Digest of terms
sense of direction in life as applied to both individual and collective experience. Darwin's theory of biological evolution has a counterpart in the thinking of Marx and other 19th century social scientists who saw in history a patterned sociologic, determinedly driving humankind towards a better future.
Some cultural historians (eg J. Krejci and E Voegelin) claim that there is a causative correlation between the prevailing religion and belief in progress. Thus, the very idea of progress is more likely to appear and flourish if there is strong sense of hope for social and political development which will transform the present human condition. In Biblical terms there is hope of a Promised Land and a coming Kingdom of God; these terms relate to historical experience and in recent centuries inspired the Jewish thrust towards Zionism and the Puritan search for a New World Order in the USA.
Such hope can be transmuted so that it refers to mainly individualised post-mortem prospects, but then it risks abandoning any expectation of change for the better within the world. Yet other religious traditions may consistently be more individual than socio-politically focussed. They may also be more sceptical of the long term outcomes from historical development and instead accept a cyclic pattern of birth, death and rebirth - a stance classically attributed to Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. This easily translates into a view that the world is inexorably deteriorating, in decline from an initial golden age.
Belief in human progress must take a knock from the dark evidence of the scale avoidable deaths - in the trenches of WW1, the Soviet gulags of the 1930s, the Nazi extermination camps in WW2, the Maoist exacerbated famines of the 1958-61, and the innumerable other acts of state sponsored and individually perpetrated inhumanity throughout the 20th century. Realism about world events may therefore be a far stronger justification for pessimism than optimism. And yet hope for progress persists.
Moral education is faced with a shaping question as to whether it can have any realistic hope for human progress, what it means by that, and on what any such hope is based.