Monday, July 28, 2014

The Catholic Church, Politics and Logical Fallacies In America

One thing that troubles me when I look at comments in forums and the news articles--particularly news articles about the stand the Church takes--is how many people (perhaps without realizing it) respond in a most irrational manner to the teaching of the Church

  • A Bishop or the USCCB or the Pope makes a statement about a situation that is in the news, pointing out how Catholics need to keep in mind Church teaching.
  • This position goes against the preference of one of the political parties.
  • Those who agree with the party running afoul of the Church position accuse the Church of being openly in favor of ALL of their opponents positions. (Those supporting the other party tend to point to this as if the Church gave a carte blanche support to the party position as a whole)

This kind of attitude reflects the view that the bishops are not men of God, but are rather partisan politicians—because they do not endorse wholeheartedly the views of the individual's preferred party. So, in other words, they are considered partisan because they do not behave in a way that a partisan approves of.

This isn't a matter of one side being guilty. Democrats have labeled the US bishops as "The Republican Party at Prayer" and Church teachings as "A War on Women" because of the Church teaching on moral issues. Republicans have labeled the Pope as a Marxist, and the bishops as being "in bed with the Obama administration" because of the Church speaking out on social and economic issues.

The fact is, the Church does not speak on these issues because she has a political platform. She speaks on these issues because she has a moral obligation to teach about attitudes that endanger the soul.

So, when somebody tries to equate the Church teaching on abortion as being  "pro-Republican" or the Church teaching on care for the poor with being "pro-Democrat," they are making the assertion that the Church had no opinion at all on the topic before it became a political issue in America. The Church spoke on economic obligations before Karl Marx existed, let alone Marxism. Likewise, the Church has spoken about abortion long before there was ever a United States of America  . . . let alone before there was a Republican party. The Didache (an 1st century AD manual written with the intent of teaching potential converts what the Church believes), which dates back to around AD 50 (some 1800 years before there was a Republican Party) says:

You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit pederasty, you shall not commit fornication, you shall not steal, you shall not practice magic, you shall not practice witchcraft, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born. (Didache #2)

The point is, the similarity between the Church teaching and a political position does not mean that the Church position comes from the political position. That's a logical error called Post Hoc (After this), where it is assumed that similarity proves one position comes from another. Similarity proves no such thing. One has to find evidence to prove the link is caused by similarity, not presume it.

There are some other major logical errors in play when the Church is accused of Partisanship in her formal teachings.

1. Either-Or

The Either-Or fallacy assumes that there are two, and only two, positions to choose from. If one does not accept the preferred position, one must be in favor of the other party's position. Such an assumption ignores the possibility of a middle ground, a rejection of both views, or support for a third position that was not considered.

One of the problems when people get caught up in the partisan spirit is they tend to break things down into the either-or mindset. Either Democrat or Republican. Either Conservative or Liberal. The fact is, there can be a lot of ground where neither viewpoint fits the Catholic view.

For example, with the recent immigration crisis, we are given a scenario of Either expelling all illegal immigrants or amnesty. If the Bishops don't approve of one, it is assumed that they support the other. In fact, the Catholic position takes a balanced view that is concerned with both treating these people as human beings and the rights of security of the destination country.

2. Appeal to Emotion

In America, modern politics never seems to care about showing the merits of their position and letting people decide which is superior. No, here we have positions portrayed in a way that tries to get the viewer to have favorable views of the preferred position and negative views of the opponent's view.

For example, the labeling the support of legalized abortion as being "pro-choice" and those who think it is morally wrong as "anti-choice" to give the appearance of their faction being in favor of 'freedom,' and their opponents as being against 'freedom.'

But to the Church, saying "if you're against abortion, don't have one" is as nonsensical as saying "if you're against slavery, don't own a slave." Appealing to the fear of a loss of freedom is irrelevant to the question of whether doing a thing is wrong.

Another example is to bring up the horror stories about what certain people have done to those they dislike, and redirect that emotion (fear, revulsion) to people who oppose the behavior the victim was attacked for. This gets done a lot when it comes to opposing "gay marriage. There are indeed people who have done horrible things to their targeted victims. But the problem is, there is a large difference between saying "This behavior is wrong," and assaulting a person who is guilty of that behavior. Using the fear/revulsion felt over the actions of these brutal people and trying to redirect it to make people feel fear/revulsion over people who say "This action is wrong," is to use emotion instead of considering the reasons for the opposition.

