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In the News: Pragmatism VS Idealism
By Stan Cox on Jan 04, 2012

I am not particularly fond of politics, but I have been casually following the debates and campaigns of the Republican candidates for the Presidency. Many are aware that for a time Newt Gingrich had enjoyed a lead in the polls, as the Iowa Caucuses neared. However, political analysts believe that a series of attack ads by a political group that is backing Mitt Romney led to a change of sentiment by voters, and a disappointing 4th place finish for Gingrich in Iowa.

Gingrich has been very civil toward other candidates during debates and campaigning, taking the high road, and eschewing negative campaigning to this point. He has called for other candidates to do the same. However, indications are that things have changed. After his disappointing finish, Gingrich has made clear that he will begin to be more pointed in his criticism of Romney’s policies and history as governor of Massachusetts.

So, why has Gingrich backtracked on what he claimed was a matter of principle for him in running a positive campaign? Simple pragmatism. The positive campaigning wasn’t working, so now he is changing his tactics in an attempt to gain supporters by casting his opponents in a negative light.

The term pragmatic is defined by Webster: “Dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations.” It is a philosophy that has gained ascendancy in our society in many areas. Governance is high on the list of arenas where pragmatism is preeminent. Because we live in a democracy, there is always the necessity of first getting elected before being able to govern. Then, there is the reality of our adversarial system, and the checks and balances built into our government institutions. This leads to the election of people who are willing to compromise to get things done, and who believe that the end justifies the means. There certainly is a place in this world for compromise and pragmatism. It is interesting, though, that we clamor for politicians with integrity and strong convictions, and yet seldom elect them. Instead, duplicity and compromise are the norm.

Is there a spiritual application? Surely! While the Christian faith is certainly effective in accomplishing its purpose (the salvation of souls), it is most certainly not pragmatic. It is, rather, idealistic.

Rather than fighting back, the Christian is taught to turn the other cheek (cf. Matthew 5:39). Rather than looking out solely for self, he is admonished to look out for the interests of others (cf. Philippians 2:3-4). Rather than plotting the ruin of an opponent, he is told to return evil with good (cf. Romans 12:21). Rather than responding to angry words in kind, he is told that a soft answer turns away wrath (cf. Proverbs 15:1).

Consider the example of our Lord himself. Concerning Jesus, Peter wrote, “who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten…” (1 Peter 2:23).

The basis of this idealism is the Holy Spirit’s concept of love. There is nothing pragmatic about love. Love is idealistic, and the Christian must be as well. Paul wrote, “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Pragmatism has its place, but as Christians we must maintain our idealistic love for God, His righteousness, and mankind. This is what our idealistic Lord and Savior requires!

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