On South Main Street in Ansonia, surrounded by a chain-link fence and a jungle of weeds, stands a dilapidated industrial building from the golden age of manufacturing, and above the entrance are the words, “PROGRESS LABORATORY.”
The building, with its broken windows and weathered masonry, is abandoned and shuttered. There’s not much progress anymore. It’s probably been decades since anyone walked through that entrance, inspired by the mission that their research and development would create a better world in the cause of “progress” – a cause that defined the 19th and 20th centuries and led society in the endless pursuit of the new and the better, even though we often mistakenly associated what was new with what was better.
G. K. Chesterton, who coined the term “the Cult of Progress,” once said, “Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to fit the vision; instead we are always changing the vision.”
A large banner hangs from the exterior of PROGRESS LABORATORY, announcing the next stage of 21st-century progress – the building will be turned into luxury apartments and retail space. I guess that means the vision changed.
I can still remember back in the 1960s when the Naugatuck River, which flows through Ansonia, would change color, depending upon the time of day and the effluent that was released from the rubber plant upstream. Today, after years of environmental efforts, the river is clean again and trout swim in its waters. That’s true progress. Taking care of God’s creation is a responsibility of every generation, as Pope Francis has said.
But we live in a sinister world, where man tinkers with God’s creation, whether it is our food supply, human genes, embryonic stem cells, cloning or one of the worst examples, abortion – the killing of developing life in the name of “freedom.” In the modern era, moral values are often abandoned in the mindless pursuit of progress and so-called personal freedom. That which for centuries was considered wrong or unthinkable has become socially and scientifically acceptable.
As the Nobel Prize-winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, this is because “modern man has forgotten God.” We live in a world that has replaced God with an idol called “scientism.”
The pursuit of progress inspired the Soviet Union, Communist China and countless technological advances that ultimately will not be as beneficial as we deceived ourselves into believing they would be.
To most Americans, one simple-minded sign of progress is a new Apple product every nine months to replace the last gadget they bought. Another misdirected result of progress is chronic distraction and diversion that takes us further from God because of the Babel of modern technology.
In more horrifying manifestations, there is genetic experimentation as scientists tinker with the very foundation of God’s creation. By manipulating DNA, the Chinese have produced a stronger, faster dog that’s capable of doing things dogs don’t normally do, nor would you want them to do. China also has the world’s largest cloning factory, which is committed to replicating different species, including racehorses, police dogs and farm animals.
By 2020, the Boyalife Group says it will be cloning a million cows annually, and that it is capable of even cloning humans. Boyalife’s partner in South Korea already has begun a project to revive the woolly mammoth from extinction by cloning cells that have been preserved for millennia in Siberia. And for $100,000, they’ll clone your deceased pet dog.
When man’s pride motivates scientific progress and when God is cast aside, all types of horrors are possible because if God isn’t part of the equation, we’re not progressing, we’re regressing.
Catholic author Joseph Pearce has said, “One of the main reasons that progress is the mother of problems is that it is no longer a means to an end but has become an end in itself. Progress is a law unto itself, and to question progress is not only to question the good that progress is presumed to be, but to question the god that progress has become. The past century has seen humanity turn its back on religion in the name of a so-called ‘progress’ that, in reality, has been a frenzy of murderous debauchery.”
There is one type of progress, however, that can truly change the world for the better. It’s the most difficult kind of progress to achieve – it’s spiritual progress. When we turn our will and life over to God, he can work through us to bring about a new and better world, a world that we can never achieve on our own. You see, all the R&D in every laboratory around the globe can never achieve what grace can.
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.
J.F. Pisani's column misstated the name of a vacant laboratory in Ansonia. It was, in fact, called "Process Laboratory." He regrets the error.