Archive | April, 2017

When is a ‘fallacy’ not a fallacy?

26 Apr

“Just because it’s ALWAYS been that way doesn’t mean it HAS to be!”

Have you ever heard that remark?  Likely it comes from a person who doesn’t approve of a current rule or practice.  And it’s a true statement.

The ‘is/ought’ fallacy teaches us to watch out for people or books that assert something like:

  • This square baking dish is what Grandma used to bake her prize-winning meatloaves
  • Your meatloaf is too long for the dish
  • Therefore, you had better cut off one end of it to fit the pan.

But is that the only option for the next generation of meatloaf makers?  Since this pan IS the tool Grandma used in the past, does it follow that we OUGHT to use it today, in all circumstances?

No!  That is a perfect illustration of the ‘is/ought’ fallacy.  Just because something IS a certain way, doesn’