Showing posts with label fallacy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fallacy. Show all posts

Saturday, March 20, 2021

The Appeal to Emotion (argumentum ad passiones)

As the rebellion continues against the Catholic Church reaffirming the teaching of marriage, one logical fallacy gets repeated over and over… the argumentum ad passiones or the appeal to emotion. This fallacy exploits emotions—frequently of pity or guilt—irrelevant to the situation to sway people towards a desired position. If a person loses track of what is relevant, it is easy to lose track of why some things cannot be done.


When the Church has to say No on an issue, people who don’t like that answer will come up with all sorts of appeals as to why that refusal should be reversed. The general tactic will be to portray the Church as unfeeling or out of touch making “unreasonable” and “arbitrary” rules that are “manmade” and should be changed. Attempts to explain why the teaching must be followed is portrayed as “legalism.” When the Church states that it is impossible to alter the teaching, it is then labeled “betrayal.” We are then given lectures about how we are “going against Jesus” for saying it is a sin.


We need to remember slogans like “love is love” do not refute the Church teaching. Accusing the Church of “betrayal” is meaningless when the Church never had any intention to change her teachings and in fact made clear that she could never change this teaching. But these catchphrases do succeed in stirring up feelings of sympathy for the “victim” and hostility against the Church. Because “God is love” (taken from 1 John 4:8, 16) is misinterpreted to mean “God does not condemn what I do,” whoever repeats the Church teaching that something is a sin is accused of “hating,” which is considered unforgivable and worthy of that hostility in these times.


But these emotionally changed terms have no bearing on the fact that not all behavior can be reconciled with loving God and doing His will. People can and do fixate on things they cannot have if they want to follow Christ (cf. Matthew 7:21-23). The Church can (and does) help these people in the hardships that sometimes come from the pain of doing the right thing over what we desire. And we must do so, even if nobody else will (cf. Revelation 22:11). But, if a person insists that the only acceptable solution is the one the Church says goes against God’s ways, then the person who insists on going against the Church or invents a phony theology that misleads others is the one causing the pain that he blames the Church for.


The common topics of dissent: abortion, contraception, divorce and remarriage, same sex “marriage,” etc... these violate the commandments set down by God. Yes, we can find appeals to emotion that claim that hardship is the only result and the greater good requires changing the teaching. But these appeals to emotion refuse to address why the Church teaches they are wrong. Instead, we are told that it is  just an “arbitrary rule imposed by celibate old men.” If Catholics accept that dishonest reframing (it is an ad hominem by the way), they can easily use that as an excuse to reject anything they dislike about the Church.


If one wishes to follow Christ, and professes to be a Catholic, then it follows we must believe that the Church is empowered by Christ to bind and loose (cf. Matthew 16:19, 18:18). That does not mean that the Church can bind us to commit sin or free us from doing right. It means we trust that when the Church teaches, she does so with God’s authority and protection from error.


This is true even though hypocrites and sinners exist in the Church. I am one of them. You, the reader, are another. In past centuries, we have had knaves and scoundrels among the princes of the Church and even Popes. But we believe that God has protected His Church from teaching error. So, pointing to the notorious sinners within the Church to bolster our outrage and justify dissent is merely a lame excuse. Our Lord had something to say about the authority of hypocritical religious leaders: “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.” (Cf. Matthew 23:2-3). Do religious leaders cause scandal by living in a way contrary to teaching a scandal? Yes. Does it justify disobedience to teaching? No. Bringing these things up may raise disgust or contempt, but do not refute the truth of the teaching they hate.


The faithful need to be aware of this if they should be tempted to waver. Yes, we do need to show compassion to people we believe are doing wrong. Yes, we should be careful not to use slurs and hateful language about those we believe are doing wrong. But the terms “sin” and “sinner” are not hateful language.


Let us face the facts. If we truly hated these people, we would not be warning them of the consequences… we would simply let them go to hell without a word. That would be going against what Christ commanded: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10) §. And the seeking and saving is what the Church is doing in speaking out.





(†) Which raises the question: If to say “X is wrong” is to be guilty of hate, what does that make those who claim that the Catholic Church is wrong about her teachings?


(§) The whole story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), like that of the Woman taken in Adultery (John 8:1-11) shows Jesus giving forgiveness to the repentant. Not to the unrepentant.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Fatal Flaw: Thoughts on the Anti-Francis Rebellion

The critics of Pope Francis unrelentingly tell us that he is promoting confusion and error in the Church through either malice or incompetence. They point to certain quotes popularized in the media and unfavorably contrast it with previous Catholic teaching as “proof” of their charge that the Pope contradicts what the Church has always taught. The problem is, when one reads these quotes and previous documents in context, we see that neither justify the critics’ interpretation. Once we recognize this, we see the fatal flaw in the anti-Francis rebellion—that the critics are assuming as true what they have to prove (the begging the question fallacy) and that the texts they cite as “proof” prove nothing at all.

These critics remind me of the anti-Catholic fundamentalists I have encountered over the years. They quote Scripture against the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church but are unaware that Church and Scripture are not in conflict. Sometimes it is a case of not properly understanding Scripture. Sometimes it is a case of ignorance about what the Church teaches. But in both cases, what they call the “plain sense of Scripture” is nothing more than what they think it means.

The same is true of the anti-Francis Catholics. They think, “Who am I to judge?” means an approval of homosexual behavior. They think, “Rabbit Catholics” proves contempt for large families. They think that speaking about compassion for refugees is a deliberate condemnation of the Trump administration. They think that calling for confessors to investigate the level of consent present in the divorced and remarried Catholic is permission for all of them to receive the Eucharist. None of their accusations are true. But these critics who repeat them refuse to consider the possibility of their making an error.

I think these critics indict themselves (see John 9:41) when they say that the Pope is “unclear” or “needs to clarify.” That’s an admission of their interpreting Church teaching or what the Pope said. But, if one realizes that it is a matter of interpretation, that person has an obligation to see if the perceived conflict is a matter of individual misinterpretation. That means looking at how the Church herself understands the teachings—not how individuals or groups understand it [†]. That means we look to the shepherds of the Church, not the preferred website which is notorious for hostility to the Pope. If we don’t find an answer immediately, that doesn’t mean the accuser proved his point. We have to keep searching, trusting that the Church has an answer even if we don’t know it [§].

