Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Dogmatism vs Pragmatism

C. S. Lewis said that there are two things that go into deciding political issues. The first is the question of what goals are right and what means to achieve those goals are lawful. The second is which of those lawful means are practical. He also contends that it is on the first matter that Christianity clearly speaks, but not the second. I would agree with him. But having stated that, we are faced with two dangers. We can take what seems to us to be the best way to a good goal and equate it with that goal and make that way itself into a Christian obligation. Or we can look at things so much in terms of what is practical that we become so pragmatic we never get around to actively advocating what we think is right. How do we avoid these extremes?     

We need to be clear on what Scripture requires and the conclusions we draw from it. I am convinced that Scripture teaches all human life is valuable, including life in the womb, and it is wrong to take innocent human life (Psalms 139:13-16; 51:5; Exodus 20:13). But there can be differences about what methods to use and what steps to take to change our society’s current disregard of this. Now this one is fairly straightforward, but it can get more complicated. Scripture also teaches it is our duty to help those in need (Leviticus 19:10; Deuteronomy 15:7-11; Proverbs 14:21). But there are all sorts of questions on what is the best way to carry this out. And we have to ask, is the government the best agent to do this? Therefore, we need to be careful to think through what things are clearly required of us and not confuse our opinions with the commands of God.

However, we must be careful not to lapse into pragmatism on the other extreme, advocating only what is popular or what would appear to work. God does call for government to reflect genuine justice (Romans 13:1-4; Proverbs 14:34; 1 Peter 2:13,14). But it is easy to fall into this mode, particularly in our current society. The emphasis is frequently on what is in it for me, what will meet my selfish needs. Even if we hold to ideals, it is easy to put to them on the sidelines and look only at what seems to work. But there is a place where we must stand up for what we believe is right, even if it means offending people. And for that, we need a clear idea of what is right and wrong, not a fuzzy one that encourages us to look simply to our own interests rather than what is right. We need to make our way between political dogmatism and political pragmatism to find what God commands.

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