Showing posts with label either-or fallacy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label either-or fallacy. Show all posts

Sunday, October 31, 2021

It’s Iimi! Did The Pope Actually Say It?

It’s quite possible that the Vatican will make a statement, assuming that the “private conversation” did not involve the seal of confession. In such a case, it’s possible that we’ll be told something I did not consider. If that happens, I’ll try to add a commentary about my understanding to this text above the comic.

After visiting Pope Francis, Joe Biden told the media (some sources seem to think he was just trying to dismiss the subject) that the Pope said he was a great Catholic and that he should keep on receiving the Eucharist.

In this comic, Iimi and Paula discuss the story. Iimi points out that right now there are no facts or context to the claimed statement and looks into why we must not rashly assume that things are as claimed. We cannot accuse the Pope of ignoring the evil of abortion.

What we can and must do is pray for the Pope and the President. And, if the reader is troubled, praying for peace of mind is also good.

(I will be resuming the current story arc. I just thought this should be written to address the concerns American Catholics are feeling.)

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Catholics and the Either-Or Fallacy

People have a habit of thinking in a binary manner: Either X or Y. If one doesn’t support X, they must therefore support Y. The problem is, that’s only sometimes true. It’s only true if there are only two possible choices and you must pick one. But, if choosing Z is an option, if rejecting both X and Y is an option, or if choosing elements of X and Y are options, then the either-or dilemma is false because it is NOT a choice of only X or Y.

When it comes to the teaching of the Church, Catholics often commit this fallacy. They interpret Church teaching in a narrow way, then argue that whoever disagrees with their narrow interpretation must—by the fact of that disagreement—be in opposition to Church teaching. But they overlook the possibility that the Church teaching is different from what these critics think it is and actually rejects the dilemma the critics present.

Recently, we’re seeing American Catholics fall into this trap over the debate on immigration. The bishops, following Church teaching, have been speaking out against changes to immigration policy that makes it harder for legitimate asylum speakers to apply and presents migration as an “enemy horde” to be defended against. Supporters of this policy are accusing the bishops of supporting illegal immigration. In terms of logic, they are saying:
  • Either support the current administration’s policy OR support illegal immigration (Either X or Y)
  • Not supporting the current administration’s policy (Not X)
  • Therefore supporting illegal immigration (Therefore Y)
The problem [§] with this reasoning is that the Church is not saying “Y.” The Church is saying “Neither X nor Y.” The bishops recognize that the needs of security are legitimate, but also recognize that we cannot use this need as an excuse to evade our Christian obligations to help those in legitimate need. What the Church is calling for is a just process that seeks to find and aid—without delay—those who do need help. The bishops don’t want members of MS-13 in the country any more than the rest of us do. But they do realize that trying to keep all or most immigrants out in order to keep out the gang members is not a just response.

Whatever the issue, the Catholic is tempted to see the “right” solution as the one they support (X) and whoever rejects X must support the antithesis, not recognizing that they could be the ones in error. Some Catholics label the Church teaching against contraception and abortion as being about “controlling women” because they interpret these intrinsic evils as necessary “rights” so women can be “free.” Other Catholics interpret the Church teaching on social justice as “promoting socialism” because it necessarily condemns government laxity on the topic. In both cases, they accuse the Pope and bishops of supporting “Y” when the Church is rejecting both X and Y.

The Either-Or fallacy used by Catholics against the magisterium is effectively an attempt to shift the blame: “I can’t be in error, therefore YOU must be!” by way of wrongly accusing the magisterium. As Catholics fall into this trap, they see the Church as increasingly going wrong—never considering that they have been misled about what is right behavior for Catholics.

It doesn’t have to be on an issue either. It can also happen if someone assumes that a problematic action must be “proof” of willful heresy as opposed to misunderstanding, a mistake, or a matter of personal sin. Or a case where we don’t see a public rebuke leads to an assumption that the Church “approves of the error” instead of a private correction.

The “either-or” fallacy leads Catholics to violate the proper sense of Matthew 7:1–assuming to rashly judge hearts and minds where no justification to do so exists. To avoid this logical error and the accompanying sin of rash judgment, we need to consider whether there is more to a story than our usual sources; more to an action than our presumed motives. We can certainly say X is wrong, when we know (i.e., using submission to the magisterium as the guide for our knowledge) that X goes against Church teaching. But we can’t justify attitudes that reject or explain away the teaching of the Pope and bishops in communion with him, or make accusations against them without explicit proof that there are only two possible conclusions and they have deliberately chosen the evil one.


[§] In this form, it’s also a logical error of Denying the Antecedent.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Catholicism vs. Illogic: The Either-Or Fallacy

There was a recent NBC News article which sought to highlight some Catholics who portray their opinions as showing the authentic Catholic teaching [§] taking a stand against movements promoting active homosexuality. Both the article itself and some responses by individual Catholics tried to turn it into a decision to be made over which group to side with. There was a depressing lack of comments saying “I reject both movements as incompatible with the Church.”

The logical syllogism of determining two choices runs:
  • Either X or Y.
  • Not Y.
  • Therefore X.
It’s a valid syllogism (called modus tollens). But using it validly in this case depends on there only being two choices where only one can be right and one must be chosen. If there are more than two choices, or if it is possible to reject both, then trying to argue “either-or” is a fallacy. And that’s what was wrong with the NBC article and the response to it.

When it comes to dealing with the evils facing the Church, people tend to fall into the trap of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” They do this by determining who supports an evil incompatible with being a Christian. Then assume that whoever opposes this evil must be morally good. But that’s not always true. Factions exist that promote platforms which only superficially resemble Catholic belief while differing from them in substantial ways.

Pointing out that these groups have serious problems often leads to accusations that one is siding with the opposite faction. The violated Church teaching is treated as a lesser matter which should take second place to the preferred teaching.

But authentic Catholic teaching is not one of the extremes. Nor is it a compromise between two extremes (that’s the fallacy of compromise). Authentic Catholic teaching is one that follows the way of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. That means opposing sin while showing love for the sinner. We don’t choose one of the two options. We choose the option that does both. If that view doesn’t fit into the modern political climate, then we work to change that climate... it’s called The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).

When we run into two extremes arguing over what is authenticly Catholic, we must not rush to take a side based on what seems right. We must look to see if either side follows the magisterium. If one side not, that side is a perversion of the Catholic Faith. But that doesn’t mean that the other side is automatically correct.