The problem with the Amoris Lætitia attacks is, as I see it, that certain Catholics have lost sight of (or never learned) the three requirements for mortal sin: Grave Matter, Full Knowledge, and Sufficient Consent. If one of these is lacking, the sin is not mortal—though it remains a serious matter needing correction. The critics I encountered personally focus on grave matter (which nobody denies) and point out that no Catholic should have total ignorance that it is a sin. But they overlook that some sinners may have wound up in their situation without wanting to defy the Church. The Church has recognized this with the alcoholic and the sexual compulsive who want to stop their sins but keep getting dragged back in because of defective consent. The Church has recognized the plight of the Catholic whose spouse insists on using contraception against their own will. The individual has still done serious wrong, but is trying to oppose it (a lack of sufficient consent) and needs the help of the Church in finding an escape from what seems like an impossible situation.

Instead, these critics assume that the Pope is ignoring the words of Our Lord about divorce and remarriage being adultery. They ignore that the confessor has long had the obligation of determining culpability and that this can change (without denying the objective evil) depending on the individual sinner. Pope Francis did not “open the floodgates.” He reminded confessors to investigate the culpability in every case, rather than automatically assume that the penitent deliberately willed to reject the Church with a full understanding as to what it meant. 

The fact that the critics have never, to my knowledge, acknowledged this aspect of moral theology is a sign of the fatal flaw in their rebellion. They focus on what they think the Pope means, while begging the question in assuming that the Pope is either heretical or incompetent. Since they assume but do not prove [¶] that the Pope promotes error, they view the quotes through a distorted lens. The person who does not start with accepting their assumption will not accept the quotes as proving the point.

But instead of trying to prove the point, many argue that whoever refuses to accept the contested assumption is “blind” or a heretic themselves. The argument runs something like this:

Critic: The Pope is a heretic because he doesn’t follow Church teaching.
Me: I think your interpretation of Church teaching is wrong because of X, Y, and Z.
Critic: Then you’re also a heretic or blind to the reality.
Me: How does that make me blind or a heretic?
Critic: Because you don’t follow Church teaching.

The point is, the critic ignores the fact that we challenge his own interpretation, not Church teaching. The critic assumes that a right thinking Catholic will think the same way he does. If someone—even the Pope—does not accept that interpretation, it is “proof” of his being in error.

This is the fatal flaw: The critic errs in interpretation but assumes they are not in error. As long as the Church does not follow what they think the teaching should mean, they see it as “proof” that the Church errs and needs correction. But our opposition to the critics is based on the fact that neither have the authority nor the training [∞] to properly interpret the Church teaching against the Pope and bishops they disagree with.

At this point, I think we must realize that these individuals need our prayers, that they realize that they are making a shipwreck of their faith and need to stop thinking of things as the true faith vs. the Pope.


[†] For example, some critics condemn Amoris Lætitia on the grounds that certain bishops have implemented a “come to the Eucharist if you feel called” policy. But that policy runs counter to the actual text of the Exhortation which tells bishops and confessors to investigate individual cases. People forget that throughout history some bishops and theologians have misrepresented Church teaching to avoid changing wrong behavior. One of the more infamous examples of this were the bishops from the American South before and during the Civil War who portrayed the Papal condemnation of slavery as only a condemnation of slave trafficking from Africa—which the South didn’t do anyway.

[§] As a personal example, during my years at Steubenville, I was doing a paper on the writings of Charles Curran. One of his arguments for changing Church teaching on contraception was that the Church had changed teaching before on moneylending—once forbidding it and later permitting it. I thought his argument sounded false, but I could not find an answer to his argument. Ten years later, I discovered the actual encyclical. In it, Pope Benedict XIV called for an investigation into whether there was a difference between investment and lending to people in need. The condemnation of usury remained unchanged. Curran’s argument was false.

[¶] The whole flaw of this fallacy is that one uses the point that needs proof as “proof” itself of the point. But, if the point is not proven as true, then anything used as “evidence” under that assumption is only valid if the point is first proven. 

[∞] I am referring to the typical social media critic here, not the cardinals who made what I think is a problematic response. Any rebuke of them, I leave to the Holy Father, and do not presume the right to do so myself.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Thoughts on Interpretation: How We Go Wrong if we Confuse True and Perceived Meaning

HumptyThe Internet in a nutshell…


One of the more disruptive things between Catholics on the internet is the argument over meaning. When a member of the Church speaks, people argue over meaning. Sometimes it is over whether a teaching really justifies sin. At other times, it is over whether the Pope emeritus really intended to condemn the Pope. Catholics who seek a desired meaning, regardless of faction, are likely to latch onto an interpretation that justifies what they have been fighting for. The problem is, unless they understand the words as intended by the speaker, such misinterpretations have no value. Consider the words of Dr. Peter Kreeft:

Socrates: I think you are confusing belief with interpretation.

Flatland: No, I'm just saying we have to interpret a book in light of our beliefs.

Socrates: And I'm saying we must not do that.

Flatland: Why not?

Socrates: If you wrote a book to tell other people what your beliefs were, and I read it and interpreted it in light of my beliefs, which were different from yours, would you be happy?

Flatland: If you disagreed with me? Why not? You're free to make up your own mind.

Socrates: No, I said interpreted the book in light of my beliefs. For instance, if you wrote a book against miracles and I believed in miracles, and I interpreted your book as a defense of miracles, would you be happy?

Flatland: Of course not. That's misinterpretation.

Socrates: Even if it were my honest belief?

Flatland: Oh, I see. We have to interpret a book in light of the author's beliefs, and criticize it in light of our own.

Socrates: Precisely. Otherwise we are imposing our views on another. other. And that is certainly not charitable, but arrogant.

Peter Kreeft. Socrates Meets Jesus: History's Greatest Questioner Confronts the Claims of Christ (Kindle Locations 749-755). Kindle Edition.

If we try to interpret the teachings of the Church through what we think they should be, we are doing it wrong. What we must do is interpret the words of Church teaching and the words of members of the Church as they are intended. Otherwise, we are only imposing our views on the Church, the Pope, the bishops, the saints, and so on. These misinterpretations appear in the form of several logical fallacies. These fallacies tend to be interlocked, so a critic of the Church might use several without realizing it.

