The Two Views of the World
TS Eliot was right, there are two ways to go: you can hold a progressive view of the world, or you can hold a tragic view. Who would choose the latter when he could have the former? Progressive sounds so new and intelligent, so forward-looking and optimistic. The tragic view sounds so negative, so old-fashioned, so hopeless. Who would knowingly choose to view the world as tragic? Besides, Christians are to see the story as having a happy ending, right? Jesus wins! Life is not a tragedy! In fact, there’s even to be a wedding! Why. so. serious?
The problem with the progressive perspective is that it is an attempt to have the happy ending without Jesus. If Jesus is leading his followers to a happy ending, it seems a little like bad taste to see things as tragic. We just need to be optimistic. Ah, there’s the rub: optimism. To be an optimist one needs to believe that the world is basically good, and that given time and a little room to maneuver, things will turn out right. But this dismisses the most important point of our reckoning: the Fall. The world is not how it was supposed to be, and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men…
The worst aspect of progressivism shows up in a Romantic view of the world. The Romantic says sensation is the best guide, experience is the best mode of learning, and human maturity is measured by how much depravity you have been exposed to. Today, young people are surrounded with media (books, tv, movies, internet, social media) that are considered “edgy,” “dark,” “cool” based mainly on how far they are willing to use foul language, on how many extreme experiences they address (such as cutting, rape, incest, drug use, suicide, et c.), and generally on how frequently they offer subjects that their parents would oppose. Without cultural events that celebrate a young person’s entrance into adulthood (getting a driver’s license, or reaching the drinking age are seemingly the best we can do), it is not surprising that it seems to a teen that “pushing the envelope” is the normal course of maturity.
But isn’t this just how the entire culture thinks? To progress we think we need to try the newest thing, the newest stimulant, sexual perversion, expensive toy, sensational movie, get-rich scheme, restaurant, slim-down plan, fashion, definition of marriage, faddish scientific theory? Some say that if we stand for nothing we will fall for anything. When we find our culture falling for anything can we assume that we are standing for nothing? If we leave God our of our cultural calculations, we have no sense of direction, our reasoning won’t give us much guidance either, and we are left with being led by our sensations. Even those who claim to follow Jesus can be swept up in the overwhelming current of the current.
So are we left with the “tragic” view? Why is it called tragic? Because it DOES take the Fall seriously. There was a real fall, things are not the way they are supposed to be, and it doesn’t take long to come to the conclusion that there is nothing we can do about it. So the gospel is actually good news, but only to those who have accepted the tragic view of things. Didn’t Jesus say that he didn’t come to heal the healthy but the sick? Eliot puts it this way, “Our only health is the disease/if we obey the dying Nurse/ whose constant care is not to please/but to remind of our and Adam’s curse./ And that to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.”