Wednesday, May 21, 2014

On Stereotypes

Consider the following:

  • All Canaries are Yellow Things (All A is B)
  • Therefore All Yellow Things are Canaries (All B is A)

Ridiculous right? There are far too many examples where a yellow thing is NOT a canary to make this claim true.


Just because all A is B, it does not mean all B is A

But I have noticed that many people make a similar error when it comes to claims about Christianity.  They do so by arguing:

  • All Fundamentalists are Christian
  • Therefore all Christians are Fundamentalists.

There are two problems with this claim (notice I said "a similar error", not "the same error").

First, Fundamentalism is an example of equivocal (open to more than one interpretation; ambiguous) language. Some use it to mean a person who interprets the Bible in a literalistic sense in all aspects—for example, belief in a six day creation and that the Earth is about 6,000 years old. Others use it as an accusation of rigid thinking, refusing to consider other views.

Second, both definitions can be applied to groups other than Christianity. There can be Fundamentalist Muslims in both senses of the word, for example. Moreover any system of thought can have adherents who are rigid and refuse to consider other points of view.

So the claim that all Fundamentalists are Christians is not true in either sense. Not all literalists are Christian and not all rigid thinkers  are Christian.

Moreover, not all Christians are Fundamentalist in either sense of the word. For example, Catholics do not believe every part of Scripture was written with the intent of being a literal description of history and science. Nor do Catholics insist only one form of thinking is valid. There have been Catholic scientists and philosophers seeking to grow in understanding about God's creation—and a lot more than people seem to think. The Church has no objection to science—merely to ideology masquerading as science and going beyond what science is competent to say.

So actually, the result is that one can neither say "All Fundamentalists are Christian" nor say "All Christians are Fundamentalist" in either sense of the term. The statements "not all Fundamentalists are Christian" and "not all Christians are Fundamentalist" contradict the ALL assertion.

Some A is B

Not All A is B. Not All B is A

So, why is this important?

Well "Fundamentalist" is often used by people as a pejorative term, claiming that those given the Fundamentalist label are narrow minded thinkers who refuse to consider any view but their own. The unspoken corollary is that if they were not Fundamentalists, then they would not hold the views that they do.

Ironically, that in itself sounds like an example of rigid thinking refusing to consider other views. That kind of labeling does not consider the possibility that the views challenging Christian belief were examined and found wanting. As GK Chesterton pointed out, “It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.”

That brings us to our problem. The attempt to link a position of narrow-mindedness to Christianity because Christianity considers some actions wrong is an essentially an example of what CS Lewis called Bulverisms—attempting to show WHY Christianity is supposed to be wrong instead of actually showing that Christianity IS wrong.

Now there are (unfortunately) some Christians who approach their faith in a rigid, closed minded way. There are also African American felons, Arab terrorists and Hispanic illegal aliens.  But, there are also felons who are not African Americans, terrorists who are not Arabs and Illegal aliens who are not Hispanic.

More importantly, there are African Americans who are NOT felons, Arabs who are NOT terrorists and Hispanics who are NOT illegal aliens.


This meme works as humor because it takes a stereotype and shows how wrong it can be

In other words, the fact that some members of a group possess a negative trait does not mean that all members of the group possess that negative trait. Nor does that fact that some members of the group do not possess that trait mean that they reject the ways of the group.

Now many people today recognize the truth about stereotypes about different groups being repugnant. So I find it ironic that many of those people who fight these stereotypes about ethnic groups are willing to make the same stereotype about Christians.

When we speak about the moral obligations to do good and avoid evil, many people who disagree with our positions are willing to assume that we are narrow-minded, intolerant people who hold our positions simply because we refused to accept their conclusions.

So ask yourself, do you think are all Christians are homophobic because of the offensive actions of the Westboro Baptist Church in picketing funerals? Do you think that the opposition of the Catholic Bishops to the contraception mandate is a "war on women"? If you do, then you DO hold stereotypes because these positions either try to lump us into a stereotype through guilt by association or else they assume we hold a position out of rigid thinking because we disagree with you.

The antidote is to drop these stereotypes and seek to understand why we believe what we do. Until one does that, they cannot accurately condemn us for holding our beliefs.

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