Monthly Archives: May 2020

Progressivism vs. Catholicism

Is progressivism* consistent with Catholicism? No! There are many inconsistencies; especially in moral theory. But here I focus on theology in order to show the necessity of the notion of moral harm for understanding redemptive suffering.

Moral harm is harm which ought to be for violation of a moral law. Catholicism holds holds that Christ suffered torture and crucifixion to fulfill the prescription for the moral harm required for human sinfulness. In paragraph 601 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Christ’s suffering is called “redemptive suffering” Progressivism rejects the notion of moral harm. Hence, progressivism rejects the notion of redemptive suffering.

Am I saying that someone who takes a progressive approach to morality cannot be a Catholic or Christian? No. I am writing about a moral theory I built up from a foundational idea that there ought to be no harm and intended it reflect popular progressive moral beliefs. I write of Catholicism as body of doctrines. I point out a contradiction between these two theories. Progressivism cannot be a consistent Catholicsm. Catholicism cannot be a consistent progressive morality.

People are not theories. What people think are at best bits and pieces of theories. People do not think, say or believe all the implications of what they say or believe. A Catholic who takes a progressive approach to moral issues need not ever think or say anything which contradicts fundamental Catholic teaching about redemptive suffering. A Catholic can say words such as “Jesus Christ is our saviour who died for our sins” without every trying to spell out what it means. He can regard them as holy words he is supposed to say or immediately accept it as all a mystery which we cannot even start to understand.

Or all that I know, people can be both morally progressive and Catholic. Indeed such people may be very good Catholic. I do not hesitate to judge another person’s character. But I do not judge a person’s character on the basis of the logical consistency of theories I develop from bits and pieces of what they say. For instance, I think Joe Biden might be a good Catholic despite the fact that his moral progressivism on abortion and homosexuality place him in contradiction to Catholic teaching. He might well be too busy thinking about other issues to draw out implications inconsistent with progressive morality from Catholic doctrines on redemption. Biden is not a good example for other Catholics. But he may have an innocent childlike faith in the words and ceremonies of Catholicism which is pleasing to God.

However, there are some of us for whom trying to understand is crucial for letting words guide our lives. So, if I were to say that what Jesus Christ accomplished by his suffering and death did far more for humanity than anything such as discovering a vaccine for Covid-19, I need to have some concepts or ideas which I can use appreciate why I would say something like that. If I cannot even start to make sense of it, I won’t believe it. But I want to believe it to avoid the nihilism of progressivism. Here then is a situation in which there is my faith seeking understanding. Faith seeking understanding is theology.

My faith is holding fast to the words of Catholicism. My theologizing is the constant effort to think of why I would say those words.

The notion of moral harm is a key to gaining at least a part of understanding. Hence, I will be using moral harm in theology exercises to gain some understanding of the Paschal mystery.

*Perhaps, I should use “moral progressivism” to distinguish it from “progressivism” which is used to label a variety of political views which are successors of what used to be called liberal views.

Progressivism, Relativism, Eugenics, Atheism

1. Am I criticizing progressivism as a well defined system of moral thinking used in daily life?

Not really. Progressivism and authoritarianism are my constructions to specify consistent patterns from the way people use moral language. In daily life most of us use moral language which if pulled together would be an inconsistent system with judgments from a progressive point of view, judgments from an authoritarian point of view, judgments from a natural law point of view, various religious points of view and so on.
I cannot identify any group of people or individuals as the progressives. I did react to the thought of Steven Pinker in developing sexual progressive morality in my book. However, I make the factual judgment that the progressive pattern of moral thinking is dominant in the majority of people in Europe and North America. That abstracted pattern is the progressivism I articulate, evaluate and constantly struggle to resist as the way of thinking and feeling morally.

I try to present progressivism as persuasively as possible. For it is the alternative to my Catholicism. To keep my faith I must constantly resist progressivism. I need to resist my serious alternative; not some weak version.

2. What is an outline of the progressive moral point of view as a philosophy of life?

Harm ought not be. In reality there is harm. So, reality is not as it ought to be. What ought to be can be. Hence, reality can be so that there is no harm which means that reality can be so that there is no frustration of human desires.

The human moral project is to work at modifying human desires along with improving techniques for satisfying desires with the ultimate goal of humanity being in a state in which there is no frustration of human desires.

If you are normal, you have amongst other desires, desires for the happiness and satisfaction of other people. Pursuit of the human project is striving for human happiness and satisfaction in both the short run and long run. So, by living to advance the human project you are living to satisfy a desire.

3. Is progressivism moral relativism?

Progressivism is a logically consistent moral relativism. Alll evaluation of acts are relative to the circumstances, intentions and consequences of the act. General rules are also evaluated relative to the consequences they are likely to produce. The evaluations of acts and rules are relative to the desires that people happen to have. In short, morality is relative to human desires and thought. Morality is not founded on anything in reality beyond humanity.

