Maturity, Evolution, and the Modern Age

While reading an article on the Huffington Post by Delaine Moore, I came across this: “And just as I’ve learned to separate sex from love since divorcing, I wonder, could I one day learn to separate love and commitment from jealousy? Could that be the next stage in my maturation and evolution?”

One feels nothing but empathy for Ms. Moore, as the system that we are involved in regarding sex, marriage, divorce, and infidelity is really and truly screwed up.  One agrees that our system of life is terribly confused and utterly broken.  However, I do think Ms. Moore is a bit off base with her concepts of maturation and evolution.

Now I should say straight away that Ms. Moore concludes here post by admitting that she cannot in fact take this step.  But she does it by saying this: “I couldn’t. I still just don’t think I can, regardless of how hard I try to imagine it, no matter how open and mature I think I am. My social programming, the doctrine I’ve absorbed, runs too deep.”  Thus I am not in any way attempting to vilify her, but here only address the ideas of maturation and evolution as stepping stones out of traditional understandings of human relationships.

We want to be mature, we want to be evolved…the first is a standard desire of western culture, the second the particular idiosyncrasy of the modern age.  We want to leave childhood behind, find our adult footing, and cast off all of the silliness of childhood.  One need not look too hard to find the roots of this throughout our history from Roman to Victorian English times.  This has become deeply linked with the concept of progress, our modern deity.  As the ancient Romans loved honor, the ancient Greeks reason, we love progress.  Our age, we think, is the greatest of all ages.  To perpetuate this myth we lie about the past (as in the false belief that people used to think the world was flat), we disparage it with names like “the dark ages,” and we ignore the wisdom of previous times and cultures, casting aside their insight as insignificant.  Our modern myth is that all ages have anticipated ours, and ours is the crown.

Thus we want to be mature, to cast off the old ideas, and think that we are freeing ourselves from some kind of bondage.  This is again a peculiarity of the myth of progress.  Former generations have viewed the continuity of humanity as something to be celebrated, not sneered at, and innovation was looked at with suspicion.  We pride ourselves in innovation.  We have conflated technological innovation and social innovation.  The Romans, as a good example, viewed many technological innovations with delight, while they were incredibly hostile to social ones.  The examples of the general who wanted to see Archimedes on one side, and the Grachae brothers on the other will suffice.

Our attachment to maturity comes with the popular myth of evolution.  I here distinguish it from the scientific theory of mutation and adaptation.  The myth I am talking about is that which roots the myth of progress in a pseudo-scientific understanding of the world.  We establish our myth of progress by rooting it in the popular myth of evolution.  We say “if the world works this way, then it is simply natural and common sense that culture and individuals should work this way.”

Of course this is all nonsense.  Evolution really involves adaptation to a particular environment.  This sometimes means the honing of particular abilities over generations, and sometimes it means letting them become vestigial or shedding them altogether when they become detrimental.  It is not a drive toward an ideal perfection.  Evolution, left on its own, is a blind reaction to forces from the outside.  Such a process cannot in fact bring about progress, but only temporary adaptation.  We do not want to be “evolved” in this sense, changing here and there simply to suit our situations.  Our minds and hearts reject it.

The myth of progress is then confused.  To progress, we must have a goal, a target to which we can progress, otherwise we are merely moving about like a ship without a destination.  We may say we’ve made progress because we’ve sailed from the coast of England to America, but if our goal was never to make it to America, we are merely lying to ourselves.

A culture that can really imagine progress is one that sees a goal, an image that it is striving to conform itself to.  Do we have one?  If we do, what happens when we reach it?  How can progress be our master and god if we have achieved it?  Oddly enough, only a theistic worldview can offer real progress as a tenable goal.  For, as the ancient church fathers have said, since God is infinite, we may infinitely pursue and grow in the image of God.  We may forever make progress in growing in love for God and neighbor, husband and wife, child and parent, and never fear that we will come to the end of it all.  We may always be able to look back and say “how far we have come” without the pride or the despair of knowing that our journey will soon be over.

The central question of Ms. Moore’s post reads: “What if having sex with someone other than your partner isn’t just a ‘lifestyle’ choice? What if it’s also not an issue of right or wrong? What if our culture has simply indoctrinated us with beliefs around love, commitment, attraction and sex that end up emotionally terrorizing us unnecessarily at some point, or all throughout, our lives?”

I think the question is somewhat the wrong way around.  Our culture has latently passed on to us all of the things that are generally common to the human race, drawn from real evolution and religion.  Our culture has actively created a situation where those things become painful as we try to shuffle them off.  It is the myth of the mature, evolved adult who can cast off the old ways which brings about this question and many of the painful conflicts.

Two points and I am done.  First, Ms. Moore is not somehow to be singled out for this view.  It is rampant and ubiquitous.  It often appears in urban areas as coupled with anti-religious sentiment.  In non-urban areas, it often appears in the form of the American Civil Religion, tying the Cross to the Flag.  In this way it appears to be two conflicting ideologies, but it is not.  Ms. Moore is simply expressing something that is everywhere.

As the last point, I want to also point out that the Christian perspective on this is that the world is deeply and truly messed up no matter what age or culture we are in.  Marriage is hard because we are broken people.  Men and women cheat because we are struggling with how to be good when so much in us leans against it.  This is the very very unpopular doctrine of Sin.  And this, like anything else, has been abused to make people feel dirty and horrible when they should simply be fighting the good fight and going again and again to say “sorry, I’ll do better with Your help.”  Each age teaches us a new thing, and this age has taught us that reconciling with God is better than fearing God.  The robust struggle to do good and ask forgiveness is far more healthy than the grovelling squirming crawling guilt of being what we are.

We find then that true maturity, true progress is found in growing into the stature of Christ, that man of love who forgave wrongs against him, and love all around Him.  Here is a goal we can make true progress toward.  Here is real maturity…to be a child in the kingdom.