People set aside listening to the magisterium and embrace whatever faction they sympathize with, downplaying inconvenient Church teaching along the way. Ultimately, that’s why I think the Catholic climate is so confused. It’s not the Pope “spreading confusion.” It’s the Catholics who choose sides between extremes where the Catholic Faith is not represented.


[§] We should never simply accept the say so of an individual Catholic (and I include myself and my blog here). The authenticity of what an individual Catholic claims must be determined by comparing their claims to the teaching of the Pope and bishops.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Blind Guides

24 Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel! 25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean. (Matthew 23:24–26)


Fire breatherHow many Catholics on Social Media
Come Across Today, Sadly… 

There are very vocal groups of Catholics out there who are fighting tooth and nail about the belief that their preferences are the only true view, and pretending they are the defenders of religion. These groups have a hatred for whoever disagrees with them on the grounds they knowingly support the evils this faction oppose. While the political platforms they support are different, their tactics are the same. When the party they oppose is in power, they condemn what they do loudly. When their own party is in power, they ignore it when that party does wrong. Of course, these groups will point out the hypocrisy of the other faction, but ignore it when it found on their own side. They are acting against our Catholic faith, but both assume only the other group is.

These groups are adept at citing Scripture and Church documents to play “gotcha” with their foes—You claim to be Catholic, but you’re ignoring X! The problem is, nobody seems to pay too close attention to the full teaching. They downplay the Church teachings they value less, while angrily demanding everyone value the Church teachings they hold important. What they forget is they’re all important—the deadliest sin is the one that sends you personally to hell. If we forget that, and spend all our times looking at the evils of others, we’re acting like Pharisees—and that’s not a title that only applies to one faction.

These factions don’t have clean hands. When Obama was president, his Catholic supporters downplayed the Church teaching on abortion and sexual morality. Now that Trump is in power, his Catholic supporters downplayed the Church teaching on social justice. These factions bash the bishops as political when they speak out on the issues that their factions are wrong on, while using them as a symbol of purity when they speak out on what they already believe.

One Big Error Paired with Many Ideologies

The problem is thinking of this as a clash between two factions. Any faction can be a part of this. It’s based on the assumption that whoever disagrees with me must support the opposition. Thus whoever speaks against a political evil stands accused of all the evils the other side supports. Whoever questions whether an accusation is just is accused of defending the crime. Logically this is the either-or fallacy and it ignores the possibility of there being a third choice or a rejection of both positions. 

The clash between two positions can only be valid if there are only two positions, and everybody takes one of these two sides. But if there are more than two sides, then a person can say, “I think you’re both wrong.” It would be wrong to accuse this person of standing for evil or ignoring other issues simply because they disagree. Yes, some  take a partisan view about their faith, but not everyone. So when we see someone accusing another of being a “anti-abortion but not pro-life,” or a “Hillary supporter” because the target disagrees with their conclusions, this is a sign of someone blinded by their ideology.

Avoiding the Error

What we need to remember is this: We need to accurately learn what a person holds, and critique that. We can’t assume that because a person disagrees with us, that he endorses the opposite view. The critic may simply think we have gone wrong in our argument. In that case, we need to understand why this person rejects our reasoning. This is not an argument calling for relativism. Rather, it is the Church, led by the Pope and bishops, who interpret how to apply Church teaching in each generation, and they are the measure of orthodoxy. We trust God protects them from teaching error in binding matter (which can be a case of guiding the shepherd not to teach at all). 

So if a person deliberately rejects or misrepresents Church teaching, this must be opposed. But we also have to consider the possibility of others faithfully following Church teaching, but preferring a different way of doing so, or even of being sincerely in error. It would be monstrously unjust to accuse them of being false Catholics willfully defending evil.


If we would avoid being blind guides leading others into a ditch (Matthew 15:14), we have to consider whether we have misunderstood those we disagree with, or even our own faith. St. Paul once believed he was doing good in persecuting Christians, because he thought he was opposing a blasphemous heresy. He learned he was wrong about how God viewed Christians, hating what God Himself willed.

Yes, there are Catholics out there who support evil positions, and think the bishops are “political” when they speak against these evils. Yes, they need to be corrected, but corrected with charity so as to return them to the sheepfold. Even if we’re defending the right view, if we drive people away from considering the right way to live, what have we gained? And if we’re defending a position contrary to God’s will, while believing we are faithful, we do great harm.

So we need to be certain we properly understand what the Church teaches, we need to be certain we properly understand what our opponents are saying, and we need to respond in charity. If we fail on one or more of these, we run the risk of being blind guides leading people astray into thinking our personal preferences are truth and driving them into error.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Out of Control and Missing the Point

The Pope’s visit to America confirms what I long knew—the media and the politicians don’t understand the meaning of religion, treating it as one more political viewpoint. It also confirmed what I long suspected but hoped was actually false—that a large portion of American Catholics view religion in the same sense as the media and politicians. The result of this mindset is that the average person praises or laments what the Pope says or does in light of his or her political convictions and not on the basis of the Christian faith.

St. Paul wrote about this way of thinking in his letter to the Philippians:

17 Join with others in being imitators of me, brothers, and observe those who thus conduct themselves according to the model you have in us. 18 For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their “shame.” Their minds are occupied with earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself. (Philippians 3:17-21)

Our calling as Christians supersedes our preferences in politics. Politics necessarily involves earthly things. Our faith involves approaching this world according to the bigger picture of what God calls us to do with the fact of our life after death always kept firmly in mind. So, to judge the Pope’s words and actions by political preference is to pervert the Christian message, committing sacrilege according to the sense of treating holy things as profane.

Unfortunately, America is very dualistic. We think things are either liberal or conservative and create a logical error called denying the antecedent. That error works as follows:

  • The Pope is conservative or liberal.
  • Not conservative.
  • Therefore liberal.
The argument overlooks the possibility of “none of the above” being an answer.
Hes with Me
Unfortunately, the American view of politics has determined that concern for the environment or the treatment of immigrants to be “liberal” and the defense of life and marriage to be “conservative.” That’s how it plays with our political parties. But actually, the Catholic Church has a body of teaching that can point to both liberals and conservatives and say “you’re wrong about that.” In addition, she can say to both, “You’re right on this, but for the wrong reason."

