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On the right side of history?

One of the dominant lies of the age we are living in is that “you must be on the right side of history”. The thinking is that any opposition to immorality is wrong because in the end society will come to embrace the immorality in question. We are told we must ensure we are on “the right side of history now” or risk being shamed in the future because what is “moral” is determinedly by social consensus or the will of the majority.

This is the thinking behind the push for a woman’s right to kill babies (which is wrongly called the woman’s right to chose). And also western society’s embrace of homosexuality, self-identification and transgenderism. In C S Lewis' Screwtape Letters, the senior devil Screwtape reminds his junior devil Wormwood on the importance of ensuring humanity remains obsessed with this philosophy of "living on the right side of history": 

Now if we can keep men asking “Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going?” they will neglect the relevant questions. And the questions they do ask are, of course, unanswerable; for they do not know the future, and what the future will be depends very largely on just those choices which they now invoke the future to help them to make. As a result, while their minds are buzzing in this vacuum, we have the better chance to slip in and bend them to the action we have decided on. And great work has already been done. Once they knew that some changes were for the better, and others for the worse, and others again indifferent. We have largely removed this knowledge. For the descriptive adjective “unchanged” we have substituted the emotional adjective “stagnant”. We have trained them to think of the Future as a promised land which favoured heroes attain—not as something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is” 

The excellent point Lewis is making is that there is a logical fally at the heart of this push to live "on the right side of history". The future is a summation of today's choices. We make history tomorrow by the choices we make today, "at the rate of sixty minutes an hour". It follows that what is popular tomorrow is an outcome of today's morality . To say, "I want to be on the right side of history" is simply the same as saying, "I am working hard to bring about a version of history I desire. That reflects my morality". 

It is not an argument for truth, it is a campaign for moral populism  as truth. The real truth of course is that none of us, at the core of our being, really believes that truth is democratic. If that was the case then societies would not be "progressive" but "static". To push for change in society one has to believe there is something wrong about the current democratic consensus. All social movements believe in overturning the status quo because they do not believe the majority determine the truth! 

Truth is not democratic. As the early church father Athanasius (296-383AD) reminds us truth stands above democratic consensus because truth is objectively rooted in God who is the author of all truth:

Miserable are those who measure the authority of a doctrine by the numbers receiving it. Truth always overcomes, though for a time it is found among the few. He who, for proof, betakes himself to numbers, confesses himself conquered. Let me see the beauty of truth, and immediately I am persuaded. A multitude may overawe, but cannot persuade. How many myriads could persuade me to believe that day is night, that poison is food? In determining earthly things we do not regard numbers, shall we do so in heavenly things? I reverence numbers; but only when they produce proof, not when they shim inquiry. Can you confirm a lie by numbers?

A pursuit of truth that looks to posterity is antropocentric and ultimately meaningless. If your ethical system has no room for God, then it is not obvious to me, why you should care how posterity judges you. Presumably you would be dead and lost to existence. It matters not, in a naturalistic worldview, whether the future shames you or not, since you won’t be there to witness it. That human beings care about a future state of the world is surely only because we hold hope for ourselves beyond the present.

We live as people who know, and rightly so, that one day we will give an account before God, who alone is True. What the Bible calls us to do, is to not wait until death, but to meet this God right now inthe person, life and work of Jesus of Nazareth, who alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  Jesus says to us: don't try and be on the right side of history, be on the right side of God through Me, today.

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