It’s that time of year again. Winter is nearing its end, the hope of Spring is just around the corner, and the logical church fallacies come out to play.
I learned a long time ago that reason and logic often get thrown under the bus when it comes to church folk and their thinking. We all have this nasty tendency to make decisions far less on measured logic and a whole lot more from our stubbornness. Churches typically aren’t known as places of being into dialogue and change, and sometimes they’ll do some mighty tall mental gymnastics to keep things the way they are.
Identifying some erroneous thinking is kind of like my annual Spring cleaning. So here we go with some of my favorites I’ve heard in the past year….
The reason this logical fallacy is called “The Strawman” is because there are folks who chronically tend to misrepresent, exaggerate, oversimplify, or just downright fabricate another’s viewpoint. They set up a scarecrow to keep the status quo and oppose alternative views. If you’ve ever heard some parishioner say something like “the pastor hates the organ; he always has praise songs in the worship service” or “the Sunday School Superintendent is trying to turn us into stark-raving Pentecostals since she doesn’t use the denominational curriculum,” then you’ve got a Strawman running amok in the pews.
You likely know this one all too well. Church folk seem particularly fond of the Bandwagon fallacy. It’s an appeal to a perceived popularity that is designed to shut down any sort of substantive dialogue. “Everyone hated that sermon. Nobody liked what the preacher said,” is meant to tame that crazy firebrand from proclaiming the Word of God as he/she sees it. If we were at our better moments, we would engage in conversation around the points offered. Instead, the Bandwagon Committee is formed to make sure ears are properly tickled and fancied.
This is a Latin term which literally means “and you also.” This fallacy is so ubiquitous and done with such frequency that we might take it for granted. It’s the old time-honored saw of an appeal to hypocrisy. The tu quoque is meant to discredit the opposing argument by not even acknowledging it. Perhaps you have seen this one splattered in social media and around the narthex after a church service: “Don’t even talk to me about how guns kill people and how the government isn’t doing anything about it when we have legalized abortion and babies are killed every day.” Whatever you think about abortion (I happen to oppose it) is not the issue. If guns and gun control is the issue being discussed, then that is the issue to be dealt with. Bringing up another issue gets us nowhere.
Since we’re on the Latin terms, let’s keep it going with a fallacy which isn’t going away any time soon. “Ad hominem” means “to the person.” Rather than attacking the argument and engaging the issue, this fallacy just attacks the person. This is especially rife when it comes to anything to do with LGBTQ issues. Individual rights, justice, and treating persons with civility and respect don’t get discussed. Instead, the person using the ad hominem just paints all same-sex oriented persons as having illicit and/or immoral thoughts and behaviors, thereby shutting down any sort of helpful discussion about the proper treatment of a group of people.
Appeal to authority
I’ve got to admit, this one really irritates me. If I hear one more person characterize myself or a group of other Christians as people who “don’t hold to the authority of Scripture” I think I’ll scream… then scream some more. The problem here is a blanket statement. No actual biblical arguments are offered, just the appeal to biblical authority. If an issue is exegetically and hermeneutically possible, then it ought to be allowed a hearing in the arena of ideas. Not even engaging an idea or entertaining an argument based on generic appeals to biblical authority have no teeth. It’s fallacious, not to mention offensive.
No True Scotsman
I just like the way this one sounds. “No true Scotsman” is a way of reinterpreting evidence to prevent any kind of rebuttal or further debate. In other words, it’s changing the rules. Recently, when I was discussing with a local church elder about that church’s denominational ruling on an issue, he simply said to me, “Well, that’s the denomination’s view and not the Bible’s view.” It was meant to shut down any discussion and not consider an issue he didn’t like very well. But even though he didn’t like it, he’s a part of a group of people who decided together to hold to some common policies and procedures. The proper approach would be to engage the issue and work through proper channels to see his view through. But he wasn’t willing to do that.
Another example (I had a lot of these in the past year) is the congregant who was convinced the world was going to end. When the blood moon thing didn’t align like he thought it would a few years back, he just reinterpreted things to accommodate more apocalyptic stuff into his homebrewed theology.
A better term for this is probably the “black or white” fallacy. This sets up an issue as being an either/or instead of a both/and. It has the design to shepherd people into a certain position without considering any alternatives. I recently heard a guy make the following statement in a church attempting a discussion about war: “Either you support our military and our country, or you don’t.” This was a black or white implication. For him, to oppose war is to oppose our flag and our men and women in uniform. But there are a whole range of conversations to be had around the issue. To boil them down in such stark black and white terms is a false dichotomy.
I could keep going. It was a busy year for me dealing with so many logical fallacies. But more to the point: You and I need to be mentally vigilant as to the kinds of things we think, and the notions we listen to from other people. Sometimes we simply don’t stop and think through what we’re saying, or what we’re listening to. My hope is that we will slow down, think through issues with some sound reason, consider all angles, the consequences of our thoughts, and take the posture of a learner and a grower.