The Opposite of Progress

Across from the long lane I live down there used to be a farmstead.  This typical farmstead had a couple barns, a machine shed, some grain bins, a bunch of trees, and a house that was in rough but not terrible shape.  The woman who owned the land and the farmstead had been renting it out until she passed away last year.  Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the woman’s children decided to sell the land to the highest bidder.  This of course meant that the land would be bought by the man who runs the 5,000 head cattle feedlot down the road. 

Now, instead of continuing to rent the farmstead out to someone, or even selling it (he had several offers) this man decided to take out all the trees and the buildings except for the grain bins so that he could add a couple more acres of corn.  When I go down the lane, all I see now is one sickly tree that remains as a sad reminder of the farmstead that was home to many families for many years.

This is not progress.  Unless of course you measure progress in acres of corn.  I, however, would like to see progress in the form of growing rural communities and an agriculture that is sustainable.

At this point in history you would think that humanity would have many of the issues that it faces figured out by now.  That’s why it’s so frustrating that currently we’re living through a period where so many things are actually getting worse.  (I know that’s a very pessimistic statement, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t believe it.)  When I look at the farmstead that was destroyed for a couple acres of corn, I see a few very important aspects of humanity becoming worse.

It doesn’t stop there, however.  The ever widening gap between the rich and the poor, the presence of global warming and the negative impacts it is having on the world, the unending war and violence in so many parts of the world.  Shouldn’t we have some of these things figured out by now?  A friend of mine recently told me that we do have it figured out, and it’s just that there is a constant struggle between those who work hard to make things better and those who strive only for their own personal gain. 

So even though I’m pessimistic about the current state of things, I am optimistic that those who struggle to improve the state of the world can recruit a few more to their side so that they can overcome the harm done by those who simply don’t care.  The Catholic Church is definitely a guiding force, but it has an even greater potential of becoming an even stronger promoter of peace and justice for all.  As Catholics, we may sometimes disagree between ourselves about some of the rules of the Church, but despite those disagreements, the core teaching of leading a good life and helping those who are less fortunate will always remain and bond us together so that we can work to make things better in this world.

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About danielrosmann

I am a farmer from southwest Iowa. I raise organic cattle and hogs as well as various organic crops. I type with two fingers and average about 4 words per minute. I start many sentences with I. Also, I'm less funny in person probably.

11 thoughts on “The Opposite of Progress

  1. “So even though I’m pessimistic about the current state of things, I am optimistic that those who struggle to improve the state of the world can recruit a few more to their side so that they can overcome the harm done by those who simply don’t care. ”

    I realize you almost certainly didn’t intend this passage to refer to having people join the Catholic Church in order to be a part of the solution(s), but you seem to echo the sentiment expressed by Daniel Maguire in his latest book (Whose Church: A Concise Guide to Progressive Catholicism) that religion, particularly Catholicism, is in a key position to generate and sustain some extraordinary changes key to addressing many global and local challenges. Part of getting the Church sufficiently engaged with these challenges will include finding or producing Catholics who will support relevant social and political movements. One way to do this is to convince existing Catholics that certain policies and programs which are considered “progressive” in the current political climate are actually consistent with the spirit of Christianity. Another is to convince non-Catholics who may be interested in or sympathetic to certain aspects of the Church that it can be a spiritual home for people with progressive views.

    I apologize if this seems a bit tangential, but it seems to me that this is related to the long-term tenability of a significant progressive presence in the Church and the direction the Church takes on these larger social and environmental issues. It boils down to this – why and how would someone who holds views such as “Contraception is OK” or “Homosexuals are not disordered” join the Church? Certainly cradle Catholics may come to believe these things and label themselves as progressive, but it seems as if there may be lot of people who are going to leave or never seriously consider joining the Church because they will feel they cannot reconcile what they are told is a requirement of faith in order to be a “good Catholic” with their sincere views on human dignity and liberty. I don’t have any numbers to present, but I would suspect that the majority of converts are going to be more conservative while the Catholic progressives I have encountered seem like they are virtually all cradle Catholics who have resisted the temptation to leave the Church. If this is true (and I could be mistaken about that) then the overall effect would be to make the Church increasingly politically conservative. While conservatism isn’t always wrong or “bad”, the current conservative movement tends to support and reinforce many of the ills described in the original post in the name of individualism, free markets, and personal responsibility.

