Wright on Progress and Death

I’ve started reading NT Wright’s Evil and the Justice of God, and I have been impressed with how incisive his cultural analysis can be. Here are some passages worth pondering.

On progress:

In this climate, the fact that we live “in this day and age” means that certain things are now to be expected; we envision a stead march toward freedom and justice, conceived often terms of the slow but sure triumph of Western-style liberal democracy and soft versions of socialism. Not to put too fine a point on it, when people say that certain things are unacceptable “now that we are living in the twenty-first century,” they are appealing to an assumed doctrine of progress—and of progress, what’s more, in a particular direction. We are taught, often by the tone of voice of the media and the politicians rather than by explicitly argument, to bow down before progress. It is unstoppable. Who wants to be left behind, to be behind the times, to be yesterday’s people? The colloquial phrase “That’s so last-year” has become the ultimate put-down: “progress” (by which we often simply mean variation in fashion has become the single most important measuring rod in society and culture.

On death:

And ultimately we are shocked again and again by the fact of death. That which our forebears took for granted (having large families because a sudden epidemic could carry off half of them in a few days) is banished from our minds, except in horror stories. Similarly, death is banished from our societies, as fewer and fewer people die in their homes and beds. And it is banished, too, from our deep-seated societal imagination, as the relentless quest for sexual pleasure—and sex, of course, is a way of laughing in the face of death—occupies so much energy and enthusiasm, and dulls the aching reminders that come flooding back with every funeral we see, every murder the television brings into our living rooms. We ignore evil when it doesn’t hit us in the face, and so we are shocked and puzzled when it does.


4 thoughts on “Wright on Progress and Death

  1. I love NT Wright. But I must confess, sometimes reading him makes my head hurt!

    He’s spot on about death. Society values safety above all else (buckle your seat belt, wear a helmet, wear sunscreen on cloudy days, etc…) that we’ve lost what it means to risk.

  2. NT Wright is an Anglican who specializes in biblical theological studies, particularly New Testament history. His work on Christ’s resurrection is the gold standard, and much of his exegesis is sound and original. He is from England, and is a liberal politically speaking, but is actually theologically conservative.

  3. Similarly, death is banished from our societies, as fewer and fewer people die in their homes and beds.

    My guess is most folk don’t even get what he’s after on this one. Resting homes can be good … but are more evil these days than not. Remove the unwanted out of sight, out of mind. Euthanasia will be legalized within our lifetime at this rate in the spirit of letting people “pass with dignity”, keeping the family “unburdened”.

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