Showing posts with label straw man. Show all posts
Showing posts with label straw man. Show all posts

Monday, August 10, 2015

Truth and Its Counterfeits

The World vs. The Church

The West, being effectively apostate, preaches a counterfeit message of love and salvation which claims that because God loves, He does not judge. Therefore , they think, the Church goes against God when she insists that some behavior is morally wrong. Such a mindset looks at Catholic moral teachings and thinks there is no reason to continue to cling to them. So, when the Church says that a valid marriage exists until the death of one of the spouses, says that abortion is never justified, says that marriage can only exist between one man and one woman, people get offended at the Church’s “intransigence” (one wonders why nobody ever uses that term about those who challenge the Church) and call her unreasonable, bureaucratic, intolerant, and so on. These are ad hominem attacks and not rebuttals, but they are repeated so often that many people believe it.

But the Church, believing God exists and has set down commandments regarding our moral obligations, cannot accept such a view. She recognizes the fact that God created humanity with free will—something He will not violate—and individuals can and do use their free will to reject the moral obligation that goes along with God’s loving and salvific act. Essentially, to accept God’s salvation is to accept His commandments. As the Catechism says:

678 Following in the steps of the prophets and John the Baptist, Jesus announced the judgment of the Last Day in his preaching. Then will the conduct of each one and the secrets of hearts be brought to light.583 Then will the culpable unbelief that counted the offer of God’s grace as nothing be condemned. Our attitude about our neighbor will disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love.585 On the last day Jesus will say: “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (1470)

679 Christ is Lord of eternal life. Full right to pass definitive judgment on the works and hearts of men belongs to him as redeemer of the world. He “acquired” this right by his cross. The Father has given “all judgment to the Son.” Yet the Son did not come to judge, but to save and to give the life he has in himself.588 By rejecting grace in this life, one already judges oneself, receives according to one’s works, and can even condemn oneself for all eternity by rejecting the Spirit of love. (1021)

If Our Lord chose to die for us so that we could be saved, what will happen to those who refuse to accept this gift, or treat it cheaply?

The World vs. Reality

This rejection does not have to be an overt rejection of everything good and decent in the world. It can be as simple as refusing to accept the reality of what God has commanded and the Church teaches. For example, in the Robert Bolt play, A Man For All Seasons, St. Thomas More is beginning to experience the hostility of refusing to go along with accepting King Henry VIII in his attempts to divorce his wife and marry Anne Boleyn. More's wife, Alice, is angry and worried about the possible effects of his refusal to go along with the king’s divorce and remarriage:

Alice: (irritation) And you stand between them!
More: I? What stands between them is a sacrament of the Church. I’m less important than you think, Alice.

[Bolt, Robert. A Man For All Seasons (Modern Classics) (Kindle Locations 882-884). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.]

The hostility directed at St. Thomas More and the Catholic Church is not due to intransigence on the part of the Church or individuals. It is due to the fact that the reality of the situation does not allow them to do anything else, even if it it means facing hostility and suffering. as a result.

This forces the individual to make a choice. When the world says there is nothing wrong with X, and the Church says X is a sin, the question that must be asked is how we are so confident that the Church must be wrong—especially when we are individually so uninformed about Church teaching as to think that the words of the Pope or the Catechism or the Second Vatican Council are a change from previous teaching. Before one can condemn the Church teaching, a person has to ask whether they fully know and understand the teaching or not. If they do not, they must not presume to judge.

The World Fails to Consider the Truth of What It Does Not Want to Hear

Unfortunately, many people either judge something without learning about it or else only read about it after they have made up their minds on the subject. If one decides “The Church must be wrong,” and reads what the Church has to say on the subject with that mindset, such a person—and not the Church—is guilty of intransigence. Ultimately, what it comes down to this. A good person—one who wills to do good to the best of their ability—has to start by looking for the truth. Ideas must be examined to see if they are true or whether there are some valid objections against them. However, when there are objections, one has to see whether they have accurately represented the view they oppose or whether they have turned it into a caricature. Refuting a caricature is not a refutation of the argument.

