Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Tactics of Diversion

It’s long been a tactic of atheists and anti-Catholics to respond to an argument they can’t answer by pointing to some unrelated issue in which members of the Church have either caused harm by ignoring Church teaching through sins of commission or omission, or by actions that do not involve the teaching of the Church. If you’ve seen someone suddenly bring up Galileo, the Spanish Inquisition, or the abuse scandals when they have nothing to do with the topic discussed, you’ve seen the tactic. The unspoken assumption in this tactic is that as long as the Church has a case of some evil or bureaucratic insensitivity in her past, she is morally flawed and has no right to insist on anyone obeying her. Unfortunately, we are now seeing Catholics use this tactic in order to discredit the Church when she speaks out against something they support.

The problem is, if any group must be morally impeccable to be able to say “X is wrong,” than nobody can oppose anything because nobody [§] is morally impeccable. That means the critics of the Church can’t insist on a moral course of action either. For example, if this tactic was valid, Americans could not oppose ethnic violence in the world on grounds that we also have a history of it. Can you imagine a neo-Nazi smugly saying that Americans have no right to speak against the concentration camps because of our history of putting Native Americans into reservations? Under this tactic, we’d have to.

The tactic is not a valid argument. It merely tries to hide the truth the person or group makes in a moral objection by bringing up things—usually out of context—that makes the one objecting seem hypocritical. But the fact that a person or group may be acting hypocritically if they have no intention to correct a moral fault [#] while demanding others correct theirs, does not change the truth of the moral objection raised against wrongdoing.

This most recently arose when the US bishops responded to the spate of mass shootings that flared up over a 24 hour period. The bishops called on the nation to pass sensible laws and asked Trump to consider his past rhetoric. The social media responses (some of which are pictured in the top left of this post) are examples of this tactic. Because they did not like what the bishops had to say, they responded with tu quoque, ad hominem, guilt by association, straw men, and red herring fallacies to try to undermine the entirely valid response by the bishops. But those responses (largely falsehoods) do not disprove the truth of the bishops’ concerns.

Of course, it’s not just the political right and Trump. The political left on abortion, same sex “marriage,” and transgenderism use the same tactics, bringing up the sexual abuse cases and other shameful acts/omissions in the Church to discredit the current statements.

But whoever uses it, know that they don’t have a point. They are merely using a tactic of diversion. The people who use it are trying to get the attention off of an issue they might stand indicted under and shift it to an issue they feel safe about. While those who shepherd the Church should work to ensure the dioceses are free of evil, bringing up charges like this don’t actually disprove the truth of the bishops’ warnings.


[§] This statement does not deny the sinlessness of Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary, of course.

[#] A rash judgment. Yes, some in the Church have failed to guide the Church properly, or even fallen into corruption. But we can’t conclude from “some have not” that “all have deliberately refused to act.”

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