Indivisible: Jay Richards on Embracing Incremental Change

The culture doesn’t just have to change by revolutions.

Lots of Catholic conservatives are up in arms these days. If it isn’t over Bishop Blaire expressing concerns about Paul Ryan’s budget proposal, it’s probably over Cardinal Dolan inviting President Obama to the Alfred E. Smith Dinner. “How dare they?!” we cry. When things don’t seem to be going according to our plan, we act as if the sky is falling. Why are we often more inclined to fold up the tent than weather the storm? Indivisible co-author Jay Richards comments on why we shouldn’t be so quick to lose hope.

*  *  *

The Practicing Catholic: One of the points I’ve heard you make is that progressives seem to get incremental change in a way conservatives don’t, that conservatives seem to always teeter on the edge of despair. Why do you think that is?

Dr. Jay RichardsDr. Richards: That’s a great question. I think part of it may eschatological. We know that ultimately we’re not going to establish the kingdom of God. Certainly, there are glimmers of the kingdom wherever the Church is working; wherever Christians work in the world, the kingdom breaks in. But we know we’re not literally going to establish the kingdom in its fullness, that Christ is going to do that at the end.

That can be a comfort, but we can also use it as a cop-out. Anytime we lose an election or something seems to be getting worse, we say, “Well, why polish the brass on a sinking ship? The Lord’s going to return. This is just what we’re to expect.”

But I think we should look at the apostle Paul here. Of course, Paul thought he was living in the last days and talked about that, but yet he went about his work. He fought the good fight; he finished the race. That’s the model we ought to have.

Progressives who are secularists don’t have any idea of God coming at the end and fulfilling his kingdom, so politics is really all they have. If they can’t accomplish something politically, there’s nothing that can be done. So in some ways, I think that inspires the progressive left to be more incremental. They realize, “Look, all we’ve got is this world, so if we’ve got to chip things away slowly over a period of years, we’ll do that.”

It’s one thing the progressive left really does better than conservative Christians. They understand that culture doesn’t just have to change by revolutions; it can change slowly and surely. We see that in the question about same-sex marriage in which the population’s views on the subject are slowly changing. Despite the fact that most people are opposed to it on moral grounds, the more we’re exposed to these ideas, it slowly wears us down.

We need to be on guard against that, but there’s also a lesson to be learned there. We should be okay with incremental changes, as long as they’re in the right direction.

*  *  *

Indivisible: Restoring Faith, Family, and Freedom Before it's too LateCongratulations to last week’s giveaway winner Joy M.!

Enter to win a your own copy of Indivisible! Simply leave a comment here. Next Wednesday, August 22, we will randomly select this week’s winner. Giveaway sponsored by The Maximus Group. You also can buy Indivisible from Ignatius Press (with Voting Guidelines for Catholics bonus CD).

This is the sixth of a series ; click the links below to read the previous installments from our interview with Dr. Jay Richards:

  1. Law, Liberty, and Freedom (July 4)
  2. Morality and Economics (July 11)
  3. Natural Law and Reason (July 18)
  4. Right to Life and Social Justice (July 25)
  5. Personal Holiness and Public Witness (August 1)
  6. History Lessons in Hope (August 8)


  1. Alex T. says

    Very good article with a very good point. Christian conservatives really need to take up political change as a sort of cross, which only after long bearing will yield results.


Join the conversation!