Since the rejection of the Church can only be legitimately done by refuting what she truly believes—not a caricature of that belief—the person who opposes the Church teaching has to show how her actual teaching is wrong before his accuser can say that the Church has been refuted. But the fact is, the Church has never been truly refuted. There have only been misrepresentations of Church teaching which have been refuted. Whether that misrepresentation is by portraying the bad behavior of a member of the Church as a teaching of the whole or whether it is falsely alleging that the Church “worships statues,” or calling her moral teaching on sexuality “a war on women” or “homophobic,” all we have are straw men (misrepresentations of the truth) and ad hominem attacks. Either the teaching itself or the motive for the teaching has been misrepresented so as to lead one to believe we are a dangerous group who seek to oppose freedom and goodness out of malice—charges we deny and reject.

Ultimately, a person of good will who seeks to do what is right must begin with no longer believing what “everybody knows,” and instead checking to see if the things which were long assumed on the basis of being told by another person are actually true. If it turns out such things are not true, such a person must stop repeating them and believing them. We must seek to find and once we do find, we must change our ways to live according with the truth. If we do not, our blindness is willful and we will be judged for our hard hearts.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Missing the Point: Church Teaching or non-Teachings?

Today I ran across a claim on the internet that the Church could change Church teachings on moral issues, because she had made changes in the past. When pressed on the question, one individual pointed to the Church changing the rules on eating meat on Friday and the “extermination” of those who refused to convert to Catholicism as proof of changed teachings. The person went so far as to claim Papal bulls sanctioned this extermination—though when pressed was unwilling or unable to name any.

That wasn’t unexpected of course. When one does not understand how the teaching of the Church works or does not know of the doctrines and history of the Church, it’s easy to believe all sorts of claims about the Church without actually looking for evidence for the claim. Thus, there’s a lot of cases going around where there is common knowledge—where the response is “everybody knows THAT,” but when one tries to find evidence for what “everybody knows,” it turns out that nobody actually knows of any...

I find that people tend to make one or more of four errors when it comes to the Catholic Church and what she teaches. These are:

  1. Confusing a discipline or other decree with the official teaching of the Church.
  2. Missing the Point about the actual Church teaching.
  3. Misunderstanding a term used in a Church document, thinking it means something more than it actually does.
  4. Wrongly believing that an abuse which is done by a Catholic is the intended teaching of the Catholic Church.

I’ll take a look at these things, and see where they go wrong.

Confusing Discipline/Decree With a Church Teaching

Church teaching is not everything a member of the Church says—even if the person speaking is a bishop or the Pope. The Teaching of the Church is what the Church formally intends to teach as being binding on all the faithful as a matter of the faith or morals of the Church. So when the Church says that same sex marriage, contraception and abortion are intrinsically (that is, always wrong regardless of motives or circumstances) evil, this is a Church teaching. This is not something that is optional, or that the changing circumstances of the times will let the Church decide to do things differently.

However, when the Church decides that members of the Church need to practice a discipline for their spiritual good—for example, Friday abstinence from meat, permitting or withholding the chalice for the laity, whether the Mass be said in Latin or the Vernacular, or even whether or not the clergy must be celibate—these things can be changed if the Church deems it to be for a greater good. So now, we can choose another Friday sacrifice instead of giving up meat. The Church has at different times decreed that the laity may or may not receive the chalice. And, if the Church truly sees a need for it, she can change the discipline of whether the Church ordains married men (as she does in the Eastern Rites) or only ordains celibate men (as she does in the Latin rite). Making a change in these matters is not a case of “the Church was wrong then but right now” (or vice versa for traditionalists). These are situations where the Church makes a decree based on certain conditions.

Missing the Point About the Church Teaching

This brings us to the next issue, which is keeping in mind what Church teaching is actually under consideration. Consider the common canard that the Church changed her teaching on “eating meat on Friday means you will go to Hell.” This is to miss the point. In this case, the Church teaching is not that eating meat on Fridays is evil. The Catholic belief is that the Church has Christ’s authority and that what the Church binds or looses on Earth will be bound or loosed in Heaven. If a person willfully rejects a discipline mandated by the Church for the good of the people that person is rejecting something bound in Heaven.

Another common accusation made about Church teaching being changed is the issue of loans. The argument is that formerly the Church forbade lending at interest, but is now OK with it. Therefore, the Church can change her other teachings. But it wasn’t interest that was the problem. It was the problem of usury (the practice of lending money at unreasonably high rates of interest). In different economic systems during the Roman era, the Dark Ages, the Medieval period and the Enlightenment, what was an unreasonably high rate of interest was different from one period to the next. So the Catechism of the Council of Trent could condemn any interest on a loan while over 200 years later, Pope Pius VII could say some returns on investments were acceptable, but profits that were made based on harmful methods of lending were not. (I imagine the modern practice of Payday loans would meet the criteria for condemnation).