1) Begging the Question [†]

The problem is, too many (wrongly) assume that they properly understand the meaning of a statement, and base their argument on that wrong assumption. What they don’t realize is that their assertion needs to be proven. By assuming their assumption is true, the “evidence” they gather for their position is not evidence at all. It’s merely part of the challenged assertion. As Aristotle points out,

[W]henever a man tries to prove what is not self-evident by means of itself, then he begs the original question. This may be done by assuming what is in question at once; it is also possible to make a transition to [40] other things which would naturally be proved through the [65a] thesis proposed, and demonstrate it through them, e.g. if A should be proved through B, and B through C, though it was natural that C should be proved through A: for it turns out that those who reason thus are proving A by means of itself. This is what those persons do who suppose [5] that they are constructing parallel straight lines: for they fail to see that they are assuming facts which it is impossible to demonstrate unless the parallels exist. So it turns out that those who reason thus merely say a particular thing is, if it is: in this way everything will be self-evident. But that is impossible. [Aristot., Pr. and Post. Anal. 64.2.35–65.1.9]

Aristotle, “ANALYTICA PRIORA,” in The Works of Aristotle, ed. W. D. Ross, trans. A. J. Jenkinson, vol. 1 (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1928).

It’s a good point. If I assume my belief is self-evident when it is not, then the things I claim are “proofs” will depend on others accepting my claim as self-evident. But when the claim is based on a misinterpretation, then these things are not proofs at all—merely further misinterpretation.
2) Ipse Dixit [§]
Ipse Dixit is another fallacy that goes around. It essentially is a bare assertion that something is so, but gives no evidence that it is so. The Catholic who alleges that a Church teaching is “opposed to Christ,” or the Catholic who claims that a statement by the current Pope contradicts the past statements of the Church is committing the ipse dixit fallacy. There is no proof to the statement. The person may be bluffing, or may be sincere. But merely asserting a thing is so is no proof. So, whether a dissenter argues that the Church is wrong in condemning homosexual acts, or whether the dissenter argues that the Pope is wrong in emphasizing mercy, there is no authority to their claims. They are merely asserting that whatever text they cite means what they say it means.
The fact of the matter is, the Church possesses the authority, given by Christ, to determine how to best interpret God’s teaching. A claim that the Church got teaching X wrong is based on an individual’s assertion. But the individual assertion has neither the authority nor the protection promised by Christ. Our task is to study what the Church teaches and understand it, so we might follow it and teach others to do the same. But we must do so in docility, recognizing that the Church can change disciplines for the good of souls. We must not become so attached to our personal reading that we assert it is doctrine in opposition to the Church.
3) Either-Or

We have a tendency to divide everything into two factions: Conservative vs. Liberal, Democrat vs. Republican, Capitalism vs. Socialism, Modernist vs. Traditionalist, and so on. Moreover, we view those factions in terms of Right vs. Wrong. Whoever is not in our faction is assumed to belong to the other faction and supporting all the evils belonging to the opposing faction. The problem is, in many cases, we have more than two sides. Moreover, while these factions are in opposition to each other, the fact that one is wrong does not make the other right. 
People are confusing contraries with contradictories. Positions that are contrary are positions where both cannot be right, but both can be wrong. For example, atheism and polytheism are contrary to each other on the existence of some form of divinity. But, if monotheism is true, both atheism and polytheism are wrong. Positions that are contradictory cannot both be right, but one is right and one is wrong. For example, it is either raining or not raining. It’s impossible for it to be both in the same place and the same time. One contradicts the other.
I think of this when I see critics of the Pope accuse his defenders of supporting divorce and remarriage or other positions contrary to what the Church teaches. Such accusers assume their position on what the Church teaching should be is true, and any disagreement shows that the other side supports error. But what they overlook is the possibility that the Pope’s defenders do not champion error at all, but instead reject the accusations as false (See how this ties in with Begging the Question and Ipse Dixit).
If the situation is different than the accuser claims, then the division into two factions is false. A person can say, “I reject both A and B.” A person can say, “I support some elements of both A and B.” A person can say, “I support C.” In all of these cases the either-or claim is false. So, before we can divide up people into preconceived notions of A vs. B, we have to make sure that only those two factions exist and that one of them must be true.
4) The Strawman

The Strawman fallacy misrepresents an argument and then treats the refutation of the misrepresentation as a refutation of the argument. But if the individual does not hold the position of the strawman, then he has not been refuted. This may happen, for example, if a person truly misunderstands the point, or it may happen if a person wants to discredit a position without going through the trouble of refuting it. (These are not the only two of course, as our discussion of either-or above pointed out).
There are a lot of crass misrepresentations out there. One popular one is to allege that Pope Francis endorses Cardinal Kasper’s claims on divorce and remarriage. But comparing Amoris Lætitia [¶] with Cardinal Kasper’s position shows that while the Pope approves of the concept of reaching out to the divorced/remarried to reconcile them with God and the Church, he did not accept the Cardinal’s position on emulating the Eastern Orthodox churches on the matter. So, to refute Cardinal Kasper’s opinion as not being compatible with Catholic teaching (I too reject the cardinal’s position) is not to refute Pope Francis on reaching out to these people.
These are not the only fallacies committed. But they are common and interlocked. They have a common flaw in assuming one has properly understood Church teaching and the position of those one disagrees with. But their interpretation is disputed, and if they have gotten one or both wrong, then their arguments are without value. We are required to make sure we understand both, in the light of the Church teaching (which the current Pope and bishops in communion with him have the authority to determine) and in what the person intended by his words. We cannot assume that what we think is meant is correct, and if that differs from what the Church says, that the Church is in error.
I’d recommend keeping the logical fallacies, listed above, in mind. Once you recognize them, the perceived legitimacy of the claims used to undermine the authority of the Church, the Pope, and the bishops in communion with him vanishes like smoke.
[†] Contemporary English misuses the term. Often people use the term “That begs the question of…” where they really mean “that brings up another question.” But the proper use of the term is assuming as true what needs to be proven true.
[§] Ipse Dixit (Latin for He himself said it) is simply an assertion with no proof given. 
[¶] I’ve read Amoris Lætitia five times to investigate all the accusations against it. I suspect that is five times more than the average anti-Francis critic on Facebook has read it.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What About the Troubled But Faithful?

