Instead of taking the bus I sometimes drive to work, a change that allows me to study bumper stickers. Recently I came across this one: “American Values Are Progressive Values”. I thought about this and now wonder if the correct articulation of the bumper’s intended point shouldn’t be: “Americans Value Progress”.
As understood to mean ‘a principle’ (such as the rights of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness enshrined in the Declaration of Independence) a value cannot change. Therefore it can be neither progressive nor regressive. It can be embraced or ignored, but not changed. Mitigating circumstances surrounding the invocation of a value may affect its application but they do not change the value itself.
Progress itself is a value. The word comes from the Latin progressus, to step forward. For us Americans progress as a principal implies stepping forward to something better, as in improving our living standards. It is for us a motivating value which influences the way we employ our talents, invest our resources and discharge our civic responsibility. With this as its meaning who would dispute that we Americans should and do embrace the value of progress.
However, if done without appropriate regard for traditional values the embrace of progress as a value can be risky for a society. This risk is implied in the above referenced bumper sticker. The statement “American values are progressive values” implies that values, because they can be progressive, can change – or be changed. If they can change they can morph into something other than what they were, something even contrary to what they were. The immutable principles our ancestors held as ‘valuable’ may no longer guide our progress. If we do not consciously respect the values of those who came before we end up ‘stepping forward’ without values or with ‘values’ we create for ourselves. Tradition loses its cohesive purposefulness. Without the tested guidance of unchanging principles and shared purpose where does progress lead?
The danger here is totalitarianism. If we determine our own values the loudest and strongest voices among us may gain control and determine what is ‘valuable’. When a society abandons traditional values and assumes it can create its own then the dignity and inalienable rights of the individual are at risk of being ignored or sacrificed. (Here the ongoing debate about natural law versus positive law comes to mind).
So, what does this thought provoking bumper sticker have to do with the NCCF community and its efforts to advance the Kingdom? Perhaps it is a subtle reminder of our country’s need for clear thinking, basic metaphysics, and an intentional recommitment to those Judeo-Christian values that have brought us this far. Such a response would help the Kingdom progress.