Non Sequitur

At the heart of the proclamation of the Gospel is the call to conversion. This call goes out to all of us, to turn to Christ and to continually deepen our relationship with Him. This is to a large extent a matter of the heart, but sometimes we need to critically examine our thought processes. Discovering flaws in one”s logic does not of itself produce faith, but it does level the playing field so that the call to conversion may be heard anew.

Today, I thought I would offer a “top ten” list of non sequiturs (“it-doesn”t-follows”) that I”ve run into, with a brief explanation as to why they involve logical fallacies.

(1) “I don”t always feel like going to Mass on Sunday, especially if I”m out late on Saturday or there”s a good football game on.”

Therefore: “It’2012-04-24 18:34:56′s okay [i.e., not a mortal sin] if I occasionally miss Mass on Sunday.”

We don”t always feel like doing the right thing. In fact, feelings are not a reliable guide to making good decisions (Catechism, no. 1768). What would even be the point of morality if whatever we felt like doing always happened to be the right thing to do? We know from personal experience as well as from the teaching of the Church that that”s not the case. Also, this thought process makes Sunday Mass appear as merely an obligation, and not as the source and summit of our lives as Christians.

(2) “Fr. X sexually abused a minor.”

Therefore: “The Catholic Church is evil. (And all priests are perverts.)”

If Fr. X sexually abused a minor, then he is a pervert and a criminal, and he should be prosecuted to the same extent as anyone else who commits such acts. But to judge all priests and the Church as a whole based on the bad acts of individuals is an illogical (and at times malicious) leap–and one that our society would not tolerate with respect to any other demographic group.

As a matter of pastoral governance, mistakes have been made in the past regarding the handling of priest abusers, but even that doesn”t lead to the conclusion that all priests are sex offenders (the overwhelming majority aren”t) or that the Church countenances the behavior of the Fr. Xes of the world. The Church, following Our Lord”s teaching, especially in Matthew 18, has always considered the sexual abuse of minors a gravely sinful act (see for example Catechism, nos. 2353 and 2356). 

(3) “Annulments are just Catholic divorces.”

Therefore: “I should be able to divorce and remarry in the Church without the hassle and delay of the annulment process.”

This is the one clearly false premise in this list, as annulments, or “decrees of nullity,” are distinct from divorces. So here we need more teaching on marriage, especially on the indissolubility of marriage. As Our Lord said, “What therefore God has joined, let no man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6).

But even accepting this perception, there is a double standard at work here. Virtually nobody would attempt a second civil marriage (with the first spouse still alive) without first obtaining a civil divorce. Otherwise, they”d be committing the crime of bigamy. When it comes to a Christian marriage, the ultimate arbiter is the Church, not the state. Yet, many people act as if the permissive divorce laws of the state should exclusively govern realities that “God has joined.” For more on this topic, check out this article.

(4) “It”s legal.”

Therefore: “It”s morally acceptable.”

Not all actions that are legal are morally good, and not all illegal activities necessary entail an action that is morally evil in itself. In legal terminology, which one would get in a cursory viewing of Legally Blonde, some acts are malum in se (bad in themselves) and others are malum prohibitum (bad because they”re prohibited, such as various regulatory laws, etc.).

Even in our jurisprudence, then, some actions are bad, or evil, in themselves. This badness doesn”t come from the law, but from something that existed before the penal codes were written. Here of course we”re talking about the natural law, which is not dependent on the “democratic process” or having a majority of favorably disposed judges. So, the fact that abortion may be “legal” in the eyes of the state does not mean that it has ceased to be an abomination in the sight of God (see Catechism, nos. 2070-73).  

(5) “Catholics are not ”single issue” voters.”

Therefore, “I can vote for the pro-abortion candidate because there are many issues and surely on some issues he or she is preferable to the pro-life alternative.”

The fact that Catholics are not “single issue” voters does not lead to the conclusion that all issues are more/less equal. Abortion is a distinctive issue for three reasons. First, it involves the fundamental right to life itself, which is a prerequisite for any and all other rights we possess. Second, if that weren”t enough, the victims are the most vulnerable in our midst and unable to speak for themselves. And third, unlike most political issues, this is a black and white moral issue where there is a right side and a wrong side to be on as Christians and as men and women of goodwill. So a certain prioritization of issues is certainly called for. On this, I refer readers to a joint pastoral letter issued during the last election cycle by Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Finn of the greater Kansas City area.

(6) “Everyone has the right to be happy.”

Therefore, “Homosexual activity and even homosexual relationships should be approved by society, and the Chuch will have to come around on this issue.”

