The Curse of Adolescent Progressivism
A few years ago Pope Francis dropped a striking term into a homily. He warned of “adolescent progressivism”. I hope this becomes his memorable slogan rather than “who am I to judge?” Because it is right up there with Pope Benedict XVI’s warning about “the dictatorship of relativism.”
The two phrases go hand in hand because “adolescent progressivism” is the manifestation of “the dictatorship of relativism”. Why does Pope Francis refer to progressivism as “adolescent”? We have to stop and examine the dynamic of the adolescent.
The Adolescent Know-It-All
The first thing about the adolescent is that they are immature, but they don’t know it. The typical sophomore mentality is that of the “know-it-all” who has acquired a little bit of knowledge and thinks he has therefore acquired wisdom.
Secondly, the adolescent know-it-all is a sucker for ideologies. The adolescent is typically idealistic and wants to fight for the right, but with their limited knowledge and assumption of wisdom they tend to latch on to some great and worthy cause. It might be right wing or left wing politics. It might be some great economic theory, environmentalism, gender politics or it might be religious.
The adolescent wants to change the world and so he joins some great movement and ideology. He’s always ready to join the club, go with the crowd and wave the flag. Because his own personality is still in formation and he lacks the confidence to think for himself and act on his convictions he joins some great crusade.
Adolescents are Sentimentalists and Naïve
Third: progressives are sentimentalists. They have strong emotions and will act on their feelings rather than their still nascent intellectual abilities. The adolescent typically rejects arguments based on reason, facts, duties and responsibilities. Because he is immature he responds instead with heightened emotions. The cause he or she has espoused becomes a great moral crusade because it is a great emotional event. Ideologues play on this constantly and leaders of ideological movements always seek to manipulate the adolescent progressive’s emotions.
The fourth mark of the adolescent is that he is naive about human nature. He jumps on an ideological bandwagon first of all believing that he and mankind in general is good. When he discovers that some people are bad, he projects all the darkness on to the person or group he perceives to be the enemy.
Along with the fourth sign of needing someone to blame, the adolescent progressive must always either be a victim or find a victim to feel sorry for. Once they find the victim, the adolescent progressive will portray the victim as totally good, pure and abused. Once they have found the totally good victim the person or group they are blaming becomes even more evil.
Just as the rebellious adolescent irrationally demonizes the parent and authority figures in his life, so the adolescent progressive demonizes authority figures and places himself on the side of the victim. He does this with the sort of heightened self righteousness that only the adolescent can muster.
The sixth mark of the adolescent progressive is that he or she mistakes their ideology for their religion. They believe that their particular worthy cause is the same thing as their religion. They are certain that God is on their side. But what they have done in their immature lack of understanding is to mistake their narrow ideology with their religion. They thus limit their religion to their ideology and are blind to the vast areas of their religion that they have yet to explore.
This Progressivism is of the World
Finally, Pope Francis is clear that this sort of progressive, ideologically based progressivism is of this world. It normally adopts the values and struggles that are current in the worldly arena and makes them part of the Christian struggle. Christianity might share some of the struggles in the world, but it is always bigger and more universal than the particular struggles the worldlings espouse.
Adolescent progressivism exists with society but it also exists within churches, school, colleges and workplaces. It eats away like a hideous cancer destroying creativity, joy and a positive spirit. It should also be obvious that you don’t have to be a teenager to be an adolescent progressive. There are adolescent progressives of all ages.
Adolescent progressivism is a counterfeit religion – and remember, counterfeits are always designed to look like the real thing.