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Progress, yes, but at what cost?

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By Fr. Rick Gribble C.S.C.

In the popular stage play, “Inherit the Wind,” which dramatizes the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, the fabled jurist Clarence Darrow makes a comment when speaking to the jury: “Progress is not free; it comes with a price.” Darrow, of course, was suggesting that the progress made by Charles Darwin through his theory of biological evolution required people to abandon the Creation Story presented in the Book of Genesis. More generally, however, Darrow hit the nail on the head, suggesting that progress, while providing benefit, can be very costly. Has the cost in certain cases been too high? This issue is evident in society’s attitude toward those who are “out of step” with advances in technology, medical science and religious liberty.

The technological advances I have witnessed during my almost 63 years have indeed been significant, making life easier in some ways but more complicated in others. The space program launched by President John F. Kennedy, the revolution in rapid travel and the transformation of how we communicate through computers are remarkable achievements and have produced much good.

Certainly, the intent of technological advancement has been to advance society. However, one can ask, especially with respect to communication, if the advance has been rather problematic?

The communication revolution, including the ease of obtaining information with only a few clicks of a mouse or pushing a few buttons on a smart phone, while providing almost instant access to individuals and knowledge, has produced some significant negative consequences. Because we have access to people, our sense of privacy and private time is almost nonexistent. Employers expect workers to be available 24/7. We have all observed two or more people in a restaurant, “enjoying” lunch or dinner together, as each speaks to another party on his or her cell phone. My experience here at Stonehill, especially in recent years, is that students before class rarely interact with each other; instead they engage or “talk” with the mobile device in their hand.

Even more distressing, from an academic perspective, is the fact that we as a society do not write in a formal way or read books and articles; our whole world is wrapped up in social media. This reality manifests itself in a failure to master basic skills, both in written composition and academic research, believing that anything relevant to the topic can be found “on the net.”

The downside of advances in technology can be matched by similar difficulties in the area of medical science.

Clearly, the advances made in everything from organ transplants to cures of many forms of cancer have improved and saved the lives of millions of people. The availability of medical and technological advances, however, should not determine decisions that contravene the orderly flow of nature and illaffect society.

For example, if it is possible to produce human life in a petri dish with all the “desired” genes and bodily features, are we violating natural law? Simply because we have the ability to store human embryos for later implantation into a surrogate mother, are we going too far? Are these actions morally sound? Are advocates for progress playing God?

Lastly, has our politically correct society, which many consider progress, gone too far with respect to religious liberty? Clearly, political correctness with respect to ethnicity and gender rights, as two examples, is a step in the proper direction. However, when such political correctness suggests that human practices, which have stood the proof of time and helped to construct just and peaceful societies, are tossed aside in the name of progress, the cost has been too high. Cases in point abound, such as the recent battle by Little Sisters of the Poor to maintain Catholic teaching on artificial contraception in the benefits they give to their employees.

Yes, progress is great and has benefited many, but in some cases the cost for society has been too high. Quite obviously good intentions at times produce negative consequences as suggested; yet the question remains, what can or must be done to stop society’s slide down a slippery slope? Only time will tell.

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