When the Pope meets with the President, meets with Congress, meets with the Little Sisters of the Poor, meets with a former student (who happens to be actively homosexual), meets with Kim Davis—these things are all given a political meaning, even though the Pope intended no such thing by them. Then they take offense by the fact that the Pope did not use his addresses to condemn the President or Congress.

But, since the Pope did not intend a political message, the people who wanted one with him endorsing their position got angry when he took a stand against their position. People who hate Kim Davis were angry that he did not denounce her. People who support her were angry that he didn’t tell supporters of “same sex marriage” to literally go to hell.

Essentially they wanted him to be something he had no intention of being, and got disappointed because he didn’t satisfy their desire to see their foes "put in their place.” The thing is, Jesus didn’t set out to put people in their place. He came to call them to repentance. It was only with the self-righteous, the ones who behaved in a hypocritical manner, that he ended up "putting them in their place."

The Pope isn’t Jesus, of course. (With the anti-Catholics out there who think we do believe that, it unfortunately has to be said). But he is following the example Our Lord gave for us to follow. He’s essentially offering Our Lord’s mercy to the sinners. When we want the Pope to praise us and denounce the sinners we despise, we behave as hypocrites—and it was the hypocrites that Our Lord openly denounced.

I think that in trying to play “Capture the Flag” with the Pope, people assumed that if he would only “say more” about topic X, other people would go along. Really? Why should it be any different under Pope Francis than it was under his predecessors. Blessed Paul VI on contraception, St. John Paul II on a whole raft of issues. likewise Benedict XVI. They’ve been speaking out since 1963 on sexual issues, economic issues, life issues and so on. There’s been no variation in message. Sollicitudo rei Socialis and Caritas in Veritate say the same thing as Evangelic Gaudium—they all draw on Paul VI and Populorum Progressio (and Sollicitudo rei Socialis #34 mirrors Laudato Si).Despite this fact, people haven’t changed. The pro-abortion politicians have been this way throughout the past four pontificates. The people who think social justice is a code word for “socialism” still think so. If the Pope has so much influence over sinners that he can change them with a word, then why haven’t they been changed already?

No, America is out of control and missing the point. They think the Papal message is political policy and if the Pope says something similar, it is assumed that the Pope validated their entire platform. If the Pope said something in opposition, he’s a foreigner who should stick to religion and “stay out of politics.” (It’s hypocritical—basically a case of “It’s OK if he agrees with me, bad if he doesn’t.”) Catholics missing the point and out of control are making things worse. We’re called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. If we’re acting as worldly and partisan as everyone else, we are failing to share the Gospel with the world. 

American Catholics who think of themselves as orthodox need to get back in control and get the point. Otherwise, they are causing great harm in their dissent and disobedience while patting themselves on the back for being “faithful."

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Dissenter's Deception

And since, by the divine right of apostolic primacy, one Roman Pontiff is placed over the universal Church, We further teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful,* and that in all causes the decision of which belongs to the Church recourse may be had to his tribunal,† but that none may reopen the judgement of the Apostolic See, than whose authority there is no greater, nor can any lawfully review its judgement.‡ Wherefore they err from the right path of truth who assert that it is lawful to appeal from the judgements of the Roman Pontiffs to an Œcumenical Council, as to an authority higher than that of the Roman Pontiff.


If then any shall say that the Roman Pontiff has the office merely of inspection or direction, and not full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which belong to faith and morals, but also in those things which relate to the discipline and government of the Church spread throughout the world; or assert that he possesses merely the principal part, and not all the fullness of this supreme power; or that this power which he enjoys is not ordinary and immediate, both over each and all the Churches and over each and all the pastors of the faithful; let him be anathema.


[Pastor Æternus Chapter III. First Vatican Council]

I’ve been reading a book, What Went Wrong With Vatican II by Ralph McInerny that leaves me with a strange sense of déjà vu. The main premise is the rejection of authority in the 1960s did not come about because of Vatican II, but because of Humanae Vitae. A good portion of this book deals with the fact that the Pope made a binding teaching of the ordinary magisterium which people did not like, and to justify their dislike, they invented a theology  which never had been taught before which claimed the right to judge the teachings of the Church and reject those which they did not wish to follow.

The déjà vu portion comes when I see what liberal dissenters did in 1968 in rejecting magisterial authority—and see just how similar their arguments are to the arguments used by radical traditionalists today in rejecting the magisterial authority of the Church when it makes decisions they dislike.

The basic premise of both groups of dissent is in the argument that when the Pope makes a teaching which is not ex cathedra, it is fallible and therefore not binding. Liberal dissent used this argument from the 1960s on in trying to undermine the teaching authority of the Church when it came to sexual matters. It was argued that because the Church teaching on contraception was not made in an infallible pronunciation like the pronunciation of dogmas in 1854 (The Immaculate Conception) and 1950 (The Assumption of Mary), there could be error in it. Playing on the fear of uncertainty, a string of spurious reasoning was created:

  1. This document was not infallible, therefore it is fallible. 
  2. Because it is fallible, it contains error.
  3. We cannot be bound to follow error.
  4. Therefore we cannot be bound to follow this document.

The whole string is laden with error. It starts out with the development of the “Either-Or” fallacy by way of giving an equivocal meaning to the word fallible. The meaning is, generally speaking, “capable of error.” All of humanity is fallible by nature. But dissenters like to manipulate the meaning to make it sound like it means “containing error.” Thus the argument is made that, “if it’s not infallible, I don’t have to obey it.” But the problem is, dissenters are giving infallibility a meaning that is too narrow, while giving fallibility a meaning which is too broad. The fact is, the Church does not teach that one may ignore a teaching which is not made ex cathedra. The truth is quite the opposite.

What the faithful are bound to accept is not limited to the ex cathedra pronunciation—those are intentionally rare and the Popes govern by other methods. Indeed, the Church has taught that there are two means of teaching—both of which are binding. The Catechism says:

891 “The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful—who confirms his brethren in the faith—he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.… The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,” above all in an Ecumenical Council. When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine “for belief as being divinely revealed,” and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions “must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.”420 This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.

892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent” which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.

Regardless of whether the Pope is speaking on contraception, abortion, economics or ecology (or other topics involving faith and morals), if he teaches in a way that is not ex cathedra, he is still teaching in a way which binds us to obey. As the 1983 Code of Canon Law says:

can. 752† Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.

