against pragmatism

The American music invention jazz was a great find, and even though I’m not a jazz enthusiast across the board, some of it I like quite well. Although I think I subscribe to something of a critical realism, philosophically, I’m not so fond of the one American philosophical invention, pragmatism. Pragmatism is simply the notion that if it works, it is good. I think it does have some limited value, and we can’t toss it out completely (though it is untrue in its definition—see below). After all, don’t we see something of that thought in the wisdom of Proverbs?

The way of Jesus and the way of the cross seems counterintuitive, and to a certain point it is. In fact up front and on the surface it makes no sense at all. And especially so in worldly terms. Who would think that sacrificing one’s life for Christ and the gospel works well at all in terms of what the world holds dear or is running headlong after? But in terms of God’s kingdom come in Jesus, giving up one’s life for the sake of Christ and the gospel makes all the sense in the world. And it does work. So that it actually is pragmatic, but not at all in terms of the world’s value system, at least not up front. Ironically in the end it provides the very thing the world wants, while those who pursue this on their own, worldly terms lose it all.

A practical flaw of pragmatism which haunts us and our society is simply its setting aside of divine law and grace. Law is no longer so much what is right or true. After all, who can know what that is, anyhow? It is in terms of what works, what is workable, and what society accepts on both counts. So I can flout any notion of God’s law. And yet scripture tells us that we reap what we sow, that those who sow to please the flesh will reap destruction, while those who sow to please the Spirit will reap eternal life. And that this begins in this life. And grace. Pragmatism has very little or no room for that. But since God’s kingdom is present in this world in Jesus and is destined to take over such, we do see God’s goodness worked out from this grace or gift from God in Jesus. Even while the world still shakes its head and goes on in its way.

And so we might argue that pragmatism, the sense that meaning is derived from what works and not what is supposedly true, though off in its definition, since this is an and/both, not either/or proposition, does have a sliver of truth in that it works in the long run in and through Jesus. With the counter that it must be grounded in the Truth himself, Jesus.

Therefore I am not held hostage to any supposed empirical findings that say this or that works. Instead I with others seek to follow the one who went to the cross, to death with resurrection following. As we await the transformation of all things according to that, in and through Jesus.