3. Poisoning the Well

Taking #2 a step further, rhetoric doesn't stop at making one emotional about the positions. Modern American politics has to demonize the opponent. Whoever does not agree with the preferred position is portrayed as hateful.

Thus, we see rhetoric that asserts that whoever opposes "gay marriage" is "homophobic." Whoever opposes abortion or the contraceptive mandate is part of the "war on women." Because it is deemed a hateful thing to be homophobic or part of a war on women, anyone who opposes these agendas must be hateful people!

Thus, by using these labels, they ensure that the Church is portrayed as hateful before she can explain her teaching--who wants to listen to a "bigot"? The Supreme Court decision striking down DOMA essentially used this fallacy as the reason for their ruling, and so a slander is shamefully enshrined in the annals of the Supreme Court..

4. Guilt by Association

Guilt by association works like this:

  • Unlikable Person or group supports position X.
  • Therefore position X is bad.

This is why people dredge up the Westboro Baptist Church and their extreme responses and rhetoric. If such hate filled people oppose "gay marriage," it must mean others who oppose "gay marriage" all think the same way . . .


No. We don't all think the same . . .

Thus we see Pope equated with Marxism, and the bishops equated with the Westboro Baptists by people who disagree with the Catholic positions . . . it's assumed they think alike in all ways. If they don't want to be associated with the hateful people,  they shouldn't hold that view.

The problem is this: Just because an unlikeable person or group holds a position for bad motives does not mean that good reasons don't exist for supporting the position independently of the unlikable person or group. This fallacy assumes that anything such a person or group holds must be hateful.

5.  Ad Hominem (Against the Person)

The ad hominem is an attack that doesn't even seek to refute the argument, but seeks to attack the person making it. This fits in well with #3 (Poisoning the Well). It works like this:

  • Person A makes Statement X
  • Opponent makes attack on Person A
  • Therefore Statement X is false

This kind of attack tries to indicate that the personal characteristics or beliefs of an individual makes him or her unable or unqualified to speak the truth. For example, the argument of "How can some celibate old men make a decision about contraception or abortion or remarriage?"

The problem is, the Catholic teaching is not about confirming what is commonly done in society, it is about bringing the message of salvation to the world and telling people to renounce their sins. If the authority of the Church is from God (which Catholics do believe), then the celibacy of the clergy is not a disqualification from making known the sexual sins which separate one from God.

6. Tu Quoque (You too)

While there are more errors out there, I'll wrap things up with the tu quoque fallacy. This is where a person tries to allege that a person's behavior disqualifies their right to make a moral judgment or else that that behavior justifies whatever vice they want to do.

An example of the first case could be, "The Church says 'Gay marriage' is wrong. Who's going to listen to what they say when they have those molesting priests?" The fact that some priests have committed these sins has no bearing on whether or not the Church teaching is true.

An example of the second case would be, "You say that Obamacare is a violation of religious freedom? You have no cause to complain after the Inquisition!" The fact that the legal system worked this way in Europe from the 15th to the 18th century does not mean that it is OK for a 21st century justice system to act in such a way. Think about it. If a person is offended by the behavior of the Inquisition as they (mis)understand it, then they become hypocritical if they try to use such behavior on others.


The important thing to keep in mind about those logical errors is that political parties are using irrational means in order to impose their will on people they dislike. Even if the reader disagrees with the teachings of the Catholic Church, they should consider this: If political parties are willing to use means that basically amount to irrational excuses for doing what they want to, then there is no limit to who they can target if the targets fall out of favor. That means the reader could find himself or herself targeted by a political party if his or her beliefs get targeted by whoever dislikes what they stand for.

The person of good will has this to keep in mind. When searching for the truth, and living accordingly, they need to look beyond these cheap tricks of distortion and see what the actual truth is. That means rejecting arguments which are logically flawed and searching for whether or not the opponent has a reasonable argument.

Otherwise, while the Church may be the first target, she won't be the last.

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