I prefer the idea of “progress from,” rather than progress toward a set goal, as Kitcher suggested. In that respect, we have come a long way as a species. Even if an objectively perfect state of existence did exist, and we were ever able to enter that state, I find it more hopeful and useful to focus on how far we’ve come, rather than how far we have to go. In my personal life, I have met a good number of Christians who profess that the world is inherently an evil and fallen place and this attitude leads them to have no hope for the future. Why would you hope for the future when the Bible “predicts” that things will keep getting worse and that the Earth will be destroyed when Jesus returns (soon?)?
Without a hope for the future, there is not much of a reason to try to actively improve the world. They may want their children and grandchildren to be happy and have a good life, but as for the rest of humanity, it seems that we are nameless, faceless, wicked sinners who will be judged accordingly and thrown to eternal torment when their loving God ends his experiment. This sentiment helps to reinforce tribalism among fundamentalist Christians. And tribalism seems to be one of the main enemies of helpful progress in the world.
I realize that not all Christians are like this, but it seems as though the more dogmatic and literal their interpretation of the Bible, the less empathetic, sympathetic, and willing to help make the world a better place they are. We non-believers do not see the world as fundamentally broken and unable to be fixed until it is remade by God. We just see it as able to be improved upon. The Christian hope for the future is the second coming of Jesus and eternal life. We do not wish for someone to save us, but rather, we know that we can improve human conditions by examining how they have already improved and helping to enhance them continually.
On the other hand, many progressive Christians that I have talked to seem to have the belief that Christians are meant to be the agents of good changes in the world. They seem to have bought into progressive social shifts and generally have a better view of the future. Some even believe that they will be the cause of eventual perfection on Earth, due to their interpretation of the New Testament scriptures as saying that the Kingdom of God is now and will be brought into perfection by Christians. This view is certainly preferable to fundamentalism, and opens the door for common ground to work together for social changes. However, I don’t think that one can fully reconcile a belief that “God helps those who help themselves,” with a belief in a god who intervenes or a world in which miracles or any supernatural influence exists. It seems to me, that there are, in the worldview of believers, only two possibilities; that God created the universe, then was never involved in it again, or that God is actively involved in the universe now. If he is actively involved, then free-will cannot exist and advancements in science, medicine, and social progress, etc., would not be possible without his interference. If he is inactive, then why pray to him, worship him, or even think about him?
What do you think? Do you prefer “progress from,” to “progress to” a set goal? Are my generalizations of fundamentalist Christians too broad or incorrect? Do you agree that more progressive Christians seem more hopeful about the future and willing to accept the idea of a collective afterlife along with their supernatural beliefs?