Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Reflections on Dualistic (Either-Or) Thinking

One of the problems with American thinking is that it tends to be dualistic – either X or Y – when it comes to criticism.  If one criticizes X it is assumed that one supports Y and vice versa.  That is a problem in America where as of late it seems that neither X nor Y is in the right and both must be opposed.  So, for example, Americans are given the argument of: Either pro-"gay marriage" or "homophobic" and opposition to one is automatically seen as endorsement of the other.

This is why one sees the Matthew Sheppard case invoked as a justification of so-called "gay marriage" while opponents of this are vilified as supporting his barbaric murder.  The assumption is if one does not support "gay marriage" one must be homophobic.  But if one rejects both homophobia and "gay marriage," then the accusation is false.

Unfortunately, this dualistic thinking seems to show up in people who observe the Church as well, where a thing can be both-and instead of either-or.  Praise Pope Francis and his simplicity, for example, and it tends to come off as a rebuke of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and his more formal liturgies – and vice versa.  It seems that not many people consider the possibility of both Popes doing what was right before God with different accents.  Neither one contradicted Church teaching nor lived in a way which demonstrated opposition to Christ and His Church.

Either-Or thinking can be fallacy if (among other things):

  1. Neither Option is true (neither A nor B)
  2. Both options are compatible (Both A and B)
  3. There are more unconsidered options (I choose Option C)

In other words, we have to look at what is asked and consider whether A and B are contradictory (if one is true, the other must be false) and whether A and B are the only options to choose from (choose from only A or B).

This is a problem with how the political and media elites view the Church today.  They consider a certain policy to be essential for the good of mankind.  Thus any opposition to this policy must be considered hostile towards the good of mankind.  Thus the venom spewed against the Church over opposition to contraception, abortion and the like.

But the Church considers the good of man to extend beyond life on Earth and must look at our existence on Earth in light of our existence after death.  If certain behaviors will harm our life after death, it is reasonable she might oppose a behavior which may seem beneficial in the short term but harmful in terms of our ultimate goal.

Now some may object that this is imposing beliefs on a person who does not believe life extends beyond death.  But when one thinks about it, such an argument is actually an attempt by the person who does not believe life extends beyond death to impose their beliefs on the person who does.

If it is wrong to impose beliefs on others, then the person who attacks Christianity as "bigoted" is guilty of imposing their beliefs on others.  Why?  Because they argue Either-Or in such a way that one must be contradictory to the other.  If one argues "either you [tolerate views you disagree with] or you're [a bigot]" then under the argument they make, they must either tolerate the Christianity they dislike or accept the label of bigot.

Since they argue the either-or, they are caught up in the trap they make for the Christian.

Christianity, on the other hand, does not argue by the either-or fallacy (though some Christians do).  The Church recognizes that sin is contrary to following Christ and so every sin must be condemned as wrong.  But the Church also recognizes that Christ commanded that we go out to seek out the lost and tell them of the salvation Christ brings.  The individual sought out may accept or reject the message of salvation, but we're forbidden to just write off a person as being beyond redemption, and certainly the Christian who goes out to bring the Good News to people must consider his or her own behavior in presenting the Truth of Jesus Christ.

In other words, jerks exist among all groups of people – even among Christians.

So, we need to recognize that there is objective truth which we must live in accordance with to know, love and serve God.  Unfortunately, we need to be aware of the fact that some rejection of Christianity is the result of some Christians presenting the Christian message in a way that offends.  God knows the heart of the person and knows the motives for rejection of those who will not follow what He commands.  His judgments will take these things into account.

But despite the fact that some Christians are jerks in presenting the teaching of Christ, does not change the objective truth of His teaching of how we are called to live.

It would be an either-or fallacy to assume "Either [all Christians are nice] or [Christianity is false].

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