Chris Montgomery

The progress of mankind … ?

There was – and still is – a widespread belief in the progress of the human species. It seems to have begun in Europe around the year 1500. People of the Renaissance were proud of how civilised their period was compared with the barbaric Middle Ages. People in the eighteenth century congratulated each other on how civilised, enlightened and restrained their period was compared with the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. People of the nineteenth century (well, 1789-1914, to be precise) were proud of such achievements of the French Revolution as the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and of the abolition of slavery and serfdom and the remarkable industrial and technological developments of their period. Twentieth century man was similarly proud of the spread of human rights and democracy, the end of colonialism and further dramatic developments in technology.

     A glance at the history book reveals a different story. The Middle Ages were by no means barbaric, but were the time of the foundation of the universities, widespread trade and incredible architectural feats. The Renaissance overlapped with brutal religious wars, the Enlightenment with the slavetrade and continuing serfdom. The French Revolution led to the use of the guillotine and numerous and bloody wars. The dark side of the industrial revolution was the creation of a new class of poor workers. The twentieth century was also the century of fascism, communism and the Holocaust.

     What about the twenty-first century? We live in a time when the media spread fake news, and people believe it. Despite the achievements of comprehensive education, we live in times when almost half of Finnish people are sceptical about global warming, British people vote for Brexit, Americans for Trump and Brazilians for Bolsonaro. There is widespread scepticism regarding the claims of experts about numerous matters, such as vaccinations. Racism is common. Most people lead unhealthy lifestyles, despite all the advice they are given about healthy living. Is this time really the peak of the human achievement?

     Of course there is much to admire about modern times, too. We live in a relatively caring society, which provides for the disabled, the old and poor. Torture and execution have been abolished. There is less violent crime nowadays that before. Women are treated better than at probably any other time in history. The fact that we are standing still or even regressing in some areas does not mean that we aren’t progresssing in others.

     The basic human, in my opinion, does not change. We have the same concept of good and evil, the same needs, the same desires as we have always had. Individuals can become slightly better people over a lifetime, but I do not believe that mankind as a species can develop overall. Whenever progress is made in one area, we backtrack in another. This is why the message of the Bible is as true today as ever. We are reliant on the grace of God. We cannot make this world a paradise, although we should still do our best to fight the injustices or our time. Above all, we should base our lives on our faith. We will not find better answers to the great questions of the human condition than those we find in the Bible.      

Chris Montgomery

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