Logical Church Fallacies

logical church fallacies

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 Strawman

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.

The Bandwagon

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.

Tu quoque

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.

Ad hominem

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.

False Dichotomy

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.

 

Logical Church Fallacies

 
 
            Every day in the church is an adventure.  Sometimes it’s pretty groovy.  At other times it’s just goofy, and I feel like I’m in an episode of The Twilight Zone.  Whenever I’m playing the role of Pastor Serling, it’s usually because of some bizarre or twisted thinking which is taking place.  We call them “logical fallacies.”  A logical fallacy is nothing more than a flaw in reasoning; it is to forego critical thinking skills and skate on some lazy brain action.  Logical fallacies create havoc.  The paucity of reasonable, rational, logical thinking has not only turned-off potential and emerging leaders for the church, but has left a sizable gap in our discipleship of the mind.  The lack of solid critical thinking skills can ruin entire congregations.
 
            Perhaps you doubt.  But consider some familiar ways of thinking within the church which are really nothing more than logical fallacies:
 
The Strawman:  This is misrepresenting someone’s argument to make it easier to attack.  Someone makes a blanket statement that only consumers want an alternative worship service, or that poor people just don’t want to work.  This faux position makes an easy target to knock down.  The problem is that the person setting up the strawman does not have enough information to be drawing conclusions.  Most of the time there has not even been one conversation with the people for whom the strawman argument is directed.
 
The Slippery Slope:  This fallacy is the assertion that if we allow A to happen, then B will consequently happen too, therefore A should never be allowed to happen. One example:  If we allow same-sex couples to marry in our society, then biblical authority is out the window and the next thing you know the traditional family is gone.  Whatever your view is on same-sex marriage is not the issue here – it is asserting the fallacy that if allowed all hell will break loose.
 
The Loaded Question:  This flaw is asking a question that has an assumption built into it so that it can’t be answered without appearing guilty.  Some church people love this approach.  For example, one parishioner asks another if the pastor has visited them, within earshot of the pastor – it puts the person being asked in a no win situation with the unreasonable assumption that the pastor is negligent in his duties.
 
The Bandwagon Jump:  We likely all know this one:  appealing to popularity or the fact that a lot of people do something; it’s meant as a form of validation for one’s position.  This is the church person who will confidently proclaim that no one likes the new small group ministry, and everyone hates it, which is meant to deflate the new ministry before it ever really gets going.  It works because there are usually people who do not want to be on the “wrong side” of the issue.
 
The Emotional Appeal:  This fallacy is in manipulating an emotional response in place of a valid or compelling argument.  A person stands up in the church’s annual meeting and says we don’t need padding on the pews because there are Christians in Africa worshiping in a hut with no pews at all.  No one wants to be a wimp, so the padding never happens.
 
The Ad Hominem Argument:  This is my personal favorite.  I chuckle every time I hear it.  I chuckle a lot.  Instead of dealing with the argument, this is simply attacking your opponent’s character or personal traits in an attempt to undermine his/her position. For example, after providing a compelling reason for a change in ministry focus to families, another church member then questions why we should listen to a person who has never been married.
 

 

            There are a whole lot more fallacies, and this is only a small swatch of them.  Turns out we fallen people have all kinds of creative ways of refusing to think well about things.  In all cases of logical fallacies there is an inherent bias toward a certain position.  Therefore, the person purporting his position does not listen and seek to understand.  He only wants his opinion validated, or position adopted, or ego stroked, and will do whatever it takes to make it happen.  It is nothing more than lazy thinking and a lack of humility.  Jesus offers us an alternative to logical fallacies with sound humble reasoning through careful storytelling and logical teaching.  But don’t take Pastor Serling’s word for it.  Go ahead and read the Gospels for yourselves.