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What would G.K. Chesterton say to progressives today?

Nathan Skates /

G.K. Chesterton wrote of his generation, “Never perhaps since the beginning of the world has there been an age that had less right to use the word “progress” than we.” Chesterton’s Heretics was published in the early years of the 20th century as the Western world drifted farther away from its Christian heritage. He argued in his rather verbose yet remarkably eloquent style that progress could not be divorced from an objective and shared morality because progress indicates direction from an agreed upon starting point. He claimed his culture could not agree upon anything of a moral or ethical nature, rendering progress impossible. 


Sound familiar? 


One must look no further than the ever-present Covid-19 situation to see our total lack of clarity. I do not claim to be a medical expert nor is it my intention to malign all precautions taken, only to point out the absurdity of some of the judgments made. 


For example, we are living in the midst of a nationwide house arrest by our ostensibly benevolent government and expected to comply or face fines and potential criminal charges. Abortion has been deemed by many governors as an essential service while church attendance is considered a threat to life. Governor Beshear of Kentucky sent the police after Easter church-goers yet would never consider closing Planned Parenthood. Lowe’s is allowed to stay open with cars filling the parking lot, but a drive-in church service is dangerous? 


Banning travel to and from China, the source of the outbreak, is racist and xenophobic but forcing healthy American citizens to stay in their homes and launching a torpedo at the economy is perfectly logical and morally upstanding?


If this sounds like madness to you that’s because it is. Many of those in power and in the media worship at the altar of progress. As Chesterton said “It is, moreover, true that the people who have settled least what is progress are the most “progressive” people in it…The particular individuals who talk about progress would certainly fly to the four winds of heaven when the pistol-shot started the race.” With no objective moral standard to guide our society, it is only logical to be completely illogical because we have no way to gain our bearings.


So if there must be an objective standard to guide us, what is that standard? The standard is the Bible, the Word of God. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” 


Scripture teaches from God’s first command to Adam and Eve, to the Ten Commandments, to the Mosaic Law, to the Proverbs, to the New Covenant and the doctrinal instruction of the apostles, that God determines right and wrong. God determines what is progress and what is, to use an old-fashioned term, backsliding. God has told us that human life is sacred (Genesis 9:5-6 among many other examples) meaning abortion is wrong, and certainly not essential. He has also told us that it is the responsibility of the church to meet regularly (Hebrews 10:23-25). The early church didn’t meet only when they were allowed to, they were rarely allowed to and it was often dangerous to meet together due to government-sanctioned persecution. Church attendance for Christians is decreed by God, going to the hardware store is not. Granted, certain precautions may need to be taken, but the government does not get to decide when we assemble together to worship the Lord. The issue is not Covid-19 or even the response to it, the problem is the anchorless philosophies of our nation.


 Chesterton closed his discussion on progress by writing, “I do not, therefore, say that the word “progress” is unmeaning; I say it is unmeaning without the previous definition of a moral doctrine, and that it can only be applied to groups of persons who hold that doctrine in common. Progress is not an illegitimate word, but it is logically evident that it is illegitimate for us. It is a sacred word, a word which could only rightly be used by rigid believers and in the ages of faith.” If there was ever a generation with no right to the word progress, it is ours. 




G.K. Chesterton, Heretics