Introduction—The Troubled Catholics Wanting to Be Faithful Are NOT Bad Catholics

In my recent articles about the rebellion in the Church, I focussed mostly on the people who were being obstinate because the Church was taking an approach they did not like or did not match their political preferences. However, there is one group I tended to only mention in passing. It occurs to me that some might think I was lumping this group in with the disobedient. So I thought I would talk more about this group—the troubled but faithful Catholic who is trying to make sense out of the claims and counter-claims made about what the Pope or the Church after Vatican II is doing.

First of all, I want to make clear that the people in this category that I have met are not disobedient. They want to know which claims are correct so they can faithfully follow the claims of the Church. Some of them may have been recent converts or reverts and are not confident in their knowledge of the Church. When they encounter someone who seems more knowledgable or confident about what they hold about the Church, they begin to wonder if perhaps these people might know more about the faith and should be listened to.

The danger to these Catholics in this case is that not all of the people who seem confident about their faith are representing the true faith, but are actually representing their preferences as doctrine. So when these Super Catholics start attacking the Pope or bishops because they dislike what is said, the troubled but faithful Catholic is in danger of being misled.

So the question of the troubled but faithful Catholic is understandable—who is to be heeded and who is to be ignored—is not unreasonable. There are examples of Catholics, laity, religious, priests and even bishops whose words, actions or inaction causes scandal. How can we say “trust the Church” when we don’t know if the individual priest or bishop is trustworthy? I want to make clear that I don’t consider this question to be the sign of a bad Catholic. I see it as the sign of a Catholic who wants to be faithful but is afraid to have their trust betrayed.

So, based on some of the things I have encountered on my blog and in talking with friends, here are some of the things that strike me as possibly helping the Catholics who fall into this category.

Fallacies of Composition and Division

There are two ways of thinking that seem natural and reasonable, but are actually misleading. They are known in logic as the fallacies of composition and division. I include them, because they can trip up the faithful Catholic who is troubled by dissent and scandal.

The fallacy of composition works this way: A is a part of B. A has flaw X. Therefore B has flaw X. The response is, “not necessarily.” For example, take the argument “Father Harry Tik favors contraception. Father Harry Tik is a Catholic. Therefore the Catholic Church favors contraception. This is false because in this case, the priest in question is in opposition to the teaching of the Church. Unfortunately this one is widespread. People encounter a bad priest or bishop and assume the whole Church has that badness. The fallacy of division works this way: A has quality X. Therefore every part of A has quality X. Again, the response is “not necessarily.” For example, take the argument, “The Church is pro-life. Therefore every Catholic is pro-life.” People like Nancy Pelosi show this is false.

The important thing to remember from these fallacies is that a person can’t make assumptions that the whole is bad on the behavior of some, nor that the individual must be good on the basis of the beliefs of the whole. Remember Jesus’ parable of the Kingdom of God being like a net cast into the sea (Matthew 13:47-50). It catches the good and the bad alike.

The Teaching Authority of the Church is Living, Not Dead

The history of the Church goes back to AD 33. The Church teaching authority has taught a lot in that almost 2000 years. There’s a lot written down which benefits the Church. But we don’t rely on those written documents alone. If we did, we’d be in the same boat as the supporters of sola scriptura, with about as many interpretations as interpreters. With a living magisterium, we recognize that it is the current Pope and the bishops who teach in communion with him who has the authority to teach at this time what is and what is not a proper interpretation of the Church teaching. When Pope Francis dies or steps down, it will be his successor who has that authority.

Once we recognize that, we can see that the Catholic who tries to claim faithfulness while denying or ignoring the teaching authority of the current Pope and the bishops is leading people astray. From the earliest days of the Church, people were clear on that. St. Ignatius of Antioch, for example was constantly exhorting people to respect the bishop and not to be in opposition to him (Epistle to the Magnesians, Chapter VII. Epistle to the Trillions, Chapter II. Epistle to the Philadelphians, Chapter VII. Epistle to the Smyrnæans, Chapters VIII and IX).

Yes, at times we do have faithless bishops who do not shepherd well, and on some occasions, teach error. In such cases, we are to pray for the bishop in question. But that doesn’t give us the right to ignore the teaching authority of the Church under the Pope.

Remember—Some People Put Forward Their Opinions As Doctrine

As human beings, each Catholic has their own preferences on what things should be like in Church. For example, I prefer the ordinary form of the Mass (respectfully celebrated of course) over the extraordinary form of the Mass, but I have no objections to the extraordinary form of the Mass or those who prefer it. Some Catholics however think the ordinary form was a mistake and should be repealed. Of them, some of them accuse the Church of falling into error. We need to remember that, while we may like a specific way for the Church to do something, it is up to the magisterium to determine what is best for the Church—theirs is the responsibility, theirs is the authority. If it troubles us, we can make our concerns known, but we need to remember that the bishop is the authority of the diocese and the Pope has authority over the whole Church. The Vatican I document Pastor Aeternus tells us in Chapter 3:

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.

Which means that when the Pope sets things in place for the good of the Church, we do not get to appeal to something beyond the Pope. We can ask him to consider it our way, but if he says that it shall be done this way, we can’t say “No, I’ll do it that way!” But some people do, and believe the Church errs, not them. Such people can be a danger to the faith because they have convinced some that the Church has fallen into error and can no longer be trusted. Such people cause a great deal of confusion for the troubled Catholic who wants to be faithful, and such people blame on the Church for the confusion.

So I would stress that when you encounter someone who says that the Church as a whole is in error, they are not a reliable guide.

Misinterpretations Happen More Than You Might Think

We don’t have to have a malicious media to get news about what the Pope says wrong. All it takes is a lack of knowledge to understand how the Church works and how she teaches. The Pope doesn’t formally teach in press conferences or in interviews or in personal books (St. John Paul II’s Crossing the Threshold of Hope or Pope emeritus Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth are not teachings of the Pope). He teaches in encyclicals, exhortations, motu proprio, and others. But the modern media seems to be focussed on the big scoop and they tend to think of Church teaching as party politics. So, when they come across words that sound like (to them) a change in Church teaching, they report it as a Church teaching. 

The modern media also tends to mirror each other. When one news source begins talking about “The Pope says X!” soon, all the news sources are talking about how the Pope said X, expanding on it with their speculation (See HERE for a parody of how this works). When this happens, people tend to believe it and when someone contradicts this, claiming it to be a misquote or taken out of context, people tend to not believe it. (“Who am I to judge” was taken out of context. “Breed like rabbits” was a misquote and so on). Some people accuse the apologists of trying to “explain away” what was said. But the transcripts do show that what was said and what the media reported are not always the same.

