Monday, March 30, 2015

Logical Fallacies in the Anti-Religious Freedom Movement


There are a number of businesses, organizations and celebrities that are either threatening, carrying out or calling for boycotts of Indiana on account of the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. They call it names like the “Freedom To Discriminate” act (George Takei) and call such laws “dangerous” (Tim Cook). But, as I read the anger spilling out over the internet, I see that the opposition is not based on any fact but rather on logical fallacies

The end result of these fallacies is the fact that there is an allegation of intolerance made against the Christian moral teachings, but no proof to justify the claim. Without proof, one cannot say that the accusation is proven true.

Let’s look at them.

The Begging the Question Fallacy

The begging the question fallacy is committed by acting as if something that has to be proven to be true is true. So, if the point of my argument is that “X is bad,” the premises of my argument have to be aimed at proving X is bad. If the premises of my argument are based on the assumption that “X is bad” then I am begging the question. This is commonly done in the assumption that opposition to “same sex marriage” is based on intolerance? Why are they intolerant? Because they oppose “same sex marriage”! That doesn’t answer the question “How do we know it is intolerant?” It merely repeats the (unproven) allegation.

These arguments don’t actually demonstrate that intolerance is the only possible motive for this opposition. It is simply assumed that the no good person would oppose it. So, as a result we say these arguments are unproven—you can’t prove the conclusion by this argument. If we think of an argument as a trial, then we could think of this argument as a prosecutor who alleged the accused was guilty but provided no proof of guilt for it. Any jury deciding the accused was guilty would be causing a miscarriage of justice.

The Slippery Slope Fallacy

The slippery slope fallacy seems similar to showing cause and effect (showing a link between A and B), but in actuality it argues against something simply under the fear of what it might do. In other words, “If we let A happen, B is going to happen,” again assuming but not proving. In this case, the popular example is to portray this law as the modern equivalent of the old “Whites Only” signs in the Segregated South. People ask “What about a restaurant owner refusing to serve a same sex couple?” and go on from there giving all sorts of horror stories of what could happen. Could being the operative word—what might happen does not equal “will happen,” and “what will happen” is what has to be determined before we can condemn something.

To continue the analogy of argument of a trial, this argument is like a prosecutor who tries to argue that "if we don’t convict the defendant, he will go on to commit all sorts of monstrous crimes.” But we don’t convict a person on what they might do, but on what they did do. You don’t know that a person will do this, and it is possible to take just precautions to ensure a crime does not happen without violating civil rights.

The Appeal to Emotion Fallacy

The appeal to emotion fallacy works on the premise that a good emotion associated with a claim leads one to think of it as true, while a negative emotion associated with a claim leads one the claim as false. So to appeal to “the need to let two people in love marry regardless of their gender” awakens a positive idea that same sex “marriage” is good because “love” is good, while awakening hostility towards those who oppose it as being “cold hearted.” But emotion can be exploited. Leaders exploit emotions in propaganda to move people to support their country and oppose another country. The emotions don’t mean that the claims are true.

Using the analogy of a trial once more, the appeal to emotion is like a lawyer not talking about whether the charges are true or not, but instead tries to play on your feelings to give a verdict that he wants.

The Ad Hominem Fallacy

The ad hominem does not seek to prove or disprove anything. Instead, it tries to attack the person making an argument and convince a person that because he or she has negative traits (true or not), we can ignore anything said by that person. An example of this fallacy would be if I said, "Tim Cook could not be trusted to give an accurate account of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because he was a liberal and a homosexual." Those claims have no bearing on whether or not what he says is true. (A person being a liberal or having a same sex attraction have nothing to do with whether or not a person is speaking the truth).

Likewise, the accusations that the Church is intolerant, homophobic, bureaucratic and heartless (and we deny all of them) have nothing to do with whether the Church teaching on homosexuality is true or not. These are just terms of abuse used to give a negative impression on the listener and turn them away from listening to the argument and considering if it was true.

The Poisoning the Well Fallacy

The poisoning the well fallacy seeks to make a smear attack on the target so that no matter what the targeted person says, the smear remains in the mind of the listener. This is another way where opponents of the Religious Freedom laws attack to prevent people from considering the argument. The attacker alleges that the supporter of this law is bigoted and has a hatred for people with same sex attraction. The result of poisoning the well is that the listener assumes that a defense of the law is simply defending bigotry and hatred.

The Overall Effect

The overall effect of these tactics is to give the listener the impression that the Christian that refuses to participate in a “same sex wedding” does so out of bigotry. Since bigotry is bad, a good person is led to believe that the right thing to do is to oppose Christian belief. 

The Catholic Teaching is NOT What It is Misrepresented to Be

But the problem is not a single one of these accusations are true. The Christian teaching is not motivated by hatred—indeed the Catholic Church condemns hatred. 

When one looks at the definition of hate in a dictionary it tells us the meaning is intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury, ill-will, an extreme dislike or antipathy. But that doesn’t answer the question of whether the Church teaching is motivated by hatred.So we ask: Does the Church have intense hostility and antipathy for the woman who had an abortion or the person with same sex attraction, wishing them harm? That is what has to be proven. It has to actually be established that they despise such a person and wants them to come to harm—like perhaps hoping they go to hell?

So, we would need to look at what the Church taught about the sinner and see if there is such a desire in their treatment of sinners.