So, the teaching of the Church is something we must give the obedience and assent of faith to, making a religious submission of intellect and will, and avoiding those things that are contrary to this teaching. Unfortunately, many confuse a teaching which is not done in a “definitive manner” with a mere opinion. But there is a massive difference. A Pope can offer his opinion on the best way to carry out the Church teaching on social justice, but that is different than the Pope teaching that social justice requires economics to be carried out with ethics.

So the dissent from the radicals in the 1960s to the present against the Church is no different than the dissent of the modern anti-Francis mindset of today. Both reject the authority of the Church to interfere with behavior they do not want to change. Both want to give the impression of being faithful in a larger sense by being disobedient in a “smaller” sense. Both feel that it’s both the other side and the magisterium who are the problem.

The fact is, being a faithful Catholic requires that we are obedient to those who have the authority to determine what is in keeping with the Deposit of Faith and what is not. If we refuse to be obedient, then regardless of our work on the defense of marriage, social justice, life issues or any other area, we are being faithless and usurping the authority of the successors of the Apostles. Such people can claim to be faithful, but they are deceiving both themselves and others.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Fundamentally Missing the Point: The Danger of Assuming Everyone Thinks Like You

(See: Israel hawks to Pope Francis: Stay out of politics - Rachael Bade - POLITICO)

One of the more foolish things a person can do, especially in terms of politics, is to assume that everybody sees things the same way and if a person sees things differently that us, it means they are doing so for the same motivations and with bad will. For years, liberals accused Catholics of violating the separation of Church and State, getting involved with politics when she spoke out on moral issues like contraception, abortion, “same sex marriage” and the like. This assumption overlooked the fact that the Church had been teaching on these issues long before the modern concept of “liberal vs. conservative” even existed.

But this is not an error limited to liberalism. Conservatism has its own “sacred cows” as well, and can get just as irrational when the Church says something that strikes too close to home for them as well. For example, the outrage that happens when the Pope says that capitalism sometimes falls short of the mark and needs to be corrected. The conservatives then act just as irrationally as liberals and accuse them of getting involved in “political” affairs.

This time, the issue is over the fact that the Church intends to establish diplomatic relations with Palestine. Some conservatives are upset, believing this is an endorsement of the behavior of Palestinian terrorists and opposition to the right of Israel to exist. That kind of thinking is the “either-or” fallacy—the assumption that there are only two choices and to choose one means the rejection of the other. It overlooks the possibility of rejecting both choices, or there being a third choice, or holding to both views because they are not contradictory.

The fact is, the Church does sometimes need to establish diplomatic relations in a country in order to carry out her mission in that country. This is why the Church had established diplomatic relations with repugnant nations like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. We forget, being Americans, that the free practice of religion is not always present in other nations—even in democracies (let alone autocratic nations)—like it is in America. The whole idea of the concordant (an agreement between the Church and a nation) is intended to get the freedom for the Church to carry out her mission in that nation, and gives the Church standing to approach another nation as a diplomatic entity and not as a subject.

The fact is, there is a Catholic population in the Palestinian territories, and the Church does need to look after them. Also, in her commitment to peace, she does need to be able to speak to the leaders of both Israel (with whom the Church does have diplomatic relations already) and Palestine both without the emissaries being seen as subjects of one of the nations.

The point is, when the Church acts in establishing relations with a nation, that does not mean that the Church endorses the policies of that nation. It is foolish to assume that the Church looks at matters in the same way as an American politician and, when the politician disagrees with the Church teaching, that means the Church is deliberately taking a position in opposition to the political slant which the politician supports.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Is Religious Freedom a "Rearguard" Argument? Some Brief Thoughts

I came across a few articles saying that speaking about the defense of the Church teachings as a Religious Freedom issue is a “rearguard” movement. Since rearguard is a term used to describe defense during a retreat, it is clear this is a negative description. The arguments I have seen claim that if we try to defend “religious freedoms” against “human rights,” people are going to decide that it is “intolerance vs. tolerance.” These people who describe it as a rearguard action say that we need to start promoting the right and wrong aspects. 

I tend to disagree with this, because I think this argument makes a logical error. The argument that instead of arguing religious freedom, we need to argue right/wrong is technically an either-or fallacy. We need to do both, but which argument we give depends entirely on who is the target audience.

The Church teaching on right and wrong is always present. We speak against certain things because they are wrong. If the Church were somehow to be entirely indifferent on something, we wouldn’t bother to defend it. Such arguments work well with people of good will who are seeking the truth and want to live it. But there’s one problem with the right and wrong argument—it really doesn’t reach the people who believe in moral relativism. For the person who denies right and wrong—particularly if the moral claims come too close to home with the person’s lifestyle—such arguments are going to be ignored.

That’s where the Constitutional arguments are needed. Such people need to be shown that once a regime decides it can set aside rights to benefit a cause it supports, another regime which replaces it can make use of the same tactic to benefit the cause it supports. To such people, one needs to show that the only way to be protected from that arbitrary behavior is to make sure that nobody gets away with setting aside the real Constitutional rights in favor of fictional rights.

The point is, before we can get people to listen to the right and wrong arguments, we have to get them to listen in the first place. So, for those who do listen, we do need to explain why X is wrong. But for those who don’t listen, we need to get them to think about how this whole heavy-handed approach by the government sets a precedent that can be used against them by a future government which is just as unscrupulous as the one we currently have which supports what they don’t like using the same tactics.

In other words, we need to reach out to all people to encourage them to break away from the unthinking mob mindset, but the starting place is going to be different depending on who is being spoken to. If they’re unwilling to listen to the moral arguments of right and wrong, we need to start at another level where they are willing to listen.

Otherwise, they won’t listen at all.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Reflections on the Anti-Francis Mindset


One thing seems clear from reading comments and articles from a certain subset of Catholics is that we do have a strongly anti-Francis mindset that exists in the Church. To this mindset, the Pope is to blame for how the media reports his words and is believed to have whatever motive the media attributes to their report on his words. It can be quite demoralizing for the Catholic trying to be faithful, and encountering Catholics who seem much more confident in their allegations than they are in questioning them. It’s easy for these Catholics to begin to doubt themselves and wonder if they have perhaps missed the point because they continue to run into these allegations.

The problem with this mindset that demoralizes others and undermines trust in the Pope is it assumes two things that needs to be proven:

  1. That the media reports are accurate.
  2. That the motives attributed to the Pope are true.

Unless both can be established, it is a rash judgment to assume bad will or bad teaching from the Pope.

