Out and About

North Park Philosophy Academy, 1989

Three women and twenty-two men gathered in the President's Room at North Park College for the annual Philosophy Academy Meeting. Not all the people at the meeting were North Park Philosophy majors. Joining them were philosophy professors, Drs. Lindahl, Soneson, and Sebastyen, three undergraduates, and a few welcome guests.

What do philosophy majors do for a living? The answer can best be given in particulars. One markets things, another is an attorney, another runs a construction company, one is a counselor, another is a fourth grade teacher, another works with the legislature of his state to assist social service programs, one enforces environmental standards, another is a librarian, one teaches computer science, and another docs plumbing and heating. We all like to eat, talk, listen, and think.

Alan Illiff, computer science teacher at NPC and philosophy doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois, presented a paper, "Charles S. Peirce's Pragmatism as ExempliTied in His Life and Works and Some of Their Consequences." Peirce (1839-1914) was a scientist and mathematician as well as a philosopher.

Alan reviewed Peirce's life and accomplishments, told us of the importance of Peirce's theoretical work and mathematical logic for the development of computers and computer programs, and discussed Peirce's pragmatic maxim. Here is the pragmatic maxim: "Consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of those effects is the whole of our conception of the object." Sound pragmatic to you? In all due respect to Peirce's genius, I think he could have written a better first sentence. However, the difficulty may lie with me. If I take the punctuation seriously and read the sentence slowly, the sentence does convey the idea clearly.

My interest in Peirce had been aroused shortly before I learned the topic of the Academy Meeting. My friend, Bruce Carlson, poetry editor, gave me a copy of an article by Walker Percy, "The Divided Creature," in which Percy claims that a revival of Peirce is necessary and would help the human sciences get straightened out so that they can get us somewhere.

Percy writes that the Western World has yet to recover from Rene Descartes (1596-1650) who split mind and matter apart. Descartes said there are two distinct realities: one, the thinking self, or mind; the other, things outside the mind, or matter. He speculated that the meeting place of the two is the pineal gland of the human person. Descartes' thinking had a powerful influence and created a split, says Percy, which creates confusion and has been a liability. The human sciences have failed because they try to treat humans as objects like the physical sciences treat physical objects. This, observes Percy, ignores the reality that human beings speak. When speech occurs, something new is introduced.

Percy says that cause and effect in the physical sciences is dyadic: Two objects are involved. With humans, however, three things are involved. The subject — let us say you, the object — let us say a ball, and the word ball which you, and most people by age two, know means all balls in the universe. This thirdness, Peirce argues and Percy agrees, is essential to recognize if we are to understand human life. This third, which comes into being with a name or a word, Peirce sometimes calls the soul.

Alan's presentation was not on this theme. He gave us an overview of Peirce's life and career and focused on the mathematical and technological debt owed to Peirce. Both Alan and Elder Lindahl attended a Pence Conference at Harvard this summer to honor Peirce 150 years after his birth and to provide a forum for Peirce scholarship. Alan presented a paper at the conference. Recent Peirce scholarship, according to Dr. Lindahl, has focused on Peirce's mathematical work.

Because I was invited to be a respondent to Alan's paper, I read two of Peirce's essays: "How to Make Our Ideas Clear" and "The Fixation of Belief." Both articles made a lot of sense. I was impressed with Peirce's recognition of where we are when inquiry begins. We start in a state of belief. It is a mistake to think we can begin by doubting everything as Descartes proposed in his "Discourse on Method." (Poor Rene is a real villain in this scenario. He did all this damage and still lounged about in Sweden as the philosopher of the Queen). Peirce observes that at any give time in our lives there are many things we know and understand. Inquiry begins, he argues, when doubt in a particular belief or understanding we have hitherto held arises. The doubt is an "irritation" which forces us to think and to experiment until we can resolve the doubt with a new or more adequate belief.

It seems to me that whether the pragmatic position is ultimately satisfying philosophically or not, the difficulty we face presently in our world is that our concepts are not fully enough informed with respect to their practical effects. If our conceiving of the effects of a concept is limited to effects like whether we can we do something faster, make more things more efficiently, create a machine to do the work, or market it and make money, we have failed to be truly pragmatic and our "conception of the object" is deficient.

Perhaps it is the case that most of our thinking about problems is dyadic. For this reason, the spiritual and human aspects of issues are often overlooked. Rigorous physical cause and effect (dyadic) thinking applied to human life and culture ignores, often unaware, the spiritual dimension of human life — the "soul" — to say nothing of God.

If we were to be more truly pragmatic, we would consider the implications for human life of every increase in speed and every so-called increase in productivity. The fact that we have not seriously considered all the effects of the beliefs like more and faster are better is evidenced by our ecological danger. Speed, for example, may well have an effect on our social life and environment comparable to the effect the gasses we create by moving around so fast and so much have on the parts of the physical environment such as the ozone layer.

