Rebel Against Pragmatism

So to review…rebellion is not a negative thing, per se. Rebellion simply for the sake of rebellion is irrational. But rebellion which is inspired by a desire to improve, to solve a problem, to make this a better place…that kind of rebellion is necessary for the progress of humanity.

In the last post I talked about the menace of mediocrity—being content with an ordinary life because that is what everyone else is doing.

Now I want to discuss pragmatism, which, in my mind, is the most pernicious and pervasive philosophical error in our culture. “Pragmatism: An approach that assesses the truth of meaning of theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application.” Postmodernism says that we define truth for ourselves, truth is subjected to our opinions, it is not an objective reality outside of ourselves. Pragmatism, in a similar way, twists truth by subjecting it to practicality. To the pragmatist, whatever works must be right and true. Most people would agree that this is a flawed approach to truth, but not many people realize how deeply it is entrenched in our society. For instance…

“Why do you write?” Not because it makes me rich. Not because it is a successful career. I write because I love words and I couldn’t live without expressing myself through words. I write because it is who I am. And the response is, “well, can you find a publisher or make money from it somehow?” Why is that the typical response of the non-writer to the writer? Because they have a difficult time comprehending how one can spend so much time and energy for something that isn’t pragmatically successful. There are generally not tangible results from writing. So the pragmatist assumes it is a waste of time and wonders why the writer doesn’t spend their efforts in a more useful endeavor.

“Why do you study?” Not because I want a piece of paper so I can go get a job that I probably won’t like anyways. Not because I want to climb higher on the corporate ladder and earn more money so I can keep on climbing. I study because I love learning and the pursuit of knowledge. Someone may respond like, “But of what use is all this intellectual and obscure knowledge?” Maybe it isn’t practical right now, maybe it will never be practical, but there is more to this world than practicality.

So these are just two examples of pragmatic responses that I have experienced. I’m always a little taken aback when someone asks me a question like, “um…what exactly is the use of that?” or “how is that going to help you?” because it is like trying to condense the universe into a shallow maxim. How can you describe the universe in one sentence? How much will have to be left out! How can you describe the usefulness of this beautiful earth? How demeaning it is to reduce this rich, complex existence into a glib statement of utility.

Do we live in a pragmatic world? Imagine a world with all the “superfluous” aesthetically pleasing elements gone. Pragmatism is an ugly thing. Why have flowers with different colors? Why have flowers at all? Why have so many different varieties of animals? Surely it would have been more practical to reduce the complexity of the world. Why did God create such a vast universe? Wouldn’t it have worked better if the world was simpler? While this is speculation, I wonder what compelled God to keep on creating a universe so vast we have yet to reach the edges? Maybe it was the sheer pleasure of forming another star, another planet, another galaxy, another solar system, not because it was “useful” but because it was beautiful.

Wouldn’t it have been more practical for God to condemn the entire human race to eternal judgement after Adam fell? And why did He plan redemption the way He did? It was hardly efficient to spend 3,000+ years giving the world these mere glimpses into His plan, revealing salvation bit by bit, through so many complicated types, shadows, and symbols? And for Christ to come to earth and live for 30 years before He began His actual ministry. Not very efficient or pragmatic! The death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus wasn’t very pragmatic. It was drawn out, each moment heavy with the symbolism of the Old Testament. Yet this was richer. More beautiful. More meaningful. We do not serve a pragmatic God who subjects absolute truth to the scrutiny of “practicality.”

So maybe we should spend less time judging this world pragmatically and more time rejoicing in the bountiful expressions of God’s grace and love of beauty around us.

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