Thus far it turns out that every time the media has focussed a story around the Pope planning to change Church teaching by using a quote, that quote was only a part of what the Pope said and when viewed in context it shows he did not say what the the media reported. When this happens over and over again, a person should recognize that certain sources are simply unreliable. But instead, the anti-Francis mindset assumes the Pope is unreliable.

Shocking News—Arnobius of Sicca blog Denigrates the Pope… OK, not really...

Think of it this way. Look at my first paragraph. See how many quotes you can create that could make me sound like I am opposed to Pope Francis. These are the ones I found with a cursory look:

  • “we do have a strongly anti-Francis mindset” (implies I am speaking of the whole Church and I am a part of it).
  • “the Pope is to blame for how the media reports his words” (Hey! Even the Papal defender Arnobius of Sicca says it’s the Pope’s fault!)
  • “It’s easy for these Catholics to begin to doubt” (when taken with the other two partial quotes, sounds like I am saying the Pope is causing the doubt)

In other words, a person looking for quotes to bolster the image they want to give could even take my own blog which defends the Pope and make it sound like I am blaming him. I did say all of these things. But I didn’t say them in the context one might be led to believe. In fact, I’d oppose all of these claims. I wouldn’t be to blame for a reporter skimming my first paragraph and grabbing a few lines that caught his eye and making a story out of it. It would, in fact, be unjust to say I should have expressed myself better to avoid such misinterpretation. 

Who Watches the Self-Proclaimed Watchdogs of Catholic Authenticity?

That’s how it seems to work with the Pope. For the secular news reporter who has a negative view of the Church teaching, thinking it is judgmental and harsh and wishes it would change, words that talk about loving the sinner and presenting God’s love can sound like “A CHANGE IN TEACHING!” (and there’s another quote in my blog that can be taken out of context). It isn’t any such thing of course. Then the Catholic who has an antipathy towards the Pope—and certain Catholics have been antagonistic to his election to the papacy on account of his stand as cardinal on the extraordinary form of the Mass and have been hostile ever since—see this as justifying their hostility.

Like ripples from a rock thrown into a pond, this mindset affects other Catholics who equate such sites as defenders of Catholic orthodoxy. If they oppose the Pope, some are led to believe that the Pope should  be opposed . . . after all, if it wasn’t true, they wouldn’t have said it right? So the reputation of Pope Francis as heterodox continues to spread. Nobody asks the question as to whether these self-proclaimed watchdogs of orthodoxy are in fact orthodox themselves?

This is a problem because the individual or small group does not have such authority to teach at all—especially if they try to teach contrary to the Pope and the bishops in communion with him. God has entrusted the successors of the apostles with the authority to bind and loose—not people with a blog and a laptop (and, yes, that includes me). The person who tries to advocate opposing the Pope when he teaches is a rebel, not a faithful Catholic.

Does a Political Platform Judge the Catholic Teaching? Or Does the Catholic Teaching Judge the Political Platform?

That brings us to another problem. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was easy to equate conservative politics with Catholic orthodoxy. The Church was strong on her affirmations of abortion, “gay marriage” and similar issues as morally wrong. Politicians who opposed the Church on these things were liberal. Politicians who agreed with the Church were conservative. Simple enough—or so we thought.

It was never that simple. Church teaching and conservative politics never entirely overlapped. In some cases conservatism had positions which were also incompatible with Church teaching. In others, the motives for a shared teaching were difference. The Church had positions on social justice that were sometimes confused with political liberalism. St. John Paul II and Pope emeritus Benedict XVI also spoke on the social problems in capitalism that needed to be reformed—and were accused of “moving to the left.” They spoke on environmental issues—and were accused of "moving to the left.” They spoke on compassion for illegal immigrants—and… well you get the point.

So, what we see happening with Pope Francis, happened before with his predecessors (Ecclesiastes 1:9-11). They were praised for things members of a political happened to agree with (even if held for different motives), and attacked when such groups disagreed. Thus the simultaneous mutual claims by right and left that the Pope supports the other side. Like the Self-Appointed watchdogs mentioned above, political platforms do not have authority to teach. Political parties can take positions that the Church must condemn as incompatible with the Christian obligation. When they do, the Church condemnation is not partisan, but a warning for us to think about where we are in relation to God.

So, when our political beliefs feel threatened by the teaching of the Church, maybe the issue is not a bad Pope. Maybe we’ve adopted a political belief incompatible with the faith.

The Either-Or Fallacy

In addition, we need to remember that there are many times that the truth is not found in the formula of “Either A or B.” Sometimes both A and B are condemnable. Sometimes neither A nor B is condemnable. Republican and Democrat parties disagree with each other, but it is not a case of one being always true and the other always false. Yes, sometimes one party is in error while the other is not. But, sometimes both can be in error. Or sometimes their disagreements are over ways and means which are both in keeping with Church teachings. So we always need to ask what is true, what is in keeping with the Church teaching. That’s not just something we ask about others. It’s what we need to ask about ourselves.


These seem to be the problems with the anti-Francis mindset in the Church. There’s a lot of motives for it, whether misunderstanding or disagreement. But each person who doubts or outright opposes the Pope needs to answer some questions: On what basis do you justify yourself? Pope Francis is not an Alexander VI or John XII. He’s not a John XXII. There’s no moral behavior to scandalize or personal belief to be corrected. Where did your doubt come from? From your own belief? Then how do you know you have not gone wrong yourself? From the assertion of another? How authoritative are they? From your politics? Remember we must “Render unto God.” Do you think he is teaching error? Remember that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church.

The fact is, the Church is led by the successors of the Apostles, not the bloggers or the people who prefer the extraordinary form of the Mass. The magisterium has the authority and the responsibility to determine whether a belief is compatible with the teaching of the Church, not the bloggers or the fans of the extraordinary form. That’s ultimately the problem with the anti-Francis mindset. It would rather deny that God protects the Pope from teaching error than admit the possibility of being wrong about what the Church teaching requires us to do.