It seems as if the ideal for which we worldlings strive is to install a thermostat for the entire globe and to set it at room temperature. That idea, combined with the ideal of travelling anywhere we want in an instant, has deadly pragmatic implications.

Though Peirce's pragmatic maxim calls for our best efforts in conceiving our objects and questions, it seems to me that we have erred as a people in not conceiving adequately. Following the maxim does not guarantee the quality of the conception.

The values that have guided much of our pragmatism seem to be ease, control, speed, productivity, and information. These values are not evil but they are clearly partial. Overreliance on such values has brought the world and all its people to a dangerous pass — as dangerous as the long lived-with nuclear threat. Humans may refrain from using the bomb, but ecological disaster is inevitable unless we change our course. What can we do to take corrective action?

Two pragmatic thoughts come to mind. One, think more clearly and more pragmatically so that we consider the human impact of activities we engage in and, two, limit the risk we will expose ourselves to with regard to the implementation of a concept of which the human consequences are not well enough known or considered.

Now as Peirce suggests, this does not mean that everything is up for grabs; that we must question or stop everything. That approach would be to make the error of Descartes. We can and must deal with the problems that face us. In looking at these problems and in evaluating our technology and institutions, we have at our disposal the pragmatic maxim stated by Jesus, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." The critical question that can be derived from this maxim and applied to our living situations is: Who is in service of whom? Is the technology or the institution in the service of humans or are humans in their service?

An important practical step, I think, is to halt anything that is likely to increase American and world dependency upon cars and other polluting machines. It is time to stop building roads, especially super highways. Each proposed highway construction project always seems to be justified as a necessity. The burden of proof is usually on those who oppose expansion or upgrading, not on those who want to do it. It seems to me it would be pragmatic to reverse this tendency. Once a super highway is built, local life is inhibited. My latest experience of this is that I can no longer get across town on 35th street because of the Hiawatha Freeway which is being constructed. Perhaps it would be pragmatic to beware of progress in general but I think we can do better than that.

The most helpful book I have read on what is pragmatic socially, economically, and politically is Tools for Conviviality by Ivan Illich. I have mentioned him and this book previously in this column. Illich is a Mexican scholar, social thinker, and writer. He observes, among other things, that reversing the tendency to assume that speed and productivity are unchallengeable values is difficult because our dependence upon speed is already so great. But, I agree with him and many others, that it is necessary and pragmatic to slow down and to scale down if there is to be a future for human life. The faster the speed, the fewer the alternatives. It decreases the ability to change without stopping or without a catastrophe — oil spills, nuclear meltdowns, ozone layer erosion, pollution of land and water by fertilizers and pesticides, and so forth.

At the Philosophy Academy Meeting, discussion waxed late. Alan did an excellent job of fielding questions and providing information about Peirce and his thought to clarify our conceptions. One member passionately stated a plea to us to discuss metaphysics. He was tired, he said, of epistemology and the way in which the world is too much with us anyway. He likened reading metaphysics to the pleasure of reading poetry. On this particular evening, it was an idea to which little time was given to considering its pragmatic effects. But, it is an idea that probably could enhance the quality of our conceptions in the future.

Physical pragmatics at last prevailed, revealing the deep connection between mind and body, and we adjourned until next year, grateful that the Philosophy Academy has been established and maintained by our fine professors.

Church Planting Pietist Style

The preacher claimed that by marrying the couple he was planting a church. Perhaps this was because the groom was an ordained minister and the bride close to being one herself. However, the preacher did not speak of this marriage as distinct from other Christian marriages in the matter of church planting.

The scene of this church planting was Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, Minnesota, November 25, 1989. The bride, Kari Lindholm, took the groom, Timothy {Yak) Johnson, to be her lawfully wedded husband and vs-versa, bringing one of the longer and more famous bachelor pastorates in the Covenant fellowship to an end.

Tim has been the well loved pastor of the Haddam Neck, Connecticut Covenant Church for a decade. Kari was recently the church's intern pastor. Pastor Glen Wiberg, the preacher referred to above, himself — as is this reporter — a former Haddam Neck pastor, stated that as a result of this wedding coming to pass, "our cups are running over." He likened Tim's getting married to the Cubs winning the series. He observed that Kari had demonstrated that "love conquers all" and that her mission in Haddam Neck had been to "rescue the perishing." (These remarks remind the reporter of the more secular words of the late Dean of North Park Seminary, Glenn Anderson, to another bride in a somewhat similar situation, "Do you think you can put up with the old goat?")