When this person says “happy,” he or she doesn”t mean happy in the deepest sense. Basically, this person is saying that a person, or in this instance, “consenting adults,” have the right to do whatever they want to do. What he or she is really talking about is “license,” which is human freedom disconnected from the truth. One cannot be happy apart from God and apart from striving to do what is pleasing in His eyes. If human happiness resides in God alone, as all the saints have attested, must we give legal recognition to his or her disordered attempts at happiness (to the detriment of the moral fabric of our society), or do we lovingly offer them another way? 

(7) “The Church”s teaching on birth control is not infallible.”

Therefore, “The Church”s teaching is wrong.”

Here we get into all sorts of futile arguments as to whether the Church has made an “infallible” ex cathedra statement on the subject, or at least has taught on this subject in such a way that it partakes of the “ordinary Magisterium” of the Church. Basically, people are looking for loopholes. They want the Church to be wrong about this, so they need to lay the foundation that such an error is possible (without bailing on the Church altogether).

The fact of the matter is that the Church teaches the truth in matters of faith and morals. When it comes to moral evils, the Church typically does not issue infallible pronouncements. Does that mean that the Church”s moral teaching is up for grabs? Of course not. And the Church has noted that the sinfulness of contraception is also a precept of the natural law (cf. Humanae Vitae, no. 14), and the natural law does not change (Catechism, no. 1958).

(8) “Things seemed to go haywire in the Church after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).”

Therefore, “Vatican II is the problem, and its so-called ”reforms” must be reversed immediately.”

Maxwell Smart might say, “This is the old post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.” Literally this means, “After this therefore because of this.” In other words, it”s bad logic to conclude that simply because one thing happens after another, the first event was the cause of the second event. Now Vatican II did bring about some significant changes in the Church”s life, but most things people point to as the bad fruits of Vatican II are things that (a) would likely have happened even without Vatican II and/or (b) reflect a mistaken (or mischievous) interpretation of the Council”s provisions. Taken to the extreme, this fallacy has led some who are “more Catholic than the Pope”–or at least “more Catholic than Vatican II”–to walk away from the Church. “Pre-Vatican II” and “Post-Vatican II” are not two different churches, people!

(9) “All human beings are born with God-given dignity and value.”

Therefore, “Illegal immigrants have the right to citizenship and to free healthcare insurance coverage.”

Obviously this is a complex, divisive issue that requires a new way of thinking that can break through partisan divisions.

The Church, more than any other body, affirms the God-given dignity, value, and rights of all people. There are many people in this country who are “undocumented” or “illegal,” oftentimes because their family is unable to survive harsh living conditions in Mexico. Treating these people as mere criminals or worse doesn”t resonate with the Christian perspective.

Yet, automatic citizenship and health insurance for those who have fled to our country (notwithstanding our immigration laws, such as they are) is not a necessary conclusion to be drawn from our premise. Even more so when we imprudently and unjustly burden the next generation with paying for our inability to manage this immigration crisis in a way that is both compassionate and respectful of the rule of law.  

(10) “God is merciful.”

Therefore, “All people [with perhaps noteworthy exceptions, such as Adolph Hitler or Osama bin Laden] will be saved.

This is the error of presumption, or perhaps universalism. Just as we can choose to accept Christ, we can also set our will against Him. If none of that mattered, then “human freedom” would simply be a mirage.

Can you think of any other faith-related non sequiturs?

7 Responses to “Non Sequitur”

  1. M. Forrest says:

    Nice piece, Leon. It”s important to review the logic (or lack thereof) that we may hide behind in order to rationalize our own failings and poor choices. However, I may take issue with you on #1. I think it depends on the football game. Is that wrong of me?

  2. JohnE says:

    Non-sequitur:

    The bible is the inspired word of God.
    Therefore: I don”t need anyone to tell me what it means because God wouldn”t steer me wrong.

  3. Robert says:

    College football is played on Saturday……therefore there”s no reason to miss Mass for a football game.

  4. Will says:

    "Parts of Christianity resemble parts of other religions. Therefore, Christianity is false."
    "Parts of Christianity are different from parts of other religions. Therefore Christianity is false."

  5. Christina says:

    Also:

    "Parts of Christianity resemble parts of other religions. Therefore, All religions are true."

    or (oddly sometimes given by the same people…)

    "Parts of Christianity conflict with parts of other religions. Therefore, we cannot know truth."

  6. Jim says:

    You had me until 9.

    One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn”t belong…

  7. leon says:

    Jim, note that I didn”t take a side on this divisive issue. All I”m saying is that the conclusion doesn”t follow from the premise. Just because we entered the world with God-given dignity doesn”t compel the conclusion that everyone has the inherent right to be a U.S. citizen and/or be given health insurance. See this pastoral letter by the bishops of Kansas City on this topic for more info: http://catholickey.blogspot.com/2009/09/kansas-city-bishops-issue-joint-health.html

Leave a reply