Now, the Vatican does have one weakness, and that is being slow when it comes to getting the full transcripts out there. I would hope that they catch on and release the transcripts as soon as possible, not relying on the members of the media to accurately report things they don’t understand properly. That wouldn’t help in cases where the Catholic is only aware of secular news sources (I strongly recommend Vatican Information Service and ZENIT), but if the full transcripts would appear on the same day as the interview or press conference, it would probably deflate a lot of the misinformation.

But here’s something to consider. How many times do the anti-Catholics dredge up the stories about how we “worship statues” for example. No matter how many times we deny that this is true, no matter how eloquently we explain what we do believe, you’ll come across someone who gets it wrong. So that’s why I have to disagree with the people who say that “If the Pope spoke clearly, this wouldn’t happen every time.” Yes, it can and does. St. John Paul II’s writings on economic justice was constantly misrepresented as being a turn in the direction of socialism. Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate was also represented this way. When St. John Paul II wrote Veritatis Splendor and Evangelism Vitae, the media’s first question was “Is the Pope changing Church teaching?” When Benedict XVI was interviewed in Light of the World, reporters around the world misinterpreted a hypothetical example of a “homosexual male prostitute with AIDS using a condom” reporters assumed he was perhaps moving towards approving homosexuality and definitely was changing Church teaching on condoms when it came to people with AIDS.

So, it is not true that the media wouldn’t keep misrepresenting the Pope if he spoke clearly—they did the same thing with his predecessors… constantly.


The thing I would most want to say to encourage the faithful Catholic who is troubled by what they see around them is this: Trust that God protects His Church, and His Church is centered around the Pope and the bishops in communion with him. Yes, there will be snags. Like us, they are human and sometimes they will goof up. Sometimes individuals in the Church may play the part of Judas. But we need to remember that God will not permit His Church to teach error in matters of faith and morals. Because even when the teaching is not ex cathedra, we have to give our assent to it (see CCC #892). It makes no sense for God to insist that we obey the Church in sinning against God or else be guilty of sin, so it is reasonable to expect God to protect the Church from teaching error when we must give assent or be guilty of sin.

This isn’t a call for blind obedience. It is a call for trust in The Lord.

May God Bless you in your seeking to be faithful to Him. I pray this article will be a help and not a hindrance.

Monday, November 17, 2014

They're Not In Limbo, They're In Defiance: Attempts to Divide and Conquer Church Teaching

The article, "Lewistown couple remains in limbo with Catholic Church,” reflects the advocacy journalism common today. We get the appeal to pity in favor of the position supported, and zero mention of why the Church acts as she does. The result of such advocacy journalism is to pit the “poor persecuted couple” against the “cold legalistic church."

But the problem is this: The Church believes that God condemns homosexual acts, and her role is to help people who are struggling in sin to return to God’s grace. The couple in question publicly rejected the Church teaching about homosexual acts by having a same sex “marriage” performed. Given the choice between loving and obeying God or remaining in their relationship, the couple chose the second option. Thus the Church had no choice but to deny them the Eucharist.

John 14:15 records that Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” In Luke 16:10, Jesus teaches, "The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.” Finally, in Luke 10:16, speaking of the authority of the Apostles, Jesus says, "Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

The point is, rejecting the teaching authority of the Church is rejecting Christ—no matter how people might wish it otherwise.

So, the couple and the author of the article plays the tactic of “divide and conquer.” They try to divide the pastor in question from the bishop ("What’s odd to me is the censure comes from Father Spiering at St. Leo’s, but the bishop hasn’t acted on it, he hasn’t changed it”), and the teaching from the Church (pointing to the statements of a German and French bishop).

The article portrays the couple as waiting it out, expecting the Church to change. But she won’t change from saying “X is a sin” to saying “X is not a sin.” All she might do is change the focus on how to reach out to sinners with the intention of bringing them back to the Church. Truth never changes, but the ways one reaches out to the one denying truth might change, so long as it doesn’t forget the truth. GK Chesterton once wrote:

An imbecile habit has arisen in modern controversy of saying that such and such a creed can be held in one age but cannot be held in another. Some dogma, we are told, was credible in the twelfth century, but is not credible in the twentieth. You might as well say that a certain philosophy can be believed on Mondays, but cannot be believed on Tuesdays. You might as well say of a view of the cosmos that it was suitable to half-past three, but not suitable to half-past four. What a man can believe depends upon his philosophy, not upon the clock or the century. (Orthodoxy pp. 135-36)

It’s a good point. God, being all powerful, all knowing and perfectly good, as well as being outside of time, does not change His mind about what is good and evil. He has, in the early days of bringing his plan of salvation to the whole world, gradually brought about prohibitions on what could be done in preparation for the fullness of revelation (the term is Divine Accommodation). But He has never gone from saying “X is evil” to saying “X is permissible."

Unfortunately, some people do think that because the believers in God moderated their positions on war, slavery etc, it means that the position on homosexuality must also change. But that is to miss the point. The shocking accounts of the Jews in gaining their homeland was not to say that it was once all right to commit genocide but not longer. The issue was the horrific practices of the people living in the region and God exacting His punishment, and removing such practices from the land:

After the Lord, your God, has driven them out of your way, do not say in your heart, “It is because of my justice the Lord has brought me in to possess this land, and because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord is dispossessing them before me.”* No, it is not because of your justice or the integrity of your heart that you are going in to take possession of their land; but it is because of their wickedness that the Lord, your God, is dispossessing these nations before you and in order to fulfill the promise he made on oath to your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Know this, therefore: it is not because of your justice that the Lord, your God, is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people. (Deuteronomy 9:4-6)

Idolatry and child sacrifice were wrong in those days and are wrong now. The difference between then and now is that then God was restricting the behavior of warlike tribes that would otherwise have done worse, and He continued to restrict them in bringing them closer to His plan of salvation.

Jesus did not release moral prohibitions. He made them stricter:

Teaching About the Law. 17 *“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.* 20 I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 

Teaching About Anger.* 21 “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’* 22 *But I say to you, whoever is angry* with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. 23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, 24 leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny. 

Teaching About Adultery. 27 *“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 *If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna. 

