Conservatism vs. Progressivism

Ecclesiastes 1 confronts us with the sobering reality that all of our toil cannot provide us with leverage or control over the basic realities of life under the sun. We are finite, mortal creatures. And as a result of the Fall, we are broken and live in a crooked world that God has subjected to futility. We should thank God for all the inventions and advances of the modern world, but we also must reckon with the boundaries and limitations God has placed upon us.

We can see a stark contrast in attitudes toward life in the progressive mindset versus the conservative mindset. The progressive has the attitude that any problem can be solved with enough power, enough money, and enough knowledge. That which is crooked in the world can be pounded straight with a big enough hammer. This mindset has little respect for history and tradition. This mindset gives little thought to unintended consequences. This mindset looks for quick fixes, silver bullets, magical cures, and new techniques that promise immediate results. If a particular technique has failed in the past, the progressive will simply assert that the technique was not properly applied. Progressives instinctively want to centralize everything in some top-heavy bureaucracy, because that is the way to gain the most power and control.

Conservatives, on the other hand, have traditionally understood that everything in life is a trade-off. There are no pure solutions, because every decision will have advantages and disadvantages. There are many problems in life that cannot be solved, and, despite the best of intentions, there are always unintended consequences. Thus, conservatives typically have a greater respect for history and tradition. Conservatives are much slower to make changes, because the devil you know is often better than the devil you don't know. Conservatives typically give much more consideration to local needs and concerns, because they recognize that one size rarely fits all.

As you probably realize, this isn't related only to politics. This dynamic is at work in every human institution, because every single person has an attitude toward life that leans more toward either conservatism or progressivism. But even in politics this is not strictly a matter of "Republicans = conservatives" and "Democrats = progressives". In fact, almost all politicians today actually have a progressive mindset. The wisdom literature of the Bible (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, etc.) calls us to adopt a more conservative mindset toward life. A truly Christian conservative approach to life (not merely politics) is rooted in respect for those who've come before us, gratitude for what we have received, and humility about our own capabilities to improve things. These are all distinctively Christian virtues, and so any widespread cultural transformation can only take place on the foundation of revival and Christian discipleship.

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