Friday, March 8, 2019


Lately, in discussion of politics and Church teaching, we’re seeing a notable increase in what I call “deflection.” By this I mean:

1) A proposal is made to deal with issue X.
2) In response, someone points out issue Y is also an issue and demands it get equal billing.
3) People begin focusing on issue Y.
4) Attention is deflected from issue X while the proposal is hijacked to focus on Y.

In logic, two fallacies are in play: tu quoque and red herring. The tu quoque fallacy is an attempt at deflection of guilt by pointing out the wrongdoing of another. The red herring attempts to deflect discussion of the issue by bringing up a separate issue that may have merit in a different discussion but is a distraction from the current one.

An example of deflection comes up in the US every time the Church deals with a moral issue. There are three moral issues with political baggage attached: abortion, immigration, and the death penalty. When the Church speaks on one of these things, somebody (usually someone wanting to deflect from their political party which is guilty of supporting it) will invoke one of the other two issues (which the other party is seen as guilty of) and say that the Church should speak about that other issue. In fact the Church does, frequently. But by insisting that this specific condemnation be shifted or expanded, attention is deflected from the original purpose in order to bury that original issue which denounces their party and instead make those who oppose the deflection look like hypocrites or as defending the indefensible.

This is a dishonest tactic which we should reject. If we are talking about abortion, invoking the other issues are either tu quoque (If you try to make the original issue sound hypocritical) or red herring (If we’re trying to distract). In such cases, we need to make clear that at this time, we are talking about X, and discussion about Y should be brought up in its own time.

Otherwise, we risk losing focus as politically minded Catholics deflect the issue, hiding it or discrediting it. This hinders the obligation we have to make known how people are to live.

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