When the only means of exchange were coins and barter, and when every person was paid a fixed amount a day, then charging interest on a loan could mean extreme hardship for the person in debt. But when money could be exchanged with notes, deposited in banks and used to bring in profits, it became possible for people to pay off certain loans. In the first instance any charging of interest would be usury. In the second, some charging of interest would not be usury. So, we can see that the Church did not go from saying “usury is wrong” to “usury is OK.” She merely updated the understanding of what was and was not allowed.

But we have to avoid the fallacy of irrelevant comparisons. One cannot argue that the change in economic conditions changing what met the definition of usury means that the Church can change her teaching on sexual morality. Economic systems can change. The genders and the nature of the sexual act do not change.

Misunderstanding a Term Used In Church Teaching

So, where does the idea come that the Church permitted the extermination of people who would not convert? It comes from applying a limited meaning of a word in modern English which actually has a much broader meaning in different times. The modern meaning of exterminate is "destroy completely; eradicate.” But, when you look at the Latin word, exterminare, we find that it has a different meaning:  lesser banish, expel; dismiss. So, while some people may point to the Lateran IV Council (AD 1215) and quote the following from canon 3:

Secular authorities, whatever office they may hold, shall be admonished and induced and if necessary compelled by ecclesiastical censure, that as they wish to be esteemed and numbered among the faithful, so for the defense of the faith they ought publicly to take an oath that they will strive in good faith and to the best of their ability to exterminate in the territories subject to their jurisdiction all heretics pointed out by the Church; so that whenever anyone shall have assumed authority, whether spiritual or temporal, let him be bound to confirm this decree by oath. But if a temporal ruler, after having been requested and admonished by the Church, should neglect to cleanse his territory of this heretical foulness, let him be excommunicated by the metropolitan and the other bishops of the province. If he refuses to make satisfaction within a year, let the matter be made known to the supreme pontiff, that he may declare the ruler’s vassals absolved from their allegiance and may offer the territory to be ruled by Catholics, who on the extermination of the heretics may possess it without hindrance and preserve it in the purity of faith; the right, however, of the chief ruler is to be respected so long as he offers no obstacle in this matter and permits freedom of action. The same law is to be observed in regard to those who have no chief rulers (that is, are independent). Catholics who have girded themselves with the cross for the extermination of the heretics, shall enjoy the indulgences and privileges granted to those who go in defense of the Holy Land.


[Schroeder, H. J. (1937). Disciplinary Decrees of the General Councils: Text, Translation, and Commentary (pp. 242–243). St. Louis, MO; London: B. Herder Book Co.]

I imagine people might be shocked on reading this. Isn’t it genocide? Well, no. If you look a couple of paragraphs down, you’ll see an admonishment for the people who interact with the exterminated heretics...

If any refuse to avoid such after they have been ostracized by the Church, let them be excommunicated till they have made suitable satisfaction. Clerics shall not give the sacraments of the Church to such pestilential people, nor shall they presume to give them Christian burial, or to receive their alms or offerings; otherwise they shall be deprived of their office, to which they may not be restored without a special indult of the Apostolic See. Similarly, all regulars, on whom also this punishment may be imposed, let their privileges be nullified in that diocese in which they have presumed to perpetrate such excesses.

We can see that the heretics are not exterminated in the sense of “The Final Solution.” They’re exterminated in the sense of being ostracized. We see in other documents the calling for bishops to use the penalty of interdict to exterminate heresy. Interdict was the refusal of Mass, Sacraments and Christian Burial. In modern times, interdict is applied only to a person, but in the past, the Church did apply it to regions. The point was to bring heretics to their senses by denying them the ministry of the Church until they repented (and see 1 Corinthians 5:5 if you think this is an unbiblical behavior), showing them how serious this was.

Wrongly Believing That an Abuse is the Actual Teaching of the Church

There’s no sense in denying that some people in history who professed to be Christian did behave in a way which was wrong. Not just wrong by the 21st century standards and sensitivities. I mean things that even back then, should have been obvious to people. So the mess that was the Spanish Inquisition, the wrongdoing by some in the Crusades—these things were wrong. The problem for the accusers is the fact that the Church condemned the evils done at the time. They didn’t always speak out effectively, and they weren’t always heeded. But they spoke out.