Progressivism guiding thought that harm ought not be is consistent with its relativism. This guiding thought is relative to the feature of human nature that people care about the happiness and satisfaction of fellow human. Absent that concern for others, there would not still be some categorical imperative or authoritative command that there be no harm.

4. Is human eugenics part of progressivism?

Eugenics can be defined as “beliefs and practices that aim to improve the genetic quality of a human population, typically by excluding people and groups judged to be inferior and promoting those judged to be superior.”

In principle, eugenics is part of progressivism. Unfortunately, eugenics has acquired a very bad reputation because of its misuse and poor application in Nazi Germany. Nonetheless, with great care to focus on improvement of humanity in general, and not some special race, and with care to execute it with sensitivity, progressives support eugenics.

Under this topic, it can be noted that progressivism in principle supports abortion and euthanasia.

5. Is progressivism atheistic?

Atheism is not part of the progressive outlook although many atheists may be progressives. Many people who I class as progressives are members of Christian churches. To me they seem to respresent God as some supreme supernatural progressive who is working on them to promote the human project. Among these Christians, I include those who have been so successful in changing attitudes toward homosexuality and gender ideology.

My book is Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism, Tulsa, 2014 If you would like a free copy of my book, please email me at kielkopf.1@osu.edu

What is Progressive Morality?

“Progressive morality” is a term I recently introduced to refer to a type of moral theory contrary to the authoritarian morality I support. Progressive morality is an extension of a theory about sexual morality examined in my book* which I called Progressive Sexual Morality. The guiding thought of progressive sexual morality is the moral neutrality of sexuality. The morality neutrality of sexuality holds that in principle any sexual activity is morally permissible. The guiding thought of progressive morality is that no harm ought not be.

A good way to answer, “What is Progressive Morality?” is to show how progressive sexual morality can be made a progressive morality. In my book I implicitly connected progressive sexual morality with progressive morality’s thought that harm ought not be with the provision that coercive sexual acts are not permissible. Progressive sexual moralities are easily incorporated into progressive moralities if they would drop any absolute condemnation of coercive sex. It is remotely possible that a coercive sexual act produces less harm than any other act open to the rapist under the circumstances.

Do progressive moralities hold the moral neutrality of sexuality? Yes. Progressives hold the moral neutrality of every type of act. In principle, any act, even an act done to intentionally inflict harm, might be the act which produces the least harm in certain circumstances.

Act utilitarism is the fundamental method of moral evaluation for progressive morality. The basic good is satisfaction of human inclination and harm is frustration of inclination satisfaction. There cannot be any specification of any other condition such as development of talents as a good. Such a specification would characterize it as something we ought to pursue. But if we ought to pursue it then there needs to be a sanction for failing to pursue it. But sanctions open up the prospect of harm that ought to be. Inclination satisfaction becomes the good by default. Everyone naturally has this goal and there is no need to command people to have it.

In effect, the guiding thought of progressive morality is that there ought to be no frustration of human desires. And the right act in any circumstances is the act, which after balancing satisfactions with frustrations, produces the highest amount of satisfactions.

Progressivism is a humanism with its restriction to human desires. And with human desires ultimately determining what is right or wrong, “man is the measure of all things.”

The most interesting aspect of progressive morality comes out in explaining the status of the norm “Harm ought not be” which we just interpreted as “there ought to be no frustration of human desires.” Progressives are not naïve. They realize that at the present time there are kinds of desires whose satisfaction produces harm as well as kinds of people whose system of desires aim at what is harmful.

The explanation brings out why they can be called “progressive.”

Obviously, they cannot take “harm ought not be” as an imperative with sanctions. Progressivism makes assumptions about human nature. Some of the most important assumptions are as follows.
1. Moral language is part of human thinking and use of moral language actually modifies human desires and guide human behavior. It is not for telling the truth or somehow indicating the way things are.
2.Humans have some desires, such as occasionally desiring that others satisfy their desires, which could be called moral desires. (It’s simply not a sociological fact that people are totally selfish.)
3. What people desire can be modified. In particular, with development of technology people can be educated to care more for the satisfaction of other’s desires.
4. Technical progress will continue to provide resources for desire satisfaction so that, amongst other things, there will be less conflict over scarce resources.

So, progressives who bother to think about the foundations of their moral stance look at their guiding thought that there be no harm as a normative principle pervasive in human thought which their inclinations for human satisfaction leads them to take it very seriously. They might admit that they are higher on the compassion inclination scale than most other people. After noting that they are simply following amoral nature in their moral endeavors they look to technical advances and education, which may use moral language, to develop schemes for maximum desire satisfaction in the future. This future, which they most certainly will not see, most likely will require somewhat different kind of people with somewhat different desires. But such a future is possible. To be working on a scheme which leads to this right kind of future is being on the right side of history.

* My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. See Ch. IV for my justification see pp. 72ff. for discussion of moral harm. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.





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Charles F. Kielkopf
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