Now not all of these people are doing this out of malice. Some have simply been deceived by the hype. Some have not thought things through. Perhaps some are acting out of Scrupulosity. But some may have fallen to pride and decided that only when the Church goes their way that it is to be obeyed. I personally won’t judge the reason or the motive. But I will say that the anti-Francis mindset is an error and must be rejected.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thoughts on Catholics, Obedience and Pope Francis

Pope Francis faith in God

On this blog, I tend to write in blocs for a period depending on what seems to be most immediately an issue when it comes to opposition to the Church. This opposition can either come from outside the Church or inside the Church. It seems like lately, I have had to write about opposition coming from within the Church because it seems that certain Catholics today—especially ones who were noted for their defense of the Church in the past—have issues with Pope Francis.

It is a curious phenomenon. St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI spoke about economic justice and social justice during their pontificates, they had issues with disobedient Catholics doing scandalous things, and they had gaffes. But for the most part, there was respect for their teachings and patience. We knew there were bad Catholics, whether clergy, religious or laity, but we recognized that their teachings did not represent the Church. Sure, people grumbled at times at a bishop’s troublesome decisions and felt that the Church was under siege. There was even criticism of the Popes handling of matters, but it was generally recognized that the Popes were faithful Catholics and were faithful to Church teaching.

This is why I find the attitude of certain Catholics to be troubling today. Pope Francis has not taught anything that his predecessors did not teach. Nor has he failed to teach on issues which his predecessors taught on. Yes, we still have misbehaving clergy, religious and laity and we still have some Papal gaffes. But now, the Pope is seen as suspect by a growing number of Catholics, and whenever a Catholic misbehaves, the Pope becomes the primary suspect.

It’s not a new sentiment. Writing back in 1974, theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote on the attitudes towards the papacy:

“The papacy but not this pope” is a further step. Beginning with Gerson, Gallicanism attempted this step (with the best of intentions, theologically) by trying to differentiate between the sedes [seat], which is indefectible, and the sedens [the one sitting], who is not. This approach was mistaken and impracticable from the outset, as de Maistre pointed out. Gasser, in his final address at Vatican I, emphasized that infallibility is not a prerogative of an abstract papacy but of the pope actually reigning.

—Hans Urs von Balthasar. The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church (Kindle Locations 1039-1043). Kindle Edition.

In the past, this was a problem with Catholics who were openly dissenting from the Church (certain liberals and traditionalist groups like the SSPX). They were denying that the Pope they did not like had authority to teach in a way they disliked. But now, some Catholics who have always recognized the authority of the sedes of the Papacy are beginning to question the sedens of the Pope.

I think there are some reasons for this problem in the West (it does not seem to affect Catholics as much outside of Europe and Asia), some manmade and some supernatural.

Manmade Problems

I think the manmade reasons for this problem comes from the fact that some Catholics have assumed that political conservatism was synonymous with Catholic orthodoxy. The right to life is indeed the fundamental right as St. John Paul II said. Communism was indeed an evil, as the Church taught. These issues were considered politically conservative, and to some extent, it was considered that conservatism as a whole was orthodox. In addition, in the West, we tend to use either-or thinking where it is not appropriate to do so. For example, unbridled capitalism or unbridled socialism. Conservatism vs. Liberalism. If a person does not stand for the preferred political position, it is assumed he or she stands for the opposite position.

Thus, when Pope Francis spoke about the abuses in some areas of the capitalistic system, it was assumed that he was promoting socialism. When he spoke out on trying to reach out to people with same sex attraction or couples who were divorced and invalidly remarried, it was assumed he was seeking to overturn the teaching of the Church. These things do not logically follow, but people do think this way.

Another manmade reason for this problem is that people tend to give too much credibility to the secular media when it comes to reporting on the Church. An accurate assessment of what the Church says and what the Popes say does require knowledge of how the Church works. Even a person of good will can be confused and make an error about what the Pope means if they don’t have a solid grip on Church teaching he is referring to. Regardless of whether a media report comes from a person of good will or not, if they don’t understand the context, they will not report accurately. They could, for example, miss the significance of a term and only partially quote. They could jump to conclusions based on the meaning the reporter gives to words compared to how the Church understands them. So when we see the media reporting that the Pope is saying that the Church teaching on abortion or marriage isn’t important, that is the fault of the report, not the words of the Pope.

[I should add, that as I prepare this article for publication, it seems that certain members of the media are recognizing that the Pope is not somebody who is going to change Church teaching, and are beginning to turn on him. It will be interesting to see if this change in reporting is widespread and if so, whether certain Catholics will stop accusing him of being heterodox.]

This can be enhanced by the existence of antics by Catholics publicly causing scandal. When such a person seems to get away with things that strike us as wrong, some wonder if perhaps the Church is being lenient out of sympathy for the dissent. This is actually the fallacy of affirming the consequent, arguing:

  • If the magisterium sympathizes, dissenters will be active.
  • Dissenters are active
  • Therefore the magisterium sympathizes.
But even if the major premise is true, the sole fact of the minor premise (Dissenters are active) does not mean the magisterium sympathizes. It could mean that the magisterium does not have the temporal power to bring them in line, or that they are trying to deal with the people in error in a private way. The point is, the existence of active error does not require papal sympathy as a cause. Throughout the history of the Church, dissent, heresy and schism has appeared and even when challenged by saints, it could take centuries for such an error to die. Arianism was first condemned in the First Council of Nicaea, but did not become extinct until the 7th century. We have ongoing separation with our fellow Christians from the Orthodox and Protestant churches. So, we need to remember that the existence of those who disagree with or reject the Church does not mean the Pope and bishops are supporting it.
Supernatural Problems

Of course, these manmade problems have their roots. People are being deceived into accepting these assumptions. That brings us to the supernatural. Supernaturally, I am inclined to believe that people who want to be faithful to the Church are undergoing spiritual warfare. The devil exists (something our Pope constantly reminds us of) and he wants to separate believers from Christ’s Church. The means to do this is different from the means used to keep those who reject Church teaching away. In this case, the devil seeks to cause people not to trust the Church by drawing suspicion on things that seem different. If the devil can tempt the individual Catholic into being suspicious about the people with the authority to teach within the Church, then the ultimate result is to undermine the individual’s faith in God to protect His Church. Such a person has lost the peace of mind which comes with trusting God.

Once this doubt creeps in, it becomes easy for the devil to tempt a person into questioning whether a Papal teaching he or she dislikes is binding. For example, the outcry against the Papal encyclical on the environment coming out months before the actual encyclical is due to be released. Because of the instigated doubt against the Pope’s orthodoxy and people forgetting God’s promise to protect His Church, people assume it is going to be a disaster long before it ever gets released.

