Christian Theology in a Progress-Driven World

Modern attitudes toward progress share many characteristics with traditional Christian theology.


| December 2015


Progress as we know it has been entirely dependent on the breakneck exploitation of half a billion years of stored sunlight in the form of fossil fuels. In After Progress (New Society Publishers, 2015), John Michael Greer addresses the impending paradigm shift as the Western world adjusts to the finite reality of resources on earth. The following excerpt is from chapter one, “The Noise of the Gravediggers.”

To find more books that pique our interest, visit the Utne Reader Bookshelf.

There are any number of ways we could talk about the religious dimensions of the crisis of our time. The mainstream religions of today’s industrial societies offer one set of starting points, while my own Druid faith, which is very nearly as far from the mainstream as you can get, offers another set. Then, of course, there’s the religion that nobody talks about and most people in the industrial world believe in, the religion of progress, which will be central to the discussion ahead and which has its own noticeably dogmatic way of addressing such issues.

Still, a starting point a little less obvious than any of these may be better suited to the exploration I have in mind, so we will begin in the Italian city of Turin, on an otherwise ordinary January day in 1889. Over on one side of the Piazza Carlo Alberto, a teamster was beating one of his horses savagely with a stick, and his curses and the horse’s terrified cries could be heard over the traffic noise. Finally, the horse collapsed; as it hit the pavement, a middle-aged man with a handlebar mustache came sprinting across the plaza, dropped to his knees beside the horse and flung his arms around its neck, weeping hysterically. His name was Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, and he had just gone hopelessly insane.

At that time, Nietzsche was almost completely unknown in the worlds of European philosophy and culture. His career had a brilliant beginning — he was hired straight out of college in 1868 to teach classical philology at the University of Basel, and published his first significant work, The Birth of Tragedy, four years later — but he strayed thereafter into territory few academics in his time dared to touch. When he gave up his position in 1879 due to health problems, the university was glad to see him go. His major philosophical works saw print in small editions, mostly paid for by Nietzsche himself, and were roundly ignored by everybody. There were excellent reasons for this, as what Nietzsche was saying in these books was the last thing that anybody in Europe at that time wanted to hear.

God Is Dead

Given Nietzsche’s fate, there’s a fierce irony in the fact that his most famous statement of the core of his teaching is put in the mouth of a madman. Here’s the passage in question, from The Gay Science (1882): “Have you not heard of the madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly, ‘I seek God! I seek God!’ As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated? — Thus they shouted and laughed.






Pay Now Save $5!

Utne Summer 2016Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.

Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5 and get 4 issues of Utne Reader for only $31.00 (USA only).

Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 4 issues of Utne Reader!




Facebook Instagram Twitter flipboard


Copyright 2018, All Rights Reserved
Ogden Publications, Inc., 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, Kansas 66609-1265