Saturday, May 06, 2006

Peregrinating Pragmatists

Ralph Waldo Emerson, William James, Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr, Richard Rorty, Stanley Fish... According to Professor Roger Lundin, theregoes the apostolic succession (with varying degrees of adherence) to the American "tradition of disavowing tradition, [which] worships whatever unknown gods adaptive individuals are able to fashion out of their experience alone." Lundin suggests the tradition continues in American pragmatism, that "product of the American universities of the 19th and 20th centuries, and as such... defined by the practices of the seminar and sheltered under the umbrella of tenure."

Drawing from Menand's The Metaphysical Club, Lundin explains that for the pragmatist,
"democratic participation isn't the means to an end...; it is the end. The purpose of the experiment is to keep the experiment going... and the end of all our activity is to sustain an activity that has no end beyond itself, no point beyond its own pointlessness. On these terms, a healthy conversation will never lead to a repentant turning, a decisive metanoia [repentance], but only to evermore satisfying perspectival gazing, and endless round of theoria."
Lundin's tone is charitable, but his alternative clear.
"In first-century Athens, the Apostle Paul covered similar ground with the Epicurian and Stoic philosophers. They too were masters of discourse in a world sealed off from divine intervention. Paul's response to what he discovered in skeptical Athens was simple and direct. After having offered the briefest of summaries of Jewish history and early Christian theology, he concluded, 'While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent' (metanoia).
Of course not all listened, "but a number of those who did no doubt found the rules of the game, and the direction of their conversations, changed forever."

Notice, by the way, Lundin does not say the conversation ends. It continues, even eternally... for knowing just who this "unknown God" is makes for a much more enduring conversation than was the case when it was anybody's guess.