Teaching About Divorce. 31 *“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 

Teaching About Oaths. 33 * “Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.’ 34 But I say to you, do not swear at all;* not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. 37 *Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one. 

Teaching About Retaliation. 38 *“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. 40 If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. 41 Should anyone press you into service for one mile,* go with him for two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. 

Love of Enemies.* 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors* do the same? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?* 48 So be perfect,* just as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:17-48)

In every single case, Jesus showed that the teaching of the Old Testament was not reversed. It was expanded to be more binding— not just avoiding the acts of murder or adultery, but rejecting the cause of those acts.

The Apostles did not believe they had the right to overturn the teaching of God, and so they never committed the argument from silence fallacy that modern critics do in trying to separate Jesus from St. Paul or the Old Testament when it comes to the condemnation of homosexual acts because they mentioned these acts while Jesus did not—ignoring the fact that Jesus defined what marriage was in a way that excluded their attempts to divide:

* He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)

You can’t separate God from Jesus. You can’t separate Jesus from His Apostles. You can’t separate the Apostles from the Church today. You can’t separate the Church teaching from the Pope and the Bishops or the Bishop from the Priest who is carrying out his assignment. While you get some in the Church who want to change what the Church believes God has commanded, those people are not the Pope or the bishops in communion with him, but people who put their opinions above the teaching of Christ.

People who do this may be willfully in defiance or they may be acting out of ignorance—THAT’S where Christ’s words of not judging apply—so we can’t write them off as irredeemable. We have to continue to reach out to them, helping them to understand when actions separate them from God’s love, helping them to come back.

That’s what the Pope is calling for—not changing “X is a sin” to “X is not a sin."

Monday, January 20, 2014

Christians Behaving Badly? A Logical Reflection

Let's consider an argument which is sometimes made against Christianity. Some horrendous action is done by someone who professes a belief in Christianity. This action is used to argue Christianity is a harmful belief.

There are all sorts of problems with such a claim.

The Logical Problem

The logical syllogism of such a claim works this way:

■ [Bill] is a [Christian] ([A] is part of [B])
■ [Bill] is a [Bigot] ([A] is a part of [C])
■ Therefore [Christians] are [Bigots] (Therefore [B] is part of [C])

Now, look at the diagram attached to this blog. What we can tell is how A relates to B and to C. But we can't tell anything about how B and C interact with each other. (This is known as the fallacy of the undistibuted middle).

The point is, the behavior of an individual does not automatically mean his behavior exists because of his religious beliefs.  Abortion is condemned by the Catholic Church, for example. But the Andrew Cuomos and Nancy Pelosis of the world show that many people profess to be Catholic while supporting the actions the Church condemns as evil.  Using the same fallacy:

■ Nancy Pelosi is pro abortion
■ Nancy Pelosi is Catholic
■ Therefore Catholics are pro abortion.

Which is asinine. (And despite what the media unethically claims, Pope Francis condemns abortion). Pelosi holds her position in spite of Catholic teaching , not because of Catholic teaching.

The Reasoned Approach

Before we can blame the behavior of Bill on his religion, we need to determine what his religion teaches, and whether his religion approves of or disapproves of his actions. This can require some digging. For example, if a religion supports missionary activity,  but condemns forced conversion, then if Bill baptizes people at gunpoint, he is acting against, not for, his religion.


This is part of seeking the truth. The stereotype stops at equating bad behavior as part of the essence of the disliked group. The truth seeker asks whether a person does a wicked act because of or in spite of his beliefs.

Unfortunately, stereotypes are common behavior. Some (like "all blacks are criminals") are mostly recognized as wrong and offensive. But many others are accepted as a matter of fact.


The thing to remember is, whenever a claim is made drawing a conclusion against Christianity, one needs to determine whether the person acts in accordance with their beliefs or against them.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

TFTD: Argument from Ignorance

Reading a post on a website this morning, I had the misfortune of reading the combox comments where a radical traditionalist was blasting a religious order (in this case, the Jesuits).

When this person was challenged by another commentator who pointed out that those who do wrong do not prove the whole order is bad, the response was a demand to name 5 good priests from that order.

In logic, we call this the argument from ignorance. It presumes that just because a person is unaware of examples of something it means that thing does not exist.

But just because a person does not know something exists, it does not follow that it does not exist. It may or may not exist.  That's to be determined by evidence.

Personally, I can only think of four living Jesuits by name off the top of my head who I think highly of... but So what? I can only think of two living Jesuits I think poorly of off the top of my head. 

For that matter, off the top of my head I can only think of a few good living Dominicans, Franciscans, Benedictines... and fewer bad ones.  Does the fact I can't list 5 good living Trappists by name mean the Trappists are rotten?

Fame and notoriety of some members of a group does not mean the whole is good or bad.

(In addition, the radical traditionalist was also guilty of shifting the burden of proof. One does not prove X by demanding proof of Not-X.)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Tablet Thoughts: Seminary Dissent Preceded Vatican II

It's a common theme among radical traditionalists that Vatican II led to problematic theories being taught in seminaries. Problem with that theory is that Ven. Pius XII mentioned this problem in 1950 in the encyclical,  Humani generis #13.

So, if this kind of mindset was going on to the extent that a Pope felt important to mention almost 20 years before the rebellion that exploded in 1968, it seems to be a post hoc fallacy to say Vatican II caused that rebellion.

Something to keep in mind when coming across someone denouncing a valid ecumenical council.

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.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

On Discrimination and Persecution against Religion in America

Preliminary Notes: Accident and Essence

Since I will use the terms below, I should very briefly explain them. Essence is what a thing is. A triangle has three sides and three interior angles which total 180°. If the shape has more or fewer sides than three or the interior angles do not equal 180°, then you do not have a triangle.

Accident are qualities a particular thing has but are irrelevant to the essence. I can have a green cardboard triangle. I can have a chromed sheet metal triangle, but the color or the materials do not make a thing a triangle.

In the issue of racism, properly speaking a human being is a human being regardless of gender, ethnicity or skin color. Gender, ethnicity or skin color are accidents of the essence of human being. Whether the person is male or female, dark or light, Asian or Caucasian is irrelevant to whether the person is a human being. So a person should not be treated as less than a person because of the accidents of appearance. Neither should they receive benefits on account of the accidents.