Here’s something to think about. Consider the Catholics who present themselves as being pro-abortion. They act publicly and ignore the teaching of the Church. is their disobedience the fault of the Church? No, because the Church does have a clear teaching that is being ignored. Sure, a person may wish that the Church was more forceful in certain times, but one can’t say that the Church supported these things.

The fact is, many of the events people point to as proof of the wickedness of the Church (the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the sacking of Constantinople by Crusaders and the cruelties of the Spanish against the Native Americans are popular accusations) were actually denounced by the Church. But, like today, there were many Catholics who chose to ignore the teaching of the Church, and like today, many got away with it. There is only so much the Church can do against the willfully defiant. That doesn’t mean the men who led the Church always did enough or responded perfectly. Sometimes they even used their office to do wrong. However, these failings were not a part of the binding teaching of the Church.

So What is a Teaching of the Church?

So, now that I have said what the teaching of the Church is not, one might ask what a teaching of the Church is. The first step is to look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church #888-892. The teaching of the Church is based in preserving the teachings of Christ as passed on through the Apostles. It is "to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error” (CCC #890). When the Church intends to teach in a way which "they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals" (CCC #892) or when the Pope “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” (CCC #891).

So, many things which people point at, in an attempt to deny that the Church is protected from error, were never considered teachings of the Church in the sense she intends to be understood as teaching. Many others were not teaching what her enemies accused her of teaching.

When one wants to critique the Church, the first step is to determine whether the Church was teaching something as doctrine, and if so, what the Church intended to teach when binding the faithful. The Church can certainly make certain disciplines binding that are not teachings of the Church, but disciplines can be changed if the need requires it without contradicting Church teaching. Criticisms which fail to take into account what the Church intended to teach are doing nothing more than creating a Straw Man fallacy, condemning us for something which is either false or taken out of context.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Truth and its Counterfeits.

Introduction: On Truth

There are two motives to hold to a belief. Either it is because the belief is true or because the belief is comfortable (either comfortable in the sense of “It makes me feel good,” or in the sense of “other choices seem worse to me”). Of these two motives, there is only one legitimate reason to hold to a belief, and that it is because it is true. Otherwise, you’re clinging to a delusion.

Long time readers of this blog will recall my favorite axiom of Aristotle: To say of what is that it is, or to say of what is not that it is not is to speak the truth. I find it to be an axiom that everyone should remember. When a person says, “X is good,” we have to actually assess whether or not X is good. X being good doesn’t mean X is giving warm fuzzy feelings or giving you an emotional high. We have to look at the nature of X, and see if it is to the ultimate objective benefit of the recipient or not. If X harms the recipient or others, then saying, “X is good” is not speaking the truth.

The problem is that such a view focuses on the physical. The world equates the idea of what is to be done is that which satisfies base emotions (food, safety, sex, etc.) and harms the least number of people—by their own personal standards. (If the victim doesn’t meet the standards of the individual, the individual’s need is considered “not important.”) Because the standard is the physical, it is necessarily short term (the time pleasure lasts and the time we have to enjoy it), and we often tend to think of things as “Get while the getting is good."

This is why the Catholic Church seems to receive a lot of hostility. She doesn’t define good as what is pleasurable for the body at the time. She considers the whole person, not just as a body, but with an immortal soul as well. Jesus Christ said, "What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?" (Mk 8:36). If the greatest acquisition of wealth, power, fame and pleasure costs your immortal soul, it is not worth the price. That is why the Church takes a stand and says that certain things, made popular by the world are actually harmful—even if the individual cannot see it from the short view of things. (A good book on this topic is Peter Kreeft’s The Best Things in Life, which gives us a modern Socratic dialogue on seeking the ultimate good).

Now, I freely acknowledge that not everybody recognizes the authority of the Church and not everybody automatically accepts her teachings. But when it comes to claims and counterclaims, the question is to determine:

  1. What the claim actually is (as opposed to what we think it means).
  2. What are the justifications for the claim?
  3. What are the justifications against the claim?

Falsely Misrepresenting the Claim (Straw Man)

Unfortunately, when it comes to the teachings of the Catholic Church, most people never get beyond step one. People stop with what they think words mean, and then assume they know what the argument is. But too many times people deride the Church teaching as being hateful, or ignorant, or against something people consider themselves in favor of. They confuse the accidents (in the philosophical sense of a property of a thing that is not essential to its nature) of history, such as the history and culture of another time, with the essential parts of the teaching.