    In working to find allies within the Church (without dismissing the relevance of finding them without) to help fight the good fight, what advice or suggestions or encouragement is there for left-leaning people who are inspired by the likes of St. Francis, Dorothy Day, and the vision of a truly *Catholic* Church described by those such as the late Br. Wayne Teasdale (see “A Monk in the World: Cultivating a Spiritual Life”) but who know they will not be able to dismiss their consciences and submit to certain Catholic teachings? Should this even be a concern of Progressive Catholicism?

  2. Tinythinker-interesting ideas/questions. The one part that struck me due to my experiences was about why a progressive would join the Catholic Church. Because certainly, I have thought that if I were going to change traditions, I was going to go all the way-not compromise by becoming Episcopal since its so ‘close’ because, after all, they have their own issues brewing that I disagree with.

    I would say the reason progressives would become Catholic is the same reason I’ve stayed Catholic. I learned about a church that I love. And yes I see the teachings on this or that that I disagree with, however, I see other teachings that stand in opposition to those. So, I see that there is room for varying degrees of thought and indeed have met people with varying beliefs-their commonality being that they are all Catholic. They are all a part of this church. One wouldn’t be joining just one part of the Catholic church, they would be joining the whole complexity of it.

  3. Thank you for your reply Lauren,

    I suppose it just strikes me (and others who I have read who had a similar thought) that it would be odd and perhaps bordering on disrespectful going into an initial RCIA interview knowing that you profoundly disagree with teachings that are often represented as “non-negotiable”. Am I wrong about that? As much as someone may be curious about a faith that frequently produces people of amazing compassion and humility and mystical insight, or drawn to a sacramental system supporting ancient and serious devotion to the sacred, or taken with a rich selection of practices such as centering prayer and the rosary, the line that is repeated ad nauseum is that if you don’t accept (or at the very least obey) all the teachings of the Church you are willfully out of communion.

    I have read a little about your own experiences, so I don’t want to suggest I have a better appreciation of this kind of reaction than you do. Still, assuming a progressive individual got passed some of the popular stereotypes about the Church as being the Boogey-Man of (secular) liberalism, how would one honestly proceed? Especially if the local parishes are in a fairly conservative area? I guess that’s what really made me ponder this issue: If having predominately progressive views is an acceptable and legitimate way of being Catholic, then there shouldn’t be any significant tension or serious reason for hesitation or difficulty in becoming Catholic (at least not any reason related to one’s progressive tendencies). Am I just getting an inaccurate picture of what would likely happen in an inquiry and the expectations that would be impressed upon pre-catechumens and catechumens? Am I getting a false impression from my informal and unintentional survey in which those who I have encountered who would identify as a progressive Catholics are either from a Catholic family, cradle Catholics, lapsed Catholics who have reverted, or persons who were far more conservative when they converted but who later became more liberal?

  4. Tinythinker, you’re right, I was speaking broadly when I referred to recruiting more to the “good” side. But yes, I believe the Catholic Church could put itself in a position to positively address many of the problems in this world. I’m not sure that the strength would be in numbers (coming from more people joining) as much as from the Church’s general authority and respect it receives. So, if like you say, more of those that join the Church are conservative, then the true agent of change has to be the teaching of the Church to do good will and not solely pander to those conservatives that sometimes only push for ending abortion and homosexuality, while ignoring poverty, global warming, etc.