One attitude I have encountered over the years as American Law and Government becomes more hostile towards religion is the argument that since the treatment of religion in America is not like the treatment of religion in China or the former Soviet Union, it means the Church is not persecuted in America.

Thus when people speak out against the actions of the American government and use terms like "persecution" it is easy to be dismissive and say, "you're not persecuted… people aren't locking you up!"

The Fallacy of the accident

This is a metaphysical fallacy – The fallacy of the accident – which Peter Kreeft (See Socratic Logic 3e page 110) describes as either treating something accidental as something essential (for example, racism wrongly assumes the accident of skin color is essential in determining whether a person is to be treated as human) or treating something essential as accidental (such as denying that there is any difference between heterosexual coitus and homosexual sodomy since both can result in orgasm).

A common demonstration of the fallacy of the accident is:

  1. Cutting people with a knife is a crime.
  2. Surgeons cut people with knives.
  3. Surgeons are criminals.

(The accident of cutting people with knives depends on the essence of why a person is cutting you with a knife, to heal or to harm).

In our case, the argument that there is no persecution in America works this way:

  1. Communist China persecutes religion by imprisonment, torture and executions
  2. The United States does not imprison, torture or execute people on religious grounds
  3. Therefore the United States does not persecute people on religious grounds.

In this case, the accident of how persecution is carried out in Communist China (imprisonment, torture, execution) is confused for the essence of discrimination itself existing (the unequal treatment on the basis of religion).  Since the degree of persecution is greater in Communist China, a degree which is less is argued as not being persecution at all.

That would be like a triage nurse in the Emergency Room saying that because the patient's pain level is not at 10, the patient is not in pain.

Persecution and Discrimination Defined

To clarify issues, we ought to begin with the definition of Persecution and Discrimination

Persecute: 1. subject to prolonged hostility and ill-treatment. 2. persistently harass or annoy.

Discriminate: make an unjust distinction in the treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, sex, or age.

—Oxford English Dictionary

The two concepts are very similar.  The state discriminates when it treats one group of people less fairly than others because this group is different.  The state persecutes when it treats a group hostilely or harasses them.  Ill treatment can vary from unequal treatment under the law to active coercion.

In America, the Catholic Church can be said to be treated unequally under the law on the grounds that the First Amendment is ignored when it comes to State interference in compelling Church institutions to either act against their beliefs or else discontinue their services.  The political elites in America are treating those who act on religious convictions with hostility.  Our institutions have been ordered to act contrary to what they believe God requires of us and have needed to seek justice in the courts to try to protect ourselves from what the government has no right to do to begin with.

Lest anyone attempt a tu quoque and say we are hypocritical because we discriminate as well, we utterly deny the charge.  Catholic hospitals do not refuse to treat non-Catholics or sinners.  Catholic schools do not refuse to teach non-Catholics.  Catholic orphanages do not refuse to let non-Catholics adopt or refuse to take in non-Catholic orphans.

We merely insist that our institutions, being based in the Catholic faith, be allowed to carry out our mission according to the way we believe God calls on us to behave.  Those who come to a Catholic institution and insist on making us behave in a way we call sinful are not being discriminated against when we refuse.  Rather they are discriminating against us by trying to force us to act in a way we call sinful.

Now the state can make unjust decrees that it enforces through legal, physical or financial coercion.  However, such decrees are not binding laws in our eyes because the state has no authority to force us to do something that God forbids.


The degree to which the United States makes use of coercion to comply or face repercussions when it demands Catholic institutions to follow the Government commands may not be to the extreme of China or Afghanistan, but this does not mean that the coercion does not exist.  It does exist and it is unjust because even if one rejects our claims to be the Church established by Christ to teach with His authority, this coercion does violate the US Constitution.

To borrow from Pastor Niemöller, they are coming for us first.  You may not speak out because you are not Catholic.  However if one stays silent during these early and less extreme violations of our rights, you may find that eventually, "Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me."

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.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Most Famous Pope Who Never Lived: Debunked Myth of Pope Joan to be a Movie

Source: Pope Joan film sparks Roman Catholic Church row - Telegraph

So, the long debunked myth of "Pope Joan" is to be made into a movie, it seems.  The claim is that sometime during the 9th or 10th century, a woman disguised herself as a man and rose up in the ranks of the Church hierarchy, becoming Pope and eventually discovered when she gave birth while travelling through the streets of Rome.

The List of Popes as Counter-Evidence

The problem is, despite claims to the contrary, the popes of this time period were known:

There were a few brief interregnums (897-898, 928-929, 935-936, 964-965, 972-973, 984-985).  Could we say she was Pope during one of these times?  No.  Reading JND Kelly (an Anglican) in his work, The Oxford Dictionary of Popes, we see the dates were of a short duration.

  • The interregnum of 897-898 was from the death of Theodore II in November to the election of John IX in January
  • The Interregnum of 928-929 seems to be a matter of a few days (Kelly indicates that actually there was no interregnum between Leo VI and Stephen VII)
  • The interregnum of 935-936 was from the death of John XI in December 935 to the election of Leo VII in January 936
  • The interregnum of 964-965 involved an emperor exiling Benedict V in 964.  When Benedict V died in 965, John XIII was elected.  There was no room for a Pope Joan in this time.  Benedict V was the lawful pope at this time.
  • The interregnum of 972-973 was from September 962 (Pope John XII) until January 973 (Benedict VI)
  • The interregnum of 984-985 was the first one in this period which can be called "extended" lasting from August 984 (John XIV) to August 985 (John XV).  During this time, there was an antipope who had imprisoned and starved Pope John XIV to death.  The election of a new Pope could not take place until the antipope (so-called Boniface VII) died.

So as we can see, there were no periods of known gaps between popes which we cannot account for.

The Claims of when "Pope Joan" existed can not be verified

The documents from which dates are given when "Pope Joan" was supposed to have reigned, have one problem: We know the history and the Popes when she was supposed to reign.  The work The Chronicles of Popes and Emperors by Martin of Troppau (died 1297) claims that Pope Joan, as "John Anglicus" succeeded Leo IV (died 855) and reigned 2 years, 7 months, 4 days.  This would mean her reign would be approximately 855-858.

There is a problem however.  The successor to Leo IV was Benedict II, who was known to be elected on September 29th 855.  During part of his reign, he was imprisoned by the antipope Anastasius for about six months in 855.  We have historical mentioning of him in the supposed period where "Joan" was supposed to reign.  So the problem is: No space for a "Pope Joan" reigning 2 and a half years.