So, when the Church teaches on abortion and “same sex marriage” (popular bugbears with the political liberal) or on torture and social justice (popular bugbears with the political conservative), the result is to shut down the mind and respond based on the assumption that the Church is anti-woman and homophobic or pro-terrorist and Marxist—even though the Church teaching is none of these things. From what I have seen, the justifications against the claims of the Catholic Church have nothing whatsoever to do with what the Catholic Church actually teaches. They are based on false assumptions—creating defenses against claims that are counterfeit, having nothing to do with our beliefs.

(When’s the last time you ever saw someone accurately portray our beliefs when trying to dispute them?)

False Compromise

Another counterfeit is the idea of the false compromise. Yes, everyone wants to just get along, but sometimes there are situations where the claims cannot be reconciled with a division down the middle. For example, if I claim you owe me $50,000 and you claim you owe me nothing, the compromise of you owing me $25,000 is not a legitimate compromise if you truly owe me nothing. Truth determines whether a compromise is in order. Likewise, if the truth is a debt does exist, then a compromise does not satisfy justice.

But all too often, the Church is told that she needs to compromise on an issue where there can be no compromise. When the choices are between "X is a sin” and “X is not a sin,” there is no middle ground to compromise on. If X is a sin, then it cannot be permitted. If X is not a sin, there’s no reason to forbid it. Usually, compromise is a code word for capitulation. The Church is expected to change her position. When she does not, because she knows the truth, she’s condemned for refusing to compromise.

(But how many times have you ever seen those accusing the Catholic Church of not compromising actually offering a sacrifice of their own to make a compromise?)

False Dilemma

The other side of the coin to the false compromise is the false dilemma. It tries to create a situation where either you accept one position or you endorse some hideous evil. The problem is, not all problems are either-or. They are when we say “Either X is Red or not Red.” There’s no other choice in such a case. But if you say “Either X is Red or Blue,” there are many colors of the spectrum that are not Red or Blue. So, when someone tries to hem you in, it is important to look at the argument of “either X or Y,” and ask: Is it possible that I can support both X or Y? That I must reject both X and Y? That there is an option Z I can choose instead? If one or more of these is the case, the either-or argument is false.

The Church tends to get hit with this attack when someone tries to create an either-or situation by creating a scenario of either abandoning a teaching of the Church or experiencing suffering. For example, during the pontificate of Benedict XVI, there were many attacks on the Church accusing them of being responsible for the AIDS epidemic in Africa because she teaches contraception is a sin. The popular example was the wife infected with AIDS from her husband. But are there other options? Like what about teaching self-control from an infected person to avoid passing on an STD to a healthy person? 

(When’s the last time you heard someone ask why a person infected with AIDS who ignored Church teaching on adultery or fornication would listen to the Church on wearing a condom?)


There are other fallacies which try to portray something as reasonable when it is not. But these are three common ones used to portray the Church teaching in a bad light. They falsely portray the teaching of the truth in a caricature to make it look hateful. They suggest a compromise which is not a compromise, trying to appear reasonable when in fact they are making no concessions. They create an either-or situation which tells us that either we have to bend or it’s all our fault when bad things happen.

When you get all these counterfeits masquerading as truth, many people get deceived. But the defense is to look to the truth. What is the actual teaching of the Church? Why does she teach what she does?

Once you learn that, you will see many attacks on the Catholic Church collapse from the lack of truth.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


I came across an article while checking out the news this morning. Basically it involves people who have gotten a so-called "gay marriage" in one state and wants a divorce in a state that does not recognize such relationships as marriage.

What struck me as I read this was the rhetoric used by the proponents of this "gay marriage."  The statements like:

"[T]o be in a state that doesn't recognize you as a human being, or recognize you for who you are, for who you love, it's hard... I'm not treated like the neighbors next door. I'm treated like a second-class citizen." the propaganda against the reality of marriage being between one man and one woman... portraying it as looking down on people with same sex attractions.

In logic, we call this the Straw man fallacy.  The caricature of an argument which is attacked to make it seem as though the whole position is without merit.  Supporting traditional marriage is not to refuse to recognize a person with same sex attraction as a human being.  Nor is it treating them as a second class citizen.

Rather it is based on the fact that the family which raises children is the building block which society is based on. It is where the child is instilled with the teachings enabling them to build up society.

Reduce marriage to sex and emotional bond and you're destroying that building block. But you don't hear that or other reasons as to why same-sex couples can't be married.

Instead, we get appeals to pity... "the mean state (or Christians) treat us as less than human second class citizens just because we love each other."

