Today the term
"progressive" is used to describe the process of social and
economic leveling. However, up until recently, there was a narrative of
progress - rooted in the Bible - that inspired the development of
Western civilization. Unfortunately, it is now largely rejected in
academia. This understanding of progress provided a unifying narrative,
which greatly influenced many countries including the modern state of
The Loss of the Western Narrative of Progress
The narrative of progress was part of British and American education from
the 18th century until the 1960s. The development of Western Civilization
was understood to be a long and difficult process which ultimately led
to greater freedom, respect for each individual, and systems of
government that would protect citizens from abuse. Along the way,
there were many set backs and counter directions, like segregation in the
United States and South Africa.
In the '60s, the radical left rejected this narrative and sought to
deconstruct it. For many, it was more than rejection; it was disdain.
Today people with such views have taken over the levers of culture
formation in our society. In previous generations most culture purveyors
saw things differently. We see this in film-maker Cecil B. DeMille's
personal presentation of his film The Ten Commandments. He framed
the biblical exodus story as release from oppression into freedom, and
compared it to the difference between the tyranny of Communist regimes
as opposed to the liberty in democratic nations.
One historical milestone for progress was the US Declaration of
Independence which declared that "all men are created equal ... endowed
by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are
Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Modern ideas of freedom had
their origins in Scripture, not in the anti-God, anti-Bible orientation
of today's libertarians.
The Bible teaches that every person is created in the image of God
(Genesis 1:26) and is therefore deserving of individual respect and
honor. This Biblical norm was expressed in the Ten Commandments and the
teaching of Yeshua, in what became known as the Golden Rule, to "Do unto
others as you would have them do unto you" (see Leviticus 19:18). This
was also expressed in Jewish rabbinical tradition by Hillel as: "Do not
do something to others that would be hateful to you." The Bible details
standards for fair courts of justice in Deuteronomy 16:20, Leviticus
Liberty and a Brief History of Western Progress
The disintegration of the Roman Empire led to fragmentation and ignorance
throughout Europe. The Feudal system was often oppressive. The Catholic
Church and the authorities in the West became superstitious and fostered
a stratified culture that fixed people in their social status.
Two of the first great strides towards limiting the power of tyrants were
the agreements struck between the English nobles and their kings - in
the year 1014 CE and then in the Magna Carta of 1215 CE in which
governmental checks and balances were established.
The Renaissance and Reformation fostered ideas of greater liberty in
Europe from the 14th to the 17th century. The former developed the ideas
of human potential, and the latter embraced the centrality of literacy
based on the importance of everyone reading the Bible for themselves.
The printing press was a key to making books available, and fostered a
culture of literacy. The Reformers' emphasis on Bible translations
in the vernacular and their view of the importance of individual
conscience before God sowed the seeds that eventually led to a harvest
of religious liberty. This acceptance of liberty and tolerance was
the lesson learned from the pain of Europe's religious wars, where
Catholics and Protestants opposed one another with enormous loss of life.
In the Colonies of the New World, Pilgrims and Puritans undertook the
difficult journey to foster a new society based on Biblical norms and
During this period the enlightenment sought to spread knowledge and
science. Modern scholars recognize that science progressed in societies
that embraced the Bible, since the universe was created by a God of law
whose laws of nature could be studied and understood by his image
I believe that the historical meta-narrative of progress is largely true,
and that the loss of confidence in this narrative is a grave danger to