Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Temporal Pragmatism, Or the Futility of Utility

"Our marriage works. I'm happy, my husband is happy, we submit to each other and our two children are well-behaved. What could possibly be wrong with that?"

The temporal pragmatism of Contemporary Evangelical Egalitarianism is a comforting picture, is it not? It conjures up the beautiful image of . . .no. On second thought, it conjures up a world of greys. A world of partners, equal partners with no distinctions outside of mere biology and individual personality. There is no eternal drama of man and woman, no blending of melody and harmony. No recognition of the titanic impact of two sexes, coming together in the one flesh relationship of marriage. It's vanilla. And not even the good kind of vanilla with real flecks of vanilla bean throughout.

But, they say, we have a great marriage that works.

Oddly, even when I was an Egalitarian, I recognized something of the flatness of it all. Even though I was (mostly) convinced that this was how God wanted it, I recognized there was a sort of boring sameness, a workmanlike stewardship of individuals as mere individuals. And I really didn't have much desire for marriage. Why had I any need of a husband? I could walk forward on my own.

But what seems to work in the here and now, the everyday world is not always to our eternal advantage. This was one of the problems I struggled with, having been directed towards Utilitarianism and John Stuart Mill by my advisor when I was a student at Denver Seminary. For some years I tried to push a square peg into a round hole. I nudged this, adjusted that, try to shave off that corner, etc. But I could never, ever manage to make Utilitarianism and Christianity meet for anything other than a glancing blow.

The problem with both Utilitarianism and Egalitarianism's temporal pragmatism is that they don't go far enough. The sort of happiness each has as its goal is only temporal, temporary, at best it lasts the length of their sojourn on this earth -- but it will never carry them into eternal happiness. If they make it there, it isn't because of their Egalitarianism, it is in spite of it.


Michael said...

"What could possibly be wrong with that?"

Their pragmatism is supposed to be seen as fine, but if someone else says complementarianism works, too -- that option is no good in their view. It's abusive by definition, and theirs becomes the only acceptable way.

Sally Thomas said...

Well, and you have to ask, "What if it STOPS working?" If "it works" is the argument for, does that mean that if it for some reason ceases to "work," the marriage is over, null and void? That does make it easy to walk away, in that vague, depressing, "Oh, it just didn't work any more" kind of way, because the marriage itself isn't a theological entity or sign for any reality larger than itself -- it's just an arrangement.

Kamilla said...


You know, that's what the "Emergents" do. Rob Bell is one of the leaders of that supposedly Evangelical Christian movement. In talking about their purpose in going out on their own, etc. his wife has been widely quoted as, "Church just stopped working for me."

Methinks they've never heard of the Long Dark Night of the Soul.