where we currently are, to make our actions consistent with our beliefs in more areas of life. The one side is more towards restoration and the other progress. By pitting one against the other, there is no way for us to come to the truth, since some truths come about as a result of restoring what has been lost and others come about by progressing further and more consistently along our existing track.
The real question is not whether we should seek progress or restoration, for we should seek both of them, depending on the situation at hand (and sometimes both–sometimes progressing more consistently in a certain belief system in progress is a restoration what once was but that has since been lost or corrupted). Take, for example, the question of the dignity of life. A restoration of a past view would view human beings as created in the image and likeness of God and endowed with certain unalienable rights. I happen to hold to this past view, which would make me in some ways a restorationist when it comes to that particular aspect of political philosophy. On the other hand, it is the official belief of the most ‘civilized’ parts of our world that men, women, and children have inalienable rights that are to be respected by all. The issue is that this is viewed inconsistently, with unborn children and the elderly as not being included as human beings. The problem is therefore that progress has not progressed enough to be consistent across the board for human beings, or else the traditional view and a consistently progressive view would arrive at the same place, with a respect for all human life, whether male or female, rich or poor, young or old, unborn or born.
There are times, though, when progress and restoration are very heavily opposed to each other. There are a few times in life I have been on both sides of that particular divide, again, depending on the issue. Where what is meant to be restored has been mere human tradition (as I saw it), where progress led to greater consistency with the ways of God, I have not hesitated to stand for progress and against traditions, no matter how popular those traditions may be. On the other hand, there have been other times when what has been labeled as progress is merely the adoption of novel untruths, not novel in the larger scheme but merely novel within the specific context at hand. It has not been the “side” that led me to act, but rather my belief system as to what was right and wrong. At times that has meant tenaciously holding on to what is believed, at times it has meant desiring a restoration of the past that has been forgotten or neglected, and at times it has been a desire for progress to places never yet reached.
What is it that allows us to be able to differentiate between the various attitudes that could be taken in a given situation? If we rely too much on habit or our own subjective bias, we will hold on to what should be discarded, or fail to restore what should be restored, or fail to progress, depending on the situation at hand. On the other hand, if we lack any kind of tenacity we may simply follow the behavior of those around us uncritically without any kind of consistent pattern or rule to follow, leading to the sort of inconsistency that runs rampant right now. What is needed is a proper vision of where we should be, and in light of that vision we can recognize what has been lost that needs to be restored, what is right and needs to be preserved, and what progress is yet to be achieved. Yet that vision is by no means an easy thing to achieve, despite its vital importance in framing our lives properly and giving us a sense of consistency that does not lock us into deep error.
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