    Also, like many, I think looking at the big picture and not focusing on the disagreements one may have is the only way progressive Catholics can find happiness within the Church. If those disagreements technically make you out of communion with the Church then… Hmm, I guess I started writing that without knowing any answer. All I can say is that I’m generally happy with the Church and myself despite whatever disagreements I may have.

  5. Hey tinythinker–I think you are right that it would seem odd to come into RCIA without the intention of following the main tenants of our faith. But the question would be, what are the main tenants? What is ‘non-negotionable’? Well, certainly we can start with the creed as non negotionables. And then you have things that are beliefs but don’t really play a part in action. Such as, assumption of Mary. I can’t name any time that has been significant in my day to day actions. Some beliefs don’t seem to go much further than the head.

    I’ve read your second paragraph a couple of times now and I’m still not sure I am understanding, sorry! Is it that if being progressive were o.k. than we wouldnt have these conflicts in the church, so since the conflicts are there we should assume that being progressive is not consistent with the church?

    I suppose anyone who identifies as being a progressive Catholic could fit into one or more of the categories you mentioned-were you specifically talking about converts? But then the cradle Catholic wouldnt fit, so I’m just not sure!

  6. Hi tinythinker,
    About half the people I know of who’ve converted to Catholicism (which is still a small number) did so as progressives. As I think about it, most if not all of these converted because of a partner, but I imagine that the decision to convert was still very much because of a personal call. For example, my Episcopalian uncle was married to my Catholic aunt for many years before converting, propping up the Catholic choir all the while : ) It wasn’t a precondition of marriage, it was finally something he felt called to do.

    And I would imagine that the questions you’d be asked in RCIA, and what you’d be asked to subscribe to, would differ very much depending on the orientation of the parish and diocese. As I’ve often said, I went through years of religious education, including three in Catholic school, and was confirmed before I knew that the Pope had any kind of a juridical or legislative role. I just sort of thought he was a nice guy, and my catechists didn’t spend much time on the many different ways one could find to cross the Pope. I would imagine that RCIA could similarly take many different approaches . . . but Lauren has some first hand experience with this, in fact.

  7. I was lucky enough to take ‘Beginnings and Beyond’ from the North American Forum on the Catechumenate a little over a year ago through my Masters program. They are the gold standard when it comes to training RCIA catechists, and I spent the last two years leading RCIA in a parish and working with the program in college before that. One of the statistics that really stuck out for me from that week was that about 90% of converts to Catholicism come in through a family member drawing them in. That statistic would seem to tell us that it is the pew sitting Catholic’s perspective of Catholicism that tends to draw people into the faith and not what the hierarchy does or does not do.

    The folks in the parish coming in for initiation sacraments completely ran the gamete of liberal to conservative (including an EWTN convert). I even had one 50+ year old lady convert from Lutheranism mainly because she wanted something more conservative. In the same group of people, we had a woman who couldn’t have toed the Communist line more closely. She and I actually had a number of great conversations, especially since she is STILL waiting to be received into the church after almost two years because of a stupid annulment delay at the diocesan tribunal. One of her first questions to me was “how do you reconcile that the Church does not value you enough, just because you are woman, to ‘allow’ you to be a priest.” After a hard swallow with reality laid out so clearly in front of me, my response was to focus on the big picture, theology, dogma, the amazing history, Catholic social teaching, the work of a global Church and what actually happened in Scriptures. I told her that I love my not yet perfect Church just the way I love my not perfect family. Certainly, I won’t sit silent and not work for change in my church (and my family for that matter), but like a good citizen of any nation, I push it be better, to be what Christ calls it to be. If I didn’t actively work to make my church better, then I certainly couldn’t remain Catholic. She thought that a good enough reason to stay, or in her case become, Catholic. And quite frankly, if she has been willing put up with two years of Church flaws in its cannon court, she’ll stay for the long haul, and our Church is definitely better for it!

