Change vs. Progress

One of the sessions I attended at the UST Gaudium et Spes conference that I wrote about the other day was titled Evaluating Progress.  In that panel, Professor Philip Rolnick of the UST Theology Department gave a talk titled The Paradox of Progress.

In his paper, Rolnick distinguished between change and progress, something we don’t always do.  he called change “the meretricious cousin of progress,” suggesting that “one of the great challenges of our age is to let the Gospel heal the hyperactive pursuit of change-for-the-sake of change.”

Change means simply that something (or someone) is different.  Change, by itself, is not a good, although many people tend to treat it that way.  Progress, unlike change, has “a clear sense of direction.”

It goes without saying that one can’t speak of “progress” apart from a vision of what we are seeking.  I thought Rolnick nicely articulated that vision from the standpoint of Catholicism: “In relationship to God, progress occurs in the individual as sanctification; in the Church as a sanctified consolidation; and throughout the earth as a movement toward becoming the human family of God.

Others might articulate the vision differently.  But whether one would or would not frame the vision as he does, it struck me as I listened to his talk that, as a general matter, insufficient attention is paid to how we evaluate progress, that is, how we distinguish between change for its own sake and change that moves us to a place we want to be.