Back to the Future II and the Narrative of Progress


I felt it was time to take my kids through the Back to the Future movies 1-3, so we spent our family movie nights the last month going through these flicks. Of course, time travel necessitated many questions from my 8 and 6 year old boys so we did have to stop, explain, and discuss other issues raised during the films.

During the Back to the Future II, Marty and Doc head to the future in 2015. If you’re not familiar with it, the future looks completely different than our present 2016. Cars are flying, hover-boards are  actually hovering (not rolling like the “hover-boards” we have now), and pizza in a small ball can be zapped into a full pie in seconds.

Now I know that to appear as though one has traveled to the future, he or she must create a future which looks far different than the present: a world where a flying Deloreon blends in with other flying cars.

But I wonder the director at that time, expected a world so much different, so much better than the world we live in today. Or if he just wanted to depict a world much different, better than what he might have expected. A world we have progressed so far much. Was he too optimistic about progress?

I don’t know which is which. If you think about it, we did fly in the early 1900’s and then went to space in the 60’s. That’s quite a bit of progress in a short amount of time.

But I think more and more people would do well to at least consider Blaise Pascal’s greatness and wretchedness principle. He postulates that Christianity gives the most accurate depiction of humanity, based upon the extreme knowledge and public good man is capable of, and yet also the extreme depravity and evil of which he is capable. Great and wretched.

In humanity, we see amazing technology and medical advances, as well as catastrophic evil perpetrated by even the most “civilized.” In a world where social media is so pervasive (I was even able to connect with Cade Carney a Christian running back from Wake Forest on twitter), we struggle to have an honest conversation, much less a relationship, with people who differ from us and actually listen to each other. Wasn’t WWII good enough to extinguish this narrative of progress that we are simply getting better and better, and the world with us?

Whether or not you believe Pascal’s conclusions in regards to Jesus, I do think it wouldn’t hurt to consider that we haven’t progressed nearly as far as we’d have liked.

Why not? Both sides of the aisle would point fingers at each other. One side wants to return to greatness (although I believe we’d do well to consider racism not just in individual terms but in systems). Another side believes we are heading toward an even greater reality, but that we need to embrace secular humanism, and move beyond the shackles of religious dogma-even though it was first through religion that people agreed folks did have rights. Backwards thinkers….

If Obama just years ago opposed gay marriage, and yet now celebrates the Supreme Court decision to legislate it, what freedoms or oppression will we see in 30 years? Is that not a concern from those embracing this narrative of progress?  Will it be flying cars type change or the difference in cars from 1985 to now?

In a period of such divisiveness, maybe a little more critique and affirmation would do us all some good. In my opinion, Americans would do well to be more critical of their past instead of simply “making it great again.” In the same light, I think we’d do well to be more appreciate of it’s past, and not ignore the fact that the notion of human rights came to us from “religious” folks, and not Darwin. According to leaked emails from Clinton aides, what progress actually looks like to them, is eradicating any religious, or specifically Catholic thought from leaders.

Regardless of what happens in the next 30 years-whether the future is as different than Back to the Future II or looks more similar to where we are now-as a Christian, I’m not fearful that anything has taken God by surprise. His power and goodness have made sure that His promise to build His church stands sure. If I care more about His Kingdom, than my own, then I’ll be just fine. You will too.




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