Anticipating an Objection

To some readers, this all may sound like an argument insisting we tolerate whatever doctrinal or liturgical abuse that may come along. Or it may sound like I am saying there are no problems. These assumptions would be false. When the majority of a bishops conference announce their support for allowing the divorced and remarried to go to confession and then continuing to live as man and wife, that’s a serious problem (This happened in Germany). When a bishop announces that he believes the Church should recognize same sex relationships as good, that’s a serious problem (this one happened in Belgium). When a priest announces he is homosexual and urges his parishioners to vote for a referendum legalizing “same sex marriage,” and receives an ovation from the parish, that’s a serious problem (this one happened in Ireland).

But don’t turn these serious problems into the fallacy of composition. If a part of the Church falls into error, that does not mean the whole of the Church is infected. Don’t make the post hoc fallacy either. If the Pope speaks out to the Church, asking them ways to find ways to reach out to people whose lifestyles have estranged them from the Church and certain people with an agenda try to advocate things incompatible with the Church teaching, that advocacy was not caused by the Pope.

Dissent is not new to the Papacy with Pope Francis. Rejection of authority is not new to the Church with Vatican II (Ever hear of Martin Luther?) either. Sometimes individuals or groups take advantage of the Church in transition, trying to hijack a legitimate proposal to make their own errors seem to have support. When the Church calls for insights as to how to best accomplish her Great Commission among a new generation (Matthew 28:16-20), there will be people who try to push something incompatible. That doesn’t mean that the wrong interpretation is welcome, or that there is no right ideas to implement.

We also need to avoid the arguments from silence and ignorance. The fact that we do not hear a public denunciation by the Pope does not mean no action is being taken. The fact that an individual has not heard of the Pope responding to something wrong, does not mean the Pope did not respond. I have seen too many people in combox arguments ask “Why didn’t the Pope condemn ISIS?” "Why didn’t the Pope defend the Christian concept of marriage?” The answer is, “HE DID,” but too many people assume that because the secular media didn’t cover it, he said nothing.


The problem is, some Catholics are being misled into thinking that a problem existing in the Church must mean that the Pope is at fault. That isn’t necessarily so. There are many other possibilities that are not being considered. While there are some areas of the Church that don’t fall under the categories of doctrine and morals and thus are not infallible, we need to remember that our generations in the Church are not given a free pass to disagree with the lawful authority of the Church under the Pope. When the Pope teaches formally, even if not teaching ex cathedra, his teaching requires us to give assent (see CCC #892). When the Pope can teach in a manner that requires us to give our assent, there are two possibilities. Either:

  1. We can trust Our Lord to protect the Church from teaching error in a issue where we are required to obey, or…
  2. The Church can teach error, and we have no way of knowing whether the Church has ever erred in other teachings—such as the Trinity.

The second choice is asinine, and we need to put our trust in God that He will protect His Church. If we lose our trust that the Church can be protected from error by God,  we have no way of knowing whether we are doing what is right before God. Obedience is not always easy when the teaching of the Church goes against what our cultural values prefer. But we must obey God, rather than men, and sometimes our cherished political and cultural views do not match what our faith calls us to do. Then we have to choose between God and the world—and choosing God means following His Church under the living magisterium of a real Pope, not the hypothetical magisterium of a papacy.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

TFTD: Well Said Holy Father

Full transcript of Pope's interview in-flight to Manila :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)

The Holy Father has spoken about the Charlie Hebdo murders in a way that makes a lot of sense, but will probably not win him support from those who believe there can be no restrictions on speech and press. He makes a two prong statement that addresses both issues:

  1. Using violence in the name of God can never be done.
  2. The freedom of speech is not an absolute that can justify saying anything offensive.

Basically, the Pope said that people have the right and obligation to speak the truth, but freedom is not absolute. One cannot be grossly offensive, especially when it comes to people’s religious beliefs. Even when people are grossly offensive, others don’t have the right to turn to violence in response. However, anger at having something important being attacked is not wrong in itself. (Which is a very useful point—too many try to twist Christians being offended by attacks as if it was “unchristian.”)

Unfortunately, some are beginning to accuse the Pope of supporting the terrorists—never mind the fact that he has continually condemned terrorism and clarified any possible ambiguities in what he said. They look at it as Either-Or, ignoring the fact that condemning both is a legitimate option.

But what he said makes perfect sense. Even if a non-Christian does not share our values, his words can be understood in terms of respect for others. When we make use of the freedom of speech or the press, we have to be respectful of others. When we speak about things we believe to be wrong, we do so with charity. If someone with a large audience does something grossly offensive and millions are offended, there will probably be a small group among them who would be willing to make an extreme response. It would be wrong of them to do so, but they may be motivated to act in spite of the their moral obligations not to murder.

Ultimately, that’s what happened with Charlie Hebdo. Millions of Muslims were angry, and they had a right to be angry by the offensive antics of this magazine. Tragically, some of these Muslims believed it was acceptable to murder. They were wrong to murder, regardless of what offensive garbage the magazine chose to publish. We believe that Charlie Hebdo did not have the right to be grossly offensive, regardless of their convictions.

So, as I see the Pope’s statement, he sees two wrongs: The wrong of people murdering those they disagree with and the wrong of being deliberately offensive. Both of these are condemnable. The Pope is not siding with the terrorists, but he is not Charlie either.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Reflections on the Either-Or Fallacy


One of the fallacies that plague America is the either-or fallacy (also called "black and white" or bifurcation." If one does not support A, he must support B. You can plug in any number of opposed concepts. Conservative:Liberal, Capitalism:Socialism and others are viewed as opposites and the only two choices to make.

I've noticed that this fallacy shows up a lot in a tendency to assume that A and B are truly contradictory and one must be endorsed. It is presumed that if a person speaks against a thing, he must endorse the other.

However, it is quite possible that both can be false. For example, if someone said "either Nazism or Stalinism" one could legitimately speak against one as immediately relevant to the situation without automatically endorsing the other.

It is also possible to support something that is similar to a plank in a party platform without endorsing the party or its platform.

Ultimately the problem is to pigeonhole a statement into one of a limited number of factions and assume the speaker endorses the faction with all the assorted baggage.

