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the progress machine

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Nov 20, 2005

Celebrity saboteur Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire, succeeded, in 2003, in breaching the Levitical dam ("If a man lie with mankind as he lieth with a woman, he shall gloat upon his bishopric for a twelvemonth on CBS and local affiliates"). Now, with murmurs of discontent still audible in the provinces, Bishop Gene just wants to move on:

"I wish we could stop talking about this and start talking about the gospel again. My diocese may be the only diocese in the Anglican Communion that is not obsessed with sex. We spend almost no time on it. There is this amazing disconnection between my diocese and the rest of the world. We talk about Anglicanism and witness to the rest of the world."

We see this ruse all too often in the culture wars. Traditional practices are assailed, not directly, but by non-stop pleas for dialogue. The engines of dialogue are designed to favor the innovator -- no one, after all, says "I think we should begin a conversation about why things should stay as they are" -- whence dialogue begets diversity begets innovation, and presto! the need for dialogue vanishes. "I wish we could stop talking about this." 

Post WW2 critics of the ideology of social progress frequently remarked on "the ratchet phenomenon." A ratchet is a device that permits a wheel to rotate in one direction only. The mechanism allows change, but it can only "advance." This advance has been mythologized by the Left as a synonym of improvement (preposterously, since you can advance toward calamity as well as toward triumph). Yet the Lefties designed the Social Change Machine we all use -- conservatives as well as liberals -- and political "progress" (or "moving forward," or "advance") has come to mean change in the direction built into the mechanism.

Remember the push for women's ordination -- first priestly, then episcopal -- within ECUSA? In the years preceding the capitulations the cant phrase was "Can we talk?" Dialogue was essential. Waverers were assured that the questions were not going away and to decline the debate was simply to put off the day of reckoning. Well, the innovators got what they wanted. Do you hear any of them today asking the Church to re-visit the question, to continue the dialogue about whether the restriction of the priesthood to men is not, after all, the will of God? Of course not. The change has been effected, the pawl has clicked in, there's no going back, and therefore -- as Bishop Gene would insist -- nothing to talk about.

Roman Catholic innovators find sabotage more difficult, because of the fact that Catholic doctrine, once defined, is irreformable. For this reason they are characteristically text-averse, finding their mandate not in documents, whether biblical or ecclesial, but in the spirit presumed to animate such documents. This "spirit" provides the innovators with their own myth of progress -- i.e., unidirectional change toward the Left -- and permits them to stigmatise the orthodox as obstructionist. Thus women's ordination, horizontalist liturgy, moral proportionalism, gender-inclusive language, and most recently conscientious sodomy have all been urged upon us by the innovators as advances prompted by the Spirit of the Second Vatican Council.

Among Roman Catholics, the Ratchet Phenomenon operates in "implementation" rather than in doctrine. You see its grip most clearly not in the radicals but in those ecclesiastics who solemnly accept Church teaching "for the present moment" -- the qualifier concedes eventual victory to the innovators and indicates we are meant to believe "the spirit" is leading us where the innovators would have us be. The bishop who teaches that ordination is restricted to men "at this time in the Church's history" holds the myth of progress as firmly as Rosemary Ruether or Gene Robinson. When the ratchet turns, there's no question which way it will move. Conservatives, in the meantime, are viewed as the source of friction.

Friction is bad.

Phil Lawler told me about a book by Philip Trower (Turmoil and Truth) that contains a suggestive image for understanding how orthodox Catholics have been maneuvered, without any change of conviction on their part, from the role of disciples to the role of obstructionists. Trower was out to explain the chasm that exists between the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on the one hand, and, on the other, its implementation by ecclesiocrats, but his allegory applies more broadly. This is Phil's account of it:

Imagine that there are four men in a car, which breaks down on the road. Two of these men want to push the car to a rest area 100 yards down the road; the other two want to push the car off a cliff that's 200 yards down the road. They all start off pushing together; then as they get near the rest area -- and past it-- two men switch to the front to try pushing backwards, against the momentum.

Now imagine that you're observing all this from a distance. Which two men do you think are following the original plan, and which two look like obstructionists?

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