Progressive Suffering

I started reading James Farwell’s, This is the Night: Suffering, Salvation, and the Liturgies of the Holy Week, and I came across this quote:

Some social theorists, historians of philosophy, and theologians argue that the narrative structure of the modern myth of “progress,”—the structure of the “idealist diamond” that reduces suffering to a concept—was bequeathed to modernity by Christian faith, whose explanatory narrative of human existence shaped human consciousness in the period prior to the Enlightenment. Once the west was “emancipated” from the coherent Christian Weltanschauung, the basic moments in that narrative—in the case before us, creation, fall, and redemption—became, in a secular form, the categories by which social theories and philosophies of history would be developed. If this is true, then it is not accidental that the categories of the idealist diamond—unitive arche, alienation and a restoration all the greater for having passed through the second stage—and the categories of the Christian narrative—creation, fall, redemption—seem very closely related.
Whether or not the modern notion of a history of emancipation, with its idealist conceptual structure, developed out of the categories of Christian metaphysics or from the attempt to reunite nature and history, the modern myth of progress and the Christian explanatory narrative are close enough in structure to become entangled with one another in the modern mind. To the extent that the modern enchantment with progress can be criticized for making invisible a great deal of the pain and horror of suffering—and those who suffer, as well—Christianity also stands indicted.
Consider the case of the suffering of those whose identities, cultures, or very bodies have been subjugated to others in the course of political or social struggle. Because the modern myth of progress assumes a kind of inevitability to history, its narrative shape becomes assimilated to the story of the victor.

Farwell, James. This Is the Night: Suffering, Salvation, and the Liturgies of Holy Week. T&T Clark, 2005, pp. 22–23.

Farwell caused me to ponder, what is a progressive?

Politically, they are (currently) always toward the left/liberal side of social/political/religious things. That is probably not universal, and it does depend on some sort of “absolute” understanding of “center”, which is nebulous in its own right.

While I say “they”, I do have to acknowledge my tendencies in that area, too. I don’t think I’m a “progressive” as many would define it, but then I don’t mesh with the whole “conservative” or “reactionary” either.

The value I found in Farwell’s words though, was helping identify, I think, a framework for understanding “progressive” that is at least helpful to me.

The way Farwell teases it out is that the ultimate end of progressivism is the end of pain…all pain.

This sounds great until you look at an athlete or a student. Athletes and students grow through pain. No pain, no growth.

Nature has plenty of examples of beauty shaped by pain. The lone cypress tree at Pebble Beach, CA, or the many windswept and shaped trees along the coast of Northern California. We attest to their beauty, but their beauty is because of pain.

We, of course, don’t like pain. Yet Farwell notes that we’ve done far more than just avoid pain, we’ve done our best to make it invisible, which leaves us very vulnerable to it when it comes about.

I wonder if much of the current social unrest we’re experiencing is an attempt to avoid pain. Without naming issues or people, are we seeing seeing anger and fear correctly?

Are both anger and fear (across the political spectrum) more about pain than anything else along with modernity’s obsession with pain control?

Relational pain is probably one of the biggest pain points right now. It oddly is most visible in what is called the loneliness epidemic. Loneliness is pain. It isn’t the only one, though.

Sexual identity, gender identity, marriage and so much more revolve around relationships and pain. What caused me to “trip up” in my thinking is, what is the end?

It is a sort of slippery slope question, but probably not what you’d think, and this isn’t a question about morality (religious or otherwise).

While my faith (which Farwell somewhat blames for its cultural ramifications) sees a form of utopia at the end of all things, I don’t think we are humanly able to withstand that without the transformation that the Scriptures say will come at the end.

Thus, what if by succumbing to our desire to ease our pain we are creating new pains? I suppose this is more of a philosophical question than anything. It still leaves me concerned.

As we create a space for more fluidity in relationships and self-identification, are we doing ourselves any favors? I look at myself and wonder that, too. If I give myself “permission” to experience new relationships or self-perspectives, am I, instead of eliminating my pain, creating new pains that I then have to deal with?

This, perhaps, might be the dividing point between “true” progressives and everyone else. It seems progressives seek no pain, and yet, history and even science indicate that human flourishing requires it.

Yes, there ought to be limits to allowing pain. Many of those limits are good, but many of those limits were learned through pain. Then there is the rapid movement toward all pain elimination without understanding the root cause of the pain.

We’ve sworn off trying to understand many things about human desires because it’s easier to redefine things to make them painless, rather than understand the cause in the first place.

We are in a strange time. Will our desire for no more pain on this side of the veil end up destroying us, or make us something other than human?