John Gast, American Progress, 1872
- “We challenge a social arrangement by questioning the story that validates it. When people stop believing the stories that justify the social order, it begins to change. The dominant story of modernity has been progress. Although still hardwired into our institutions, that story has lost most of its plausibility.” – David Loy, The World Is Made of Stories
- “Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long.” – Ogden Nash
- “[T]here is a long history of the American people thinking of the indigenous peoples of North America as a ‘barrier’ or ‘obstacle’ to American ‘progress’… Indians were not considered to be attempting to stand still. They were thought of as not having ‘advanced,’ or as holding back, the ‘forward’ movement of ‘progress.’” – Steven T. Newcomb, Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery
Today, I give particular thanks for David Loy, Ogden Nash and Steven Newcomb. Together, they say what I have been struggling to articulate for more than a decade.
Given the realities we face as a global community, progress no longer feels like a plausible story. Perhaps it never was to most of the world’s people. But it is a very popular story within Unitarian Universalism and I invite us to think about that. I ask us to consider the impact of this story on our world. Perhaps it is time to listen to, remember or craft another story.
That may be hard, however, if we are bound to identities such as “liberal” and “progressive.” While these terms are deeply meaningful for many of us, they may keep us collectively unable to stretch beyond Euro-centric stories in which the saviors, the liberators, the heroes are typically people of European-descent whose culture is invariably superior to (i.e., more democractic, more reasonable, more tolerant, more “civilized”) than those traditions that do not identify with ‘progress’ or ‘liberal politics.’
The story of progress led Europeans to see indigenous peoples as a barrier to a better tomorrow. Just so, the story of progress may be a barrier to recognizing world views that possess the transformative insight and wisdom we need to guide us through the global crises we face today.
One of the practices of love is to disrupt the governing story. One of the stories begging for disruption is that of “progress.” Let’s do it.