The pastor observed that the church in the beginning was planted in homes and that churches were planted again in homes in Scandanavia in the 19th century conventicles. His message, to the couple and to us all, about the churches in our homes rang true, provided fresh vision, and reminded me of Peter Sandstrom's explications of Philip Jacob Spener's vision of the Christian church and home in the series of articles Peter has been writing for Pietisten. (In particular see "Spener's Proposal, Part II" by Peter in Volume III, Number 4, Winter 1988, pages 4 and 5.)

The pastor reminded the couple that the Bible says the church is present when two or three are gathered together — and as many more as "Providence and evangelical passion will allow!"

It seemed clear to those who were present that, in addition to the sermon, this new marriage got about as much blessing as could be given: excellent music, two pastors, Glen and Jack Kraaz, to tie the knot, four more, Phil Stenberg, Mark Bengston, Dick Lucco, and Tim Sporrang, to host communion, and the warm blessings of family and friends.

The editors and friends of Pietisten join the others in wishing blessing and happiness to Kari and Tim and in hoping that the church that has been planted will flourish in love.

The Rolling Stones

"A rolling stone gathers no moss." Thursday, November 30, Mick Jagger gathered not the least trace of moss as he strutted and paced the huge stage of the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome. He wasn't the only one down there on the stage rolling around, shaking, playing, and singing. The whole place vibrated with sound. Along with Pietisten's Sport Prophet Eric Johnson, recent contributor Donald Teed, and Audrey, Don's wife, I was among the more than 50,000 people who, like I, frequently felt the vibrations in my chest. Hearing music that created a physical vibration in my chest was a new experience for me.

The experience of this concert reminded me of some other experiences. In the Fall of 1957, as best I can recollect, I went on a double date to an Elvis Presley concert at the Stockyard Auditorium in Chicago. I was fresh from International Falls and the event was more than I could fathom or appreciate. Seventeen girls passed out when Elvis came on stage. The concert began with an unbelievable din of yelling and screaming. Everybody in the place climbed up on the folding chairs, straining to see and hear. Everybody, that is, except me. Other than a few excursions atop the chair to check things out, I sat looking at a sea of legs, waiting for the thing to be over.

In June or early July of 1960, I sat with my mother and a young girl from International Falls among 100,000 people or so in Soldier's Field in Chicago. While we listened to Billy Graham preach and George Beverly Shea sing, I was paging through Dillenberger and Welch, Protestant Christianity, trying to get some historical perspective on the situation. It was hot and a number of people fainted.

The crowd at the Rolling Stones Concert was exuberant and well behaved. Hostility was absent. The age span of the crowd ran from teenagers to people in their 40s and 50s who joined in their appreciation of the Rolling Stones. When the house lights went off, people cheered and thousands of cigarette lighters were lit throughout the Dome in anticipation. For a moment I imagined I was outside on a moonless night far from the lights of the city, looking at a heaven full of stars. Suddenly there was an explosion followed by a brilliant, blinding flash of light. Instantly before us were the Rolling Stones hammering out "Start Me Up." The crowd roared with appreciation.

Everyone whom I could see remained standing through the first third or so of the concert. From then on standing was optional. This time, while I stood, I stood willingly. It wasn't necessary to stand on chairs,t he concrete surface of the Metrodome's terraces provided relatively comfortable space to shake, sing, and shout. In the darkness, the aroma of a variety of burning weeds drifted by.

I knew only a few words of a few songs and, with a couple of exceptions, I was unable to distinguish the words as they were sung so I didn't have much of an idea what the rest of the crowd, who seemed to know the words, liked about them. I'm told the music itself is more significant than the words. I did my best in my ignorance to let myself go and get into the music and the spirit of the event.

Little that I can imagine was overlooked in making the concert spectacular. The sound system was magnificent and the use of lights was fantastic. The show included fireworks which I feared might ignite the domed ceiling. Sometimes, depending upon the lights, the stage seemed like it might be set just outside the entrance to Dante's Inferno. Most of the time it reminded me of a nighttime sighting of the oil refinery on Route 52 and 55 coming from Rochester or Hastings toward the Twin Cities.

There were three huge screens at strategic locations providing close ups of the performers. In this matter, the Covenant Annual Meeting in Tacoma was nearly abreast of the technology of the Metrodome. The difference at the Annual Meeting was one big screen compared to three here and no mobile cameras like the one that followed Mr. Jagger. Because preachers are less peripatetic than in the past, a mobile camera may be unnecessary at Annual Meetings.

There was one possibility I imagined that was not part of the technology. Looked at from a certain angle, one of the screens seemed like a hologram. When I discovered it was not, I wondered why a hologram was not used to bring the Rolling Stones, larger than life, next to each of us. Perhaps the producers did not use a hologram out of deference to the doctrine of incarnation. We might then ignore the flesh, blood, and sweat of the Rolling Stones.