That is biased, misleading language used to promote a political cause or point of view... the definition of Propaganda.


I came across an article while checking out the news this morning. Basically it involves people who have gotten a so-called "gay marriage" in one state and wants a divorce in a state that does not recognize such relationships as marriage.

What struck me as I read this was the rhetoric used by the proponents of this "gay marriage."  The statements like:

"[T]o be in a state that doesn't recognize you as a human being, or recognize you for who you are, for who you love, it's hard... I'm not treated like the neighbors next door. I'm treated like a second-class citizen." the propaganda against the reality of marriage being between one man and one woman... portraying it as looking down on people with same sex attractions.

In logic, we call this the Straw man fallacy.  The caricature of an argument which is attacked to make it seem as though the whole position is without merit.  Supporting traditional marriage is not to refuse to recognize a person with same sex attraction as a human being.  Nor is it treating them as a second class citizen.

Rather it is based on the fact that the family which raises children is the building block which society is based on. It is where the child is instilled with the teachings enabling them to build up society.

Reduce marriage to sex and emotional bond and you're destroying that building block. But you don't hear that or other reasons as to why same-sex couples can't be married.

Instead, we get appeals to pity... "the mean state (or Christians) treat us as less than human second class citizens just because we love each other."

That is biased, misleading language used to promote a political cause or point of view... the definition of Propaganda.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Pathetic Little Straw Man

I find it interesting to see what people share on Facebook when it comes to hostility towards Christianity.  It's not just that their arguments against Christianity lack any semblance of reason and logic.  It's also the case that the Christianity they attack has very little to do with what Christianity teaches.  I don't know if it merely reflects their ignorance or whether it indicates a dishonest "quote mining" in order to make Christianity look bad, but either way, one does not refute Christianity through an uninformed misrepresentation of what it teaches.

The current piece of bad reasoning running around Facebook is a quote from a blogger named Amanda Marcotte which a Facebook group has been sharing:

Atheist are routinely asked how people will know not to rape and murder without religion telling them not to do it, especially a religion that backs up the orders with threats of hell. Believers, listen to me carefully when I say this: When you use this argument, you terrify atheists. We hear you saying that the only thing standing between you and Ted Bundy is a flimsy belief in a supernatural being made up by pre-literate people trying to figure out where the rain came from. This is not very reassuring if you’re trying to argue from a position of moral superiority.

What we see here is a straw man argument.  This is not what Christianity argues.  What Christian philosophers have said is that with no moral absolutes, anything is permissible (I've dealt with the illogic of the claim that there are no moral absolutes in an earlier article).  It then challenges the person who rejects the fact that values come from a source above us to explain how moral norms can be binding.

Morality can come from one of the following:

  1. Something above the human level (such as God and Natural Law)
  2. Something at the human level (such as society)
  3. Something below the human level (such as instinct)

The problem is, if morality does not come from something above us, it really cannot bind.  If morality comes from society, then it is people who follow what values society holds that are good and those who oppose societal values are bad.  This means that in a society which embraces segregation, Bull Connor was a moral person and Martin Luther King Jr. was an immoral person.  If we get our values from society, then to condemn the values of another society merely becomes a case of "pushing your values on others."

But the opposite is true.  We recognize that often it is the moral person who challenges the values of society, and that some societies behave in an immoral manner.  We could not condemn the values of the Third Reich or apartheid era South Africa unless moral values come from outside society.

Likewise that it comes from instinct does not work.  Sometimes morality tells us to do something which goes against the instinct, such as dying rather than to do what one thinks is wrong.  Instinct guides us towards satisfying physical needs, but sometimes we need to suppress instincts for a greater good, for example suppressing one's survival instinct by putting oneself at risk to save another.

So the point that Ms. Marcotte misrepresents is actually the demand to justify the source of morality if one denies the existence of God.  Since neither instinct nor society can explain binding moral values, if one wants to claim binding moral values and deny the existence of God such a person has to give an explanation for something above the human level which can demand we follow these moral values.

Informed Christians don't deny that atheists can have proper moral values.  The existence of an atheist who seeks to do what is right is no challenge to Christian belief.  What the Christian notes is the atheist is being foolish in insisting on those moral norms they personally follow while ignoring those they disagree with instead of investigating why these norms are binding to begin with.

The atheist who refuses to consider a source above humanity in considering moral obligations is being as reasonable as a person who refuses to consider matter as a factor in the study of physics.