Ben Myers has a post up ostensibly about the virtues of reading in a society where “progress is worshiped”. Of course reading is good and should be prized, though I’m not willing to go all the way with Myers’ assertion that reading is an act of theological resistance (whatever that might mean, we’re never told that by theologians who proclaim that Christianity is the true site of revolution and resistance). What really struck me, though, was the antagonism towards progress, towards the idea that our global society worships progress, which strikes me both as a bit too retro (Horkheimer and Adorno did this better than any theologian) and, more importantly, wrong.
In London today the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gideon Osborne, delivered the UK’s spending review. For those who don’t know, this is essentially the budget and sets the spending agenda (in this case the lack of spending agenda) for the current government’s expected tenure. Gideon announced massive cuts to education, both for schools and universities, social housing, an inadequate spending increase for the NHS, a cut in community policing, and an increase for intelligence services. This government has essentially ended, for the foreseeable future, New Labour’s restoration of a society that valued social welfare. A number of independent think-tanks have come out saying that the poorest will be hit hardest by these spending cuts (George Eaton’s blog summarizes this) while the richest in the country will continue to pay less tax and this all despite the Con-Dem coalition’s constant braying of “fairness”.
Throughout Europe, the US, and Australia there is a return to a xenophobia, often directed towards the Arab-Other as seen in Merkel’s recent deceleration that multiculturalism has failed in Germany, and this has resulted in the election of a number of right-wing politicians with ties to far-right groups with even left-leaning governments having to pay lip service to the reactionary demands to protect the homeland from invading immigrants. This isn’t just limited to Muslims, but the Roma, one of the groups targeted for extinction by the Nazis, now has to register in Italy, they have been subject to violently expulsion in France, and in last week’s UK Prime Minister’s Questions there was talk about doing the same to protect the good people of England.
Everywhere the ruling class tells us that progress is impossible. No one believes in progress anymore, no one thinks this shit is getting better, and, to take one of Myers examples, when the iPhone 4 came out there was disappointment at the reviews stage because the phone was, in fact, not as good as previous models. In a time when we need a massive reorganization of global society oriented towards confronting the primary contradiction of contemporary capitalism, the collision of an economy that demands infinite growth (not progress) and finite ecology, our theologians are spending time helping elect the bastards that share their reactionary critique of liberal modernity or wasting their time talking about some mythical thing called political correctness. Our theologians are offended by the policing of words in the business world when they should be offended by the way the ruling class is brashly declaring class war, often under the banner of Christian values. Instead of clinging to the old boogeymen of right-wing discourse, like Myers’ Tea Party-esque claim that we will soon see memos giving the go ahead for the euthanasia of the unvalued old, theologians need to step back and examine the reality of the situation and respond to that reality. I understand why right-wing fantasies recur in theology, as a discourse it tends towards reaction and these fantasies are easy to take a stand against, but now is the the time to confront the real flesh and blood powers of oppression. Now is the time to renew a belief in progress, to progress out of capitalism, to do the hard work of envisioning a new society, to fight for the conservation of welfare, and to progress to a society where the possibility of providing the basic means for a good life is not declared to be an impossibility.