Huge crowds like this puzzle me. Why do 100,000 people turn out to hear Billy Graham — even if it was free? Why did more than 50,000 people pay $32 for a ticket to see and hear the Rolling Stones on Wednesday night and another 50,000, including me, do the same on Thursday night? In these instances did people come because they knew they would be accepted and given a blessing? If you have an answer or answers for these questions, please let us know. PJ

Sport Report

Text: "Bodily exercise profiteth little." Paul of Tarsus.

Motto: The real game is the game you're in.

Taken properly, the motto of our Sport Report is a citadel that can withstand any assailants. Ask a coach and he or she will tell you, "You gotta play one game at a time." In a different vein, the football game four boys play across three front lawns, ours in the middle, is as real as the Super Bowl. The game of Hop Scotch played by girls and boys in International Falls is as real as the game they wish the high school football team would play for the state championship.

Though the doctrine stands firm, there are those who assail it and deny its truth. They think it is ridiculous to compare the Super Bowl to Hop Scotch. After all, you can build an economy around a Super Bowl game.

So what? Who says playing in the super bowl is any more fun? Hop Scotch can be played for an entire lifetime. Games are not made real from the outside. Fans are not required and no money is necessary for a real game. Children all over the world play games without needing anything more than their situation and their imaginations. This does not mean that structures for games are irrelevant — leagues, tournaments, playing fields or courts, and so forth. The particulars are essential. But "big" games are no more real than "little" games.

People easily fall into error on one side of the doctrine or the other. On one side, we may improperly deflate the value of the game we are in or, on the other, improperly inflate the value of the game we are in. The first is stated: the only real games are the big ones others are in. The second: the only real game is the one I am in.

Our motto has scriptural support. In II Corinthians 10:12 we read, "They, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise." We note that this statement has to do with wisdom not morality. Comparison gets one only so far. The Apostle's remark is directed against those who would "commend" themselves by comparison. Commending oneself fails because there is always somebody or something that is greater than we are. If we compare, we set ourselves up for strife, pride, or despair. In particular, more or less real cannot be established by comparison.

Ingemar, the young Swedish boy in the movie "My Life as a Dog" makes a different use of comparison. He says, "It's important to have things to compare with." His plight is difficult and he keeps getting into jams. To help himself he thinks of plights worse than his, like that of the poor dog, Laika, riding through space in Sputnik until he ran out of food and eventually starved to death or like the fan at a track meet who got a javelin through his chest.

Comparisons like this are different from comparisons by which we commend ourselves or try to establish our personal worth in relation to others. Even in Ingemar's case, though, the consolation provided is limited. It may help but it won't save.

The difficulty arises for me not because the doctrine, "the real game is the game you're in," is untrue but because of my failures of faith.

The motto can be expanded to state: "The real life is the life you are living." Again, the truth of the motto cannot be successfully assailed. But faith is another matter. The devil works at us to get us to think, as in the case of games, that only our life is real or, the opposite, only the lives of others are real: only the wealthy and famous, only the successful person, only the pastor of the great church is really a pastor, or only the big growing church is really a church. That type of thinking would have us understand that life is lived, measured, and valued only in the overview — from the outside. That is not true. Life is lived from the inside out. Right? 'Lord I believe. Help thou my unbelief!"

Since our last issue, we have agonized over the Viking offense, have regarded ourselves lucky that we did not establish expectations for either the Gopher or the NP Viking football teams (both did better than expected, confirming the wisdom of our Epicurean approach in these instances — see Sport Report last issue) and we have played many real games of basketball in one of the oldest and smaller gyms in Minneapolis. It is the 2nd floor gym of the Peoples' Center (enter by knocking on the fire escape door), which was once Riverside Presbyterian Church and then, for a time, the home of Trinity Lutheran Church as well. Sheldon Torgeson, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church to this day, and Martin Sabo, Augsburg College graduate and U.S. Congressman from the Minnesota Fifth District, are alumni of the games in this gym. A few of us have been playing real games there for more than 20 years.

It costs a buck and a half to play. Our games take place from 10 to 12 on Saturday mornings between volleyball and karate. A couple of us are trying to maintain our skills and condition in anticipation of the opening of the Bethlehem Pietist Viking season.

For fear of further charges of being sectarian and a traitor by some of our readers (see Sport Correspondence, Vol. III, No. 4) we refrain from comment on the Notre Dame season. We have watched the Timberwolves struggle. We found ourselves in a new situation wavering between two points of view when we watched the Wolves and the Celtics.

Congratulations to Coach Don Nehlen and his West Virginia Mountainers on another fine season. Finally, we were disappointed that the International Falls Broncos were beaten in the playoffs by one point by the Minnesota Class A Football runner up. The trouble with real games is that they require real losses. PJ