How “Progress” Led to the Dehumanization of Man

The controversy over a Super Bowl ad for a snack chip that allegedly “humanized,” of all things, a pre-born human being highlights the deliberate rejection of reality of the “abortion rights” objectors. On its face, as others have noted, the controversy exposes the pernicious obfuscation that a fetus is nothing more than a “meaningless blob of protoplasm.” Yet, the anti-reality inherent in pro-abortion propaganda is only one example exposing the delusional foundations of modern secular culture, most prominently manifested in its ideology of sexuality, including the normalization of all manner of sexual deviance, same-sex “marriage,” gender-fluidity, human-robot “intimacy,” and other high tech auto eroticism.

These aberrations have in common the denial of the fundamental nature of the human person as a child of God. Human sexuality is no mere biological expedient for the continuation of a species that is essentially indistinguishable from any other animal species. The meaning of sex in persons is intrinsically connected to their participation in God’s divinity and cooperation in his creativity.

As St. John Paul the Great emphasizes in his Theology of the Body, the human person is created for communion, in likeness to the communion of the Blessed Trinity. Echoing the Second Vatican Council, the sainted pope relies primarily on the revelation contained in the Book of Genesis. Yet, the familial-social nature of man is also plainly reflected in the revelation that is found in nature—i.e., the natural law.

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Sexual revolutionaries deny that human beings are naturally monogamous based on behavioral analogies to animals, on the implicit assumption that human sexual behavior is determined by biological forces without reference to human intellect, reason, or free will. Yet, they ignore biology altogether in promoting the ideology of gender fluidity. They pretend to be scientific, but refuse to “follow the science wherever it leads.” For example, as distinguished research psychologist Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D., of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, has taken the lead in presenting, the scientific data demonstrates overwhelmingly the link between intact monogamous families and personal and social wellbeing. In short, the familial nature of the human person is both revealed by science and confirmed by divine revelation.

The biological complementarity of men and women is of their very essence. Hidden beneath various slogans (“Love wins!”) and postures (“tolerance”) this is the fundamental factual reality that the modern ethos abhors, because it has substituted feelings for facts and overwhelmed reason with the will.

The culture no longer looks to the facts about things to discover their essence—i.e., what they are—but looks instead to what one can bring about through the exercise of one’s will, aided, where necessary, by technology. As then Father Joseph Ratzinger pointed out in Introduction to Christianity: “The truth with which man is concerned [in the modern culture] is neither truth of being, nor even … his accomplished deeds, but the truth of changing the world, molding the world—a truth centered on future and action … wherever [man] comes from, he can look the future in the eye with the determination to make himself into whatever he wishes…” Ratzinger refers to this as an ethos of the faciendum or “the makeable” (p. 63, 65). The quintessential expression of this worldview is captured in the infamous dicta of the Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

One need only recall how often it was intoned leading up to the Supreme Court’s same-sex “marriage” decision that proponents of traditional, natural, marriage were “on the wrong side of history.” Indeed, history was irrelevant, as the Chief Justice noted in his dissent (at page 22): “The Court today not only overlooks our country’s entire history and tradition but actively repudiates it, preferring to live only in the heady days of the here and now.”

The ideology of “the makable” is especially evident in the area of human embryonic experimentation. Having reduced the human being to a “fact,” as Ratzinger would say (p. 66), there is essentially no moral content to the permutations of in vitro fertilization (IVF) technologies. A recent convocation of “scientists, ethicists, and policy experts” considering the moral questions in this area seemed clearly to follow the “makability” model, as Brendan P. Foht reports:

Those who take a strong moral stance against the manipulation of human genetics or the destruction of human embryos are generally not welcome at these kinds of meetings. After all, the suggestion that we should not pursue some scientific avenues because they represent the unjust exploitation of human beings spoils the whole idea of coming to a consensus about how best to “move forward.”

Foht notes that, in the end, the assembly agreed that actual genetic engineering should be delayed until “scientific knowledge advances and societal views evolve,” disregarding altogether that “there might be some wisdom in the view that it is morally wrong to genetically design our children, or that some future ‘consensus’ that we come to hold as our ‘societal views evolve’ might be foolish and misguided.”

Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict XVI, addressed the problem of “makability” again, as “the ideology of progress,” in his encyclical Spe Salvi, identifying its fatal flaw:

[W]hat does “progress” really mean; what does it promise and what does it not promise? … Without doubt, it offers new possibilities for good, but it also opens up appalling possibilities for evil—possibilities that formerly did not exist. We have all witnessed the way in which progress, in the wrong hands, can become and has indeed become a terrifying progress in evil. If technical progress is not matched by corresponding progress in man’s ethical formation … then it is not progress at all, but a threat for man and for the world. (No. 22.)

The pope pointed out that the actual historical “progress” of political/economic Marxism left “a trail of horrifying destruction.” (No. 21.) Should we expect anything else from cultural Marxism?

The allure of an ethic that looks ever into the future, toward an inexorable evolving “progress,” is its abdication of accountability for its present failures and the destruction it leaves in its wake. This is why economic Marxism is defended, still, on the ground that it has never been practiced in its “pure” form, an eventuality that remains for future “progress.” Similarly, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton can continue to decry economic injustice, racial prejudice, etc., after seven years of the most “progressive” political regime in our history (in which both were active participants), led by the first member of a racial minority ever elected president.

This indeed is a “progress” in which we can have no confidence—in which we cannot place our hope. As Benedict XVI writes, “In the course of time … it has become clear that this hope is constantly receding … it … may be a hope for a future generation, but not for me.” (No. 30.)

Thus, bare “progress” cannot be an end in itself. Any historical—or future—achievement must be measured against a standard of “the good” in order to constitute progress in any meaningful sense. So, we must ask: What is the good toward which we should pursue progress? Answering this question reveals the chasm between the Judeo-Christian worldview and that of the present culture.

As Benedict XVI notes, the modern measure of progress looks to the maximization of individual freedom. (Spes Salvi, no. 18.) This can be seen in the culture’s pursuit of pleasure without limitation, sex without consequences, marriage without permanence, parenthood without responsibility, debt without obligation, and so forth. Pope Francis calls it the “culture of the temporary,” which he says, “has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.”

The misery of modern, secular man is that he is alone and, worse, he is alienated from himself. In his drive for individualism and independence—a counterfeit freedom—he is not merely solitary: having lost what makes him a human being, he is dis-integrated. In the first place, he has lost his identity as a child of God, but equally important, he has forgotten that he is created for family—for communion—in this life.

It is no accident that God should send to his Church in these times an Apostle of the Family, who has reminded us that “God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion.” (St. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, no. 11.) The Second Vatican Council, declaring that, “all things on earth should be related to man as their center and crown,” immediately recalls the reality that “God did not create man as a solitary… For by his innermost nature man is a social being, and unless he relates himself to others he can neither live nor develop his potential.” (Gaudium et spes, no. 12.)

In marriage and family, “that permanent commitment to solidarity, fidelity and fruitful love responds to the deepest longings of the human heart” (Pope Francis). This fact must be at the foundation of every effort of the New Evangelization, precisely because the destruction of Christian culture is being waged through the destruction of the family. Indeed, Mary Eberstadt has persuasively argued that the decline of Western culture is at least as much a result of the decline of the family as its cause.

Man was created in family (Gen. 2:18-25) and for family. “The Christian family loudly proclaims both the present virtues of the Kingdom of God and the hope of a blessed life to come. Thus by its example and its witness it accuses the world of sin and enlightens those who seek the truth.” (Lumen Gentium, no. 35.) Just as the first Christians conquered the pagan world by their joyful example in families of chaste love, openness to life, and respect for the dignity of all persons, so will the Church again win the world for Christ.

Editor’s note: The image above is a detail from “Adam and Eve with Cain and Abel” painted by Lorenzo de Ferrari (b. 1680).


  • Deacon Michael Quinlan

    Deacon Michael Quinlan, of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, holds a bachelors in philosophy and a law degree from the University of Notre Dame and a master of laws degree from Washington University in St. Louis. He practices law in St. Louis with his own firm. He and wife Janet have been married 37 years and have seven adult children and 15 grandchildren.

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