Absolutes vs. Multiple Options

Before moving on, we need to distinguish something. Not all either-or situations are fallacies. Some things truly either are or are not true. If A is true, it cannot be not true in the same way and same time

Thus, if Catholicism is the Church established by Christ, it can't be said it is not the Church established by Christ. Or, if rape is always evil, it can never be said to be not evil.

That's simple reason. It can't be raining and not raining in the same place and time. I can't, at the same time, have and not have a hundred dollar bill in my hand.

Contradictory vs. Contrary

So, if two statements contradict, they can't both be true, but one must be true. (A vs. Not-A). However, we need to realize that we can have opposed statements where both are false. For example, saying "either rain or snow tomorrow," prevents it from being both, but the statement overlooks the option of clear weather.

So when getting to the truth, we must be clear on whether opposing statements contradict or are merely contrary.

Statements by the Church and Interpretation

The Church gets constantly attacked by people who use this fallacy. If the bishops speak in favor of immigration reform, the Church is portrayed as being opposed to any restrictions at all. If the Church speaks on the evil of abortion, she is accused of being anti-woman.

When Pope Francis says of the Church, "We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible," that does not mean the Church can never speak on these issues... as many inside the Church and out took it to mean. (In fact, the Holy Father went on to say, "But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context.")

The problem was faulty reasoning, not the Pope's words. His statement was reduced to an either-or statement: either the Church speaks on this subject or does not... as an absolute statement. Instead, he intended to express a view on this topic that he won't solely speak on these issues, but when he does, it must have a frame of reference in mind.


Ultimately, our obligation is to determine whether our interpretation is correct before we try to draw conclusions from what was said. If we use faulty assumptions, our conclusions will not be reasoned ones.

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].

Saturday, August 4, 2012

And WE'RE The Bigots?

There seems to be a popular internet picture going around Facebook at this time in response to the Chick-Fil-A events of this past week:

[EDIT: Picture removed. It was a picture of Jesus saying he hated FIGS—a play on words with the vulgar term for people with same sex attraction. Because that picture was somewhat blasphemous and because the picture it was posted in opposition to no longer exists, it makes no sense to keep it here.]

The point is to argue Christians who support traditional marriage share the same views as the Westboro Baptists who post reprehensible signs like this:

[EDIT: Sometime between 2012 and 2017, this hot-linked picture was removed. It was of the Westboro Baptists offering offensive slogans against people with same sex attraction]

But the Catholic teaching is:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. (2333)
2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (2347)

Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed.) (566). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference. (Emphasis added)
So, what we have is actually an act of bigotry – but not by Christians.  What we see is gross stereotyping that presumes all Christians think the same way as the Westboro Baptists, when in fact most Christians condemn their grossly unchristian behavior.  It's basically like assuming all Muslims are terrorists because a few groups are, or that all Hispanics are illegal aliens because some are.  It's grossly intolerant to assume from the behavior of some that all are this way.
One of the main problems I see is the Either-Or fallacy (sometimes called the Black or White fallacy). The argument runs in this case:
  1. Either you [support "gay marriage"] or you [are homophobic]. (Either A or B)
  2. You Do not [support "gay marriage."] (Not A)
  3. Therefore you [are homophobic.] (Therefore B)
The reason this is a fallacy is because the main premise assumes [A] and [B] are not only in opposition to each other (which they are), but are the only two options – which they are NOT. If there is any option [C] out there (opposes "gay marriage" but not out of hatred), then the argument is invalid and the claim is not proven true.
Many people seem incapable of recognizing that third option exists, so let's put the shoe on the other foot.
  1. Either you [Support Traditional Marriage] or you are an [Anti-Catholic bigot]. (Either A or B).
  2. You don't [Support Traditional Marriage] (Not A)
  3. Therefore you are an [Anti-Catholic bigot] (Therefore B).
I suspect most people who disagree with Traditional definitions of marriage would object to this. "Hey! Just because I think they are wrong doesn't mean we hate Catholics!"
Right, and that's my answer to you.  Just because we consider a certain behavior to be wrong does not mean we believe God hates people struggling with homosexual tendencies – or even people who are committing homosexual acts.  All people have struggles with sin, and all of us are to call on God to give us the grace to overcome our sins.  We may fall at times, but we need to continue to persevere.
If a person fails to distinguish between this and the view of the Westboro Baptists, perhaps the problem with intolerance isn't with those who believe in the Christian understanding of Marriage.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Reflections on the Fallacy of Bifurcation

There is an unfortunately common fallacy out there which is known as the fallacy of bifurcation.  Essentially, this fallacy demands a choice between two options (Either [A] or [B]) but fails to consider that more options than these can exist.  So long as any other option could exist, one can't accept this premise as valid.  So long as the premise lists fewer options than actually exist, it is a fallacy to claim choices are limited to the ones limited.

Contraries and Contradictaries

With Contradictory positions, if one is true, the other must necessarily be false.  With contrary positions, both can be false in the sense that there can be an option not considered.

Now of course, some premises are mutually exclusive: "Either some sort of divine [Exists] or [Does not exist]," for example is mutually exclusive, and thus the statement is concerning two contradictory positions.  If there is some sort of divine, the claim there is none is false.  "The unborn is either [a person] or is [not a person]," is another sort of mutually exclusive proposition.  If it is not a person, then what is it?

A Contrary position can have two statements which disagree, but other options exist, such as, "Either the [Muslim concept of Allah] is true or [there is no God]" (if God exists and is not what Muslims believe about Him, this is an alternate to atheism)

Violating the Law of Non-Contradiction

Thus an Either-Or argument can only be accurate if it involves contradictory statements which allows no other possibility.  A thing cannot be and not be at the same time and in the same way.  So if a thing is a triangle, it cannot be a circle, because a circle has no sides and no angles, while a triangle has both.  However, if I say "all shapes are either triangles or circles," I overlook the possibility of squares, rectangles, ovals, parallelograms, blobs and many other options.


Thus, when we see those sorts of challenges where a person says "Either [A] or [B]" we need to remember that it is only true if [A] and [B] are the only options.  If Option [C] is available, this "Either-or" ignores reality.  Therefore before accepting the choice, one has to ask whether other options exist.

Thus arguments like "If [you are good], God will [Reward you with prosperity]" or "If [God exists], let Him [Strike me down for insulting Him]" or "If the Church [Doesn't support Traditionalists] it [supports Modernists]" are all guilty of the fallacy of bifurcation.  All of them ignore the potential of another option which would make the argument invalid.