If you read enough history it’s pretty apparent how awful people have treated one another most of the time. It is true that there has been a lot of progress in the few millenia since we came out of the trees. But that just shows how far we’ve had to travel. Ironically, that slow pace of improvement in the human condition is one of the things that rings true about God. Over and over the Bible describes mankind as very slow to change.
At this time of the year it’s instructive to recall that God condemns the Israelites to forty years of wandering in the desert because, although they have been freed from bondage, their generation is not ready for that gift. Instead, he makes them go in circles so that the next generation will enter Israel. That generation will be free of the old thought patterns. The moral of the story is clear: God wants us to grow, change and evolve. But He also recognises that because we are who we are this is gonna take a while. (Why we are made this way—one of non-believers favourite gripes? Well, that’s a topic for another day.)
But today, I think we can all agree that for whatever reason, people have been pretty slow to ‘civilise’. And a lot of the progress that has been made has been instigated by a relatively small number of very brave people; who usually die for their trouble. Nevertheless, those heroes find a way to move society forward inch by painful inch by upending the status quo.
I understand the conservative impulse. There is much in life that should persist from generation to generation. But we have to constantly remind ourselves to constantly check our motives. Are the things we cling to things that really are ‘eternal’ or which are merely comfortable for us?
But the truth is this: The conservative impulse is also what kept slavery alive in America. It is what keeps women out of schools in much of the world now. The desire for the status quo goes against what the Exodus story shows us as God’s plan. He wants us to grow; we need to improve. But at the same time, it shows us that we are weak and often would rather remain slaves (or slave masters) than keep moving forward.
There are a gazillion things I wish would remain the same from generation to generation. But every time I hear a guy go on about how we need to ‘return to the values of…’ whatever? I’m immediately suspicious. Because as far as we’ve come? There’s still so much more progress to be made.