Go to: => TOP Page;   What's New? Page;   ROAD MAP;    Search Page;   Emmaus Ministries Page


Pragmatism
& the Wedding of the Good to the Right

F. Earle Fox

Pragmatism

Western culture is awash in doubt about good and evil.  We hardly know what to do with the subject, and so retreat back to good ol' practical pragmatism -- what works.   The principle is that the end justifies the means, leading to terrible things when the "end" is itself evil.  You can often detect the end, the goal, by watching the means -- because if the end is what is justifying the means, they will be connected in their nature.   Evil ends will justify evil means. 

So, the problem with "what works" is that it always relies on some assumption about what works for some unmentioned person or group -- who may not at all have your good in mind.  The Nazis were pragmatists, but not much help to the Jews. 

God is a pragmatist.  He is the Original Pragmatist.  He is a purposive God and knows how to get where He wants to get.  He is the only pragmatist who will absolutely accomplish his aims.  None of the rest of us can brag that way -- unless we join Him.  His will will get done.  So if we make His will ours, then we too will succeed.  100%. 

There is no person whom God does not love -- to the amazing degree illustrated by Jesus Christ.  No one else can say that.  God, and God alone, knows  how to create a community where people, all of them, really do love one another. 

The Right... & Wrong

But there is another distinction between us and God.  God is the creator of all things -- and we are the creatures.  And therefore He, and only He, can decide the reason for the existence of all things -- He is the one who gave all things their existence -- because He created with a reason (intelligent design).   Our reason for existence is the only basis for morality, for discerning that which is right, that which is obligatory.   We have either obligations or rights only under the law and grace of God. 

If there is no Creator, then there can be no reason for existence, and hence no morality, no right or wrong.   Life is then all power struggle -- survival of the fittest.   Fittest for what?  for surviving.  No obligations and no rights.   Just a moral free-for-all, or rather... a moral free fall. 

The "right" then is the obligatory, that which we "ought" to do, a command.  The "wrong" would be any willful violation of our obligations -- i.e., sin. 

The Good... & Evil

Often use 'good' and 'right' interchangeably, but here we will be making a distinction between the two.  I will be using the word 'good' to mean, both personally and socially, that which enhances life, that which makes life flourish and joyful, that which enables people to get along peacefully, and to share themselves with one another without fear of predators or manipulators. 

When we are doing that, when we are helping each other promote life in that way, we are loving one another.   'Agape' is the New Testament word for that kind of love.   

Evil, the opposite of good, then, would be anything which undermines or destroys life.  

But by itself, the good is just another "good idea", not an obligation, and thus not the same as the 'right' as defined above.  No one is obligated to love me.  I have no "right" to be loved.  So, if we are loved and taken care of, we just happen to be lucky. 

The Wedding of the Good to the Right

However, when Jesus made loving our neighbor as we love ourselves (agape) the second highest commandment in the cosmos (see Matthew 22:34 ff.), He united the "good" (that which promotes life) with the "right" (the obligatory). 

By the second highest law in the cosmos, God thus made the good an obligation.  Every human being in the world is obligated to love you like he loves himself.  God says loving and being loved are no longer matters of luck or personal opinion, we are commanded to love one another.  We are all obligated to love one another at any cost to ourselves -- the best of all possible worlds.    Only God can wed the good with the right. 

Therefore, the means which we use toward our end will be governed by that goal of love.  Love does not permit an unloving means.  So, given the right understanding, the end does indeed justify the means.  What else could?  The problem is getting the right end to do the justifying.  What does the justifying will also do the condemning.  Love condemns any unloving means.  That is the natural logic of morality. 

That being so, there is one, and only one, way for us to move toward that which most people appear to want -- a society in which we take care of each other, with both discipline and compassion, at any cost to ourselves.   We must acknowledge God as Lord and Savior. 

If you want to be a successful pragmatist, follow Jesus on the Way of the Cross.  Because God Himself is loving, and commands love from us, consistent use of loving means will always produce, in the end, a loving result. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Go to: => TOP Page;   Ethics;   Spiritual Life;   Politics;   ROAD MAP