But the opposite is true: the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes a distinction between our treatment of persons and treatment of behaviors, saying:

1933 This same duty extends to those who think or act differently from us. The teaching of Christ goes so far as to require the forgiveness of offenses. He extends the commandment of love, which is that of the New Law, to all enemies. Liberation in the spirit of the Gospel is incompatible with hatred of one’s enemy as a person, but not with hatred of the evil that he does as an enemy. (2303)


2303 Deliberate hatred is contrary to charity. Hatred of the neighbor is a sin when one deliberately wishes him evil. Hatred of the neighbor is a grave sin when one deliberately desires him grave harm. “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (2094; 1933)

Some people (often derisively) refer to this as “love the sinner, hate the sin.” But while that is true, it is inadequate.

The person who hates a sinner wishes a defiant sinner harm or other misfortune. Such a person is doing what the Church says is wrong. But the person who says “this act is sinful and must be stopped” is not acting out of hatred any more than a doctor who says “Smoking is harmful and must be stopped.” He or she is expressing this information in the hopes that the individual committing it will stop doing it—for their own good.

So, like it or not, the Church is explicitly saying that hatred of a sinner is forbidden and even a grave sin. For the non-Catholic, a grave sin involves serious matter where a person who commits it with full knowledge of its gravity and with full consent to do it anyway would be committing a mortal sin—which is a sin that would damn one to hell if unrepented.

So, in other words, if we hate the woman who has an abortion or the man with same sex attraction, we can go to hell for wishing such a person grave harm. Does that really make any sense to accuse the Church for holding their teaching out of hatred when they say it is evil to hold hatred for a person? Talk about self defeating! The Church does not hate people. However she does have hostility to the actions that are chosen that turn humanity away from God. 

Individuals Who Disobey the Church Exist, But the Church Can’t Be Blamed For Their Actions

Now of course, you can find extremists who actually do hate people instead of the sin committed—people who actually wish evil to afflict sinners. Up until their leader died, the media loved to provide us with stories of the Westboro Baptist Church as an example of Christianity hating people with same sex attraction. It was effective as one could find people pointing to their antics and accusing the Catholic Church of committing them. But in actuality, the Catholic Church teaching is in complete opposition to their antics. As the Catechism says:

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.

Treatment with respect, compassion and sensitivity is incompatible with hatred, so again we have shown that, contrary to accusations, Catholic teaching is not rooted in hatred.

Modern Society Falsely Thinks that Saying Actions Are Wrong Means Hatred of the Person Doing Them

The problem is the modern society takes a love me, love my dog attitude to the extreme. It’s not just a case of demanding that we accept a person with flaws and all—rather it is a demand that we accept those flaws as a good and deny there is anything wrong with them. A refusal to accept those flaws as good is turned into an accusation of hating the person. But, as we have shown above, hatred of a self-destructive behavior (which all sin is) does not mean hating the person suffering from it. It can mean hating a problem which keeps the person from being what they should be.

But once a person demands we accept their sin as if it were good, they see the attempt to help a person as if it were an attempt to harm them. It’s as if a person carrying a heavy load fell into quicksand and the load was dragging them down. We throw them a rope, but the weight of the load prevents them from climbing out to safety and actually threatens to break the rope. We tell them they need to let go of their load and grab the rope, but they refuse, saying that we need to get them out with their load as well. When we tell them it is impossible, they get angry at us and accuse us of wanting them to die. It is untrue. The fact is, in a life or death situation, no possession is worth your life. 

Likewise, in the reality of our having an eternal soul which can be dragged down to hell if we refuse to cooperate with salvation, no vice, no compulsion is worth losing our soul over and no human declaration can make good what God has called evil. Therefore when it comes to the choice of man declaring a thing “good” and God calling that thing “evil,” what we have is a choice between accepting and rejecting God.


The fact is, we deny that Christian moral teaching is based on hatred of people with same sex attraction. It is more like a wife who loves her husband with alcoholism. That alcoholism is destroying his life and his relationship with her. The wife hates this alcoholism because she can see what it is doing to her husband and wants it to be cured so he will stop harming himself and have a better life. The hatred of the harmful act is not done out of hatred for the person.

In such a case, we would recognize the husband’s accusation that his wife hated him because she hated his alcoholism to be wrong. Being an alcoholic is not a part of the man’s nature. It is a flaw which must be overcome, whether by being cured or by avoiding behavior that feeds it.

Now the person may think that their inclination is good. They may cling to it like a heavy load. But the harmful inclination can never be enabled. That is why the Church will never change her teaching on same sex “marriage” or abortion or contraception. We know they are wrong, and we cannot take part in what we know is wrong, even if someone thinks it is morally acceptable.

I think I will close this article with a quote from the novel A Canticle for Leibowitz that I have cited before. 

In it we have a situation where there has been a nuclear war, and people are suffering from radiation sickness.  The government wants to establish facilities to decide who has received enough radiation to be fatal to recommend euthanizing.  The abbot of the monastery where they want to establish the facility tells them he will refuse cooperation unless the doctor promises not to advise people to euthanize themselves.  The doctor says it is not right to do this with non-Catholic patients and accuses the abbot of imposing his views on others and the abbot has no right to make this condition, and demands the abbot explain why he insists on this stance for non-Catholics as well as Catholics.  The abbot responds:

Because if a man is ignorant of the fact something is wrong and acts in ignorance, he incurs no guilt, provided natural reason was not enough to show him that it was wrong.  But while ignorance may excuse the man, it does not excuse the act, which is wrong in itself.  If I permitted the act simply because the man is ignorant that it is wrong, then I would incur guilt, because I do know it to be wrong.  It is really that painfully simple. (A Canticle for Leibowitz. page 296 in my EOS edition)

The doctor responds by accuse the abbot of being merciless and out of touch, which is no refutation of the facts stated by the abbot. Likewise, the accusation that we are bigoted and out of touch is no refutation of our argument.

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