  8. Hey Becky, thanks for this! Amazing. Especially that it is the people who are most often attracting others to the faith, not the heirarchy or EWTN (usually! funny story though). And when I think about who taught the faith to me, I think about my grandma, my catechism teacher in 5th grade (who was a recent convert at that time actually, and I found her very moving), etc.

  9. Wow, thank you for all the replies and insights.

    Becky: “One of the statistics that really stuck out for me from that week was that about 90% of converts to Catholicism come in through a family member drawing them in.”

    Lauren: “And when I think about who taught the faith to me, I think about my grandma…”

    I did include people from Catholic families as one of the common backgrounds of more progressive-minded individuals converting to Catholicism. I suppose I was thinking of people with no personal history or connection to the Church. I was pleased and surprised however to learn about the variety of the ideological backgrounds of people going into that RCIA program. I agree that specific political expressions of one’s values shouldn’t be the primary, let alone the only, consideration when exploring an interest in Catholicism. It had just seemed that this might pose a particular problem for some folks.

    And to the author of the OP – Daniel, I agree that numbers isn’t always the biggest concern nor do I propose it should be a primary “strategy”. It was just one element that happened to stick out to me. It is precisely those Catholics who are visibly reaching out in respect and love to form interfaith and transpolitical relationships and who seek to employ those relationships to support various agendas for the poor, or to decrease war, or to rescue the environment, etc, that may draw some people into giving the Church a first or second look.

  10. Oops, I missed someone…

    “Hey tinythinker–I think you are right that it would seem odd to come into RCIA without the intention of following the main tenants of our faith. But the question would be, what are the main tenants? What is ‘non-negotionable’?”

    A lot of the information I have run across insists that teachings such as “pelvic issues”, sexual orientation, the ordination of women, etc, to name a few prominent examples, are “non-negotiable”. That failure to submit to these teachings places one out of communion and constitutes a sin. I am not Catholic, and I am not a master of the Catechism, so I am not arguing this is true. But anyone starting an initial inquiry into Catholicism by way of books, television, and the internet is going to repeatedly come across sources that insist this is so.

    “I’ve read your second paragraph a couple of times now and I’m still not sure I am understanding, sorry! Is it that if being progressive were o.k. than we wouldnt have these conflicts in the church, so since the conflicts are there we should assume that being progressive is not consistent with the church?”

    Hmm, I guess that I was assuming, based on what I have read and heard elsewhere, that for someone who doesn’t have some current or prior connection to Catholicism (such as a partner who is a Catholic, or a close family member, etc) and who doesn’t accept Church teachings on things like sex or being gay, such disagreements might be a set of hurdle or barriers. Even for someone who otherwise is being drawn to the beauty and holiness of Catholicism. I was wondering how much of a problem that this would really be or really is, and then I was speculating that if this was a serious impediment then it might suggest that being progressive on such issues isn’t officially “acceptable”. And of course others have since written in response that in fact these things aren’t always emphasized during initiation into the Church and that people who might have encountered such problems still converted anyway. I am grateful to be educated and corrected on such matters by those with a greater insight and knowledge of actual examples.

    “I suppose anyone who identifies as being a progressive Catholic could fit into one or more of the categories you mentioned-were you specifically talking about converts?”

    I included cradle Catholics as well. Another way to say what I was trying to convey would be “People with no prior affiliation with the Church, including those who had no close friends, family, or spouses who were Catholic at the time of their own conversion, yet who held certain “progressive” views that were/are out of step with Church teachings *at the time they coverted*, seem to be rare.” I confessed that this was just my own anecdotal impression, and like everything I have written concerning my observations and presumptions on this topic, I could be mistaken.

    I am sorry if I am being repetitive, I just wanted to make sure I didn’t omit responses to anyone who kindly and thoughtfully replied to me. Again, thank you for all the informed replies! I don’t want to appear to be beating a dead horse, so I will go to read-only mode for any remaining replies.

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