Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 31, 1958
NUMBER 13, PAGE 1,7a

Pragmatism, Progressive Education, The Social Gospel, Current Trends (II.)

Robert Atkinson, Hattiesburg, Mississippi

The spiritually unhealthy effect of the materialistic philosophy of Pragmatism in respect to its influence on public education was shown in the previous article. Like Pilate, Pragmatism asks skeptically, "What is truth?' And the Pragmatist's answer is, "Whatever best suits the individual and society in a particular situation, with respect to their general welfare, is truth." While this may sound good, it should be understood that it clearly denies the existence of any eternal truths or God-given values and is subtly pernicious in its application. Harry S. Proudy, in his book Building A Philosophy Of Education, he dares that the truth (as Christians regard it) is found to be wholly inadequate to handle many of life's situations. He cites an hypothetical example of an angry man, holding a shotgun in readiness, bursting into his home and asking if "Bill" is in the house. Although Bill is there Proudy asserts he would lie and declare he wasn't there because the truth would be harmful to Bill and society. Because his lie met the situation better than the truth would have (Proudy asserts), his "lie" became "truth.' This idea is as old as Abraham who felt that circumstance justified his representing his wife to be only his sister. (Gen. 12:13.) But the Lord demonstrated powerfully that it would have been better for all concerned (society) for Abraham to have told the whole truth (Gen 12:17-20.) Actually Proudy resorts to sophistry in his example, for other recourses were open to him. For example, he might have ignored the question and attempted to reason with the man. In any event, Christians could not hold to Pragmatism here, for Christians believe in authoritative morality (God-given) and believe that God knows what is best for society. By faith, Christians, if they spoke, would tell the truth for they are forbidden to lie. (Col. 3:9.) They would trust God to help them make the best of the situation. They would not do evil in the hope that good might come. When Jesus lifted up his eyes and addressed the Father shortly before His crucifixion, He said, "... Thy word is truth." (Jno. 17:17.) True Christians accept this without reservation and govern the activities of life accordingly.

Now, extending Pragmatic Philosophy to the realm of institutions, pragmatists maintain that the worth of institutions, or their right to exist, should be judged solely on their total contribution to society. For an institution to exist, or come into existence, and demand support and obedience, it must make life better for earthly society. They further maintain that no institution can accomplish this end unless it continually changes as society continually changes. The Pragmatist theorizes that the irresistible force of "change" (Darwin's evolutionary concept of the word) will cause the decease of unchanging, primarily non-social institutions, because only the fit will survive. Thus, no spiritual factor would be considered in evaluating an institution's right to exist. If an institution is not primarily concerned with man's constantly changing needs, it has no real worth, no right to exist, according to the Pragmatist.

Concerning the institutions of men, we need not quarrel with the above concept, in most instances. The exceptions would be any changes which might violate any moral or doctrinal laws of God. Dewey's Education And Democracy, published in 1916, applied the principles of Pragmatism (often referred to by Dewey as Instrumentalism) to education. He argued that since education is life rather than just preparation for life, it should include a wide range of experiences common to the current generation. Students learn from the consequences of their experiences what things are good or had for current society and are thus made fit for society. So experimental activity under "controlled freedom" (the type of freedom we have in a democracy) is the aim of Progressivism. Progressivists insist that the school's aims, curriculum, and teaching methods must break with tradition and change to meet the needs of individual students in relation to current society. This writer acknowledges the practical worth of Progressive Education insofar as it is shorn of its atheistic or infidel conclusions and demoralizing values. For example, changing the curriculum to include Driver Education fills a need of our society and does not violate any law of God. But changing it to include dancing is objectionable from a moral viewpoint. We have gone into this matter at length to emphasize that, within limits, changes in organization, aims, and practices in human educative institutions, as well as other human institutions, are right and necessary. But that does not argue that such changes are right and necessary for the church of Christ, a divine institution. Moreover, we challenge the idea that the church must or should be evaluated on the basis of its social contributions. Such changes and evaluations will destroy the church as a divine institution with a spiritual purpose.

The concept that every institution must constantly change its organization, work, and aims is the seed of apostasy and the essence of denominationalism. The concept that all institutions must be evaluated on the basis of their contributions to the social welfare is the foundation of the social gospel.

If James were alive today, he would probably be the first to admit that his volume on Pragmatism simply restated and arranged old ideas. In fact, the complete title of the first edition implied as much. But many consider it to be new and are captivated by its "brave" approach to life and its practical worth. We should not be so deceived. Darwin's Theory of Evolution underlies James' statement of Pragmatism and Dewey's educative application of it. The theory's fundamental principle, constant change, is applied to truth. This is the key which unlocks the door and allows us to look beyond the "brave new world" front. The ugly monster behind the door is not new. The philosophy of Pragmatism is simply the "modernism" of the ages emerging with a "face-lift" which makes its appearance more attractive to man. This philosophy is but another hopeless, materialistic attempt to eliminate God (Eternal Truth) and thereby make man responsible only to himself as he lives in an organized society. A product of the historic "Spirit Of Scientific Inquiry," a movement in which man's pride and vanity are much in evidence, it rejects "everything which cannot be proved in the laboratory." Its appeal is found in that it "elevates" man from a dependent creature to an independent organism. The Apostle Paul warned, "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." (Col. 3:9.) We shall now show that many have not heeded this warning and have been taken "spoil" by this philosophy, or at least, by many of the erroneous ideas upon which it is based.

Something Is Blocking This Margin!!!!!

Sectarians eliminate Authority - Higher - Than - Man (God) from their churches when they make provision to change the structure of their churches through creeds, conferences, and conventions. According to them, man is a law unto himself; he decides how he shall worship, how the church shall be organized, etc., rather than to leave these matters to God. Some of the creeds wherein they remove authority from God and delegate it to themselves actually use some of the key words of Pragmatism to express the same ideas. For example, the Methodist Discipline states:

"...the Church, in the liberty given to it by the Lord (no Scriptural authority for such liberty cited, RA) and taught by the experience (emphasis mine, RA) of many years, and by the study of ancient and modern Churches, has from time to time modified ("change" concept, emphasis mine, RA) its Discipline in order to secure the end for which it was founded." (Methodist Discipline, 1908, p. 3)

The fact that such provisions for change were sometimes made before James developed and arranged a formal statement of Pragmatism as a philosophy does not argue that some of its erroneous ideas could not have been held and applied before his time. Indeed, we are showing that they were. Moreover, sectarians side with James, Dewey, Kilpatrick, and other infidels, in objection to "blind-folded morality." They refuse to believe that God has revealed all that is morally best for man. They change the practices and moral laws of their churches to coincide with the modern needs, practices, and demands of the current society of man. Thus, it matters not that Jesus said, concerning marital status, "Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery . . ." (Matt. 19:9.) They bow to social demands, based on man's experiences, and in their conferences add many more exceptions to the lone "except" of Jesus. No "blind-folded morality" for them. Dancing, shunned and condemned in their churches in past generations as a work of the flesh, is now encouraged and sponsored by their churches, on no better grounds than that it is now socially acceptable. These examples, showing how denominations vest authority in the consequences of man's experiences in society, rather than in God's Eternal Word, could be extended indefinitely, but these will suffice. They show conclusively that denominationalism denies the completeness of the church and the perfection of the Word of God and that they subscribe to the erroneous essentials of the philosophy of Pragmatism.

(To Be Continued)