Another source, The Universal Chronicle of Metz, by Jean de Mailly written between 1240 and 1250, asserts "Joan reigned after Bl. Victor III (died Sept 16,1087).  There was a seven month interregnum between his death and the election of Bl. Urban II (March 12, 1088).  During that interregnum, we had the interference of antipope Clement III.  So again, we can account for the history of this time.

Other claims were for AD 915 (covered by the reign of Pope John XIV (AD 914-928)), and AD 1100 (the reign of Paschal II from 1099-1118)

So again… no room for a "Pope Joan."

The Appeals to Vague History, Irrelevant Authority and Arguments from Silence

Because the actual documents cite dates which can be disproved, one of the popular claims is that it happened sometime when there are scanty records.  The Telegraph claims she was "elected pontiff in 853, after the death of Pope Leo IV."  However, this date was when St. Leo IV was Pope, and we know St. Leo IV died on July 17, 855, while his successor Benedict III became Pope on Sept 29, 855.

The Telegraph goes on to say: "But proponents of the story point out that papal records are almost non-existent in the 10th and 11th centuries and that even male popes are barely documented."  "Barely" is a weasel word.  It means we may not know much about the Popes in these years, but we do know they existed and when.

It is also interesting to note that the Telegraph speaks of the 10th and 11th centuries, when the allegation of Pope Joan was cited as being in the 9th century by the same article.

The Telegraph claims: The Catholic Church has long argued that Pope Joan is not mentioned in any contemporary records and that the whole tale is a fantasy, cooked up by scheming Protestants.

No, that is not true.  Nor is it the Catholic teaching.  As I pointed out above, we know of records from the 13th century… which predated Protestantism by a bit over 200 years.  No, what the Church says about Protestantism and the legend of Pope Joan was that it was commonly invoked as a "proof" against the Papacy (See Patrick Madrid's article on why the claim would not disprove the papacy). 

Indeed, it was Protestant David Blondel (1590-1655) who debunked the story.

It is unfortunate that there was a lot of false accusations slung from both sides during the Reformation, but let's not add to them.  Now if only the Telegraph would remember this…

The Telegraph article goes on to say:

"Joan's absence from contemporary church records is only to be expected. The Roman clergymen of the day, appalled by the great deception visited upon them, would have gone to great lengths to bury all written reports of the embarrassing episode," argues the American writer Donna Woolfolk Cross, on whose novel, 'Pope Joan', the film is based

This would be an Argument from Silence fallacy.  Yes it could happen that records could be destroyed.  It could also be the case that said records never existed.  If one wants to claim records were destroyed, let us see the evidence for the claim.

(For the record, Donna Woolfolk Cross holds a BA in English and an MA in Literature and writing.  She is an author, not a historian.  She cannot be appealed to as an expert… that would be the fallacy of irrelevant authority.)

The Telegraph article holds an embarrassing contradiction as well.  Another 'expert' says:

"The Dark Ages really were the dark ages," said Peter Stanford, a former editor of the Catholic Herald and the author of 'The She-Pope: a quest for the truth behind the mystery of Pope Joan'.

"There is absolutely no certainty about who the popes of the ninth century were. We have to rely instead on medieval chronicles, written hundreds of years later."

So, which was it?  Were records burnt or merely written 300 years later?  Why can I look up every Pope on the list in the 9th century and find information on them?

(For the record, Stanford was required to resign from the Catholic Herald in 1992 on account of his collaboration with Kate Saunders on the wretched book Catholics and Sex which rejected the Church teaching on contraception.  He is a journalist, not a Historian, and has no qualifications to speak on the subject as an expert).

The Problem With the Whole Claim

We have history of the times which do account for the Popes.  We have no reports from these times that a Pope Joan actually existed.  These records of Pope Joan did not appear until the 13th century.  To give you an example of how big a difference in time this was, it would be like saying accounts first appearing in 2010 would be considered proof of events taking place in the 1600s. 

The thing about historical documents and events is we can assess them from other documents who make reference to them.  If contemporary documents mention these things we can be relatively certain that the document or event in question was known in this time.  If there is no mention, the possibilities are:

  1. People were not aware of the event or document during that time
  2. The event did not happen or the book did not exist at that time
  3. Something happened to the documents which mentioned these things

#1 could be true of people who were completely unknown or documents which were written and fell into obscurity without attracting attention.  #2 is a reasonable conclusion, though to avoid the argument from silence we generally say "there is no evidence in favor of this claim" instead of "this never happened."  #3 would require some sort of reference to some sort of event which could explain the loss.

For example, we do know of Patristic works making reference to the writings of certain saints which no longer exist.  We do know that during the reign of Diocletian (244-311), many Christian writings were destroyed, and some other destruction of writings took place in earlier persecutions.  In these cases, we know what the titles were, and occasionally we have some fragments cited quoted by other patristic writers.  However, we can't speculate with any accuracy as to what documents which we don't even know existed might have said.

This is the problem with the "Dark Age" records being "destroyed" as a defense of the Pope Joan myth.  What destruction?  What document?  What author?

In fact, to claim "the documents must have been destroyed" is nothing more than admission that there is no documentary evidence available to evaluate.  It is speculation that such documents existed, let alone what they might have said.

If we claim that a story is true, and base the claim on a purported lack of evidence against the story, the purported lack of evidence says nothing in favor of the story.  The question is, what evidence does one have to support the claim?


The Pope Joan myth argues that at some undocumented time between the 9th and 11th centuries, there was a woman Pope named Joan.  It can't produce a history, a reign or any evidence which is not refuted by known history.

In other words, there is no history in the Pope Joan story, and real history which needs to be explained away before it could be taken seriously.  So why all the interest in the story now?  Cui bono?  Like the upcoming Hypatia movie, the whole thing smells of an agenda.  The Church hates women, hates sex, hates science, hates… well fill in your own word.  It's been done to death.  At any rate, the movies are not being made to present a historical story, but to bash the Church as an enemy of a favored ideology.

The current movie project is based on a work of fiction by an author who has no background in history, using sources which are secondary to create an allegation that there was a Pope who was a woman for the purpose of arguing that the Church is wrong in its teachings (See the Madrid article referenced above as to why this doesn't work).

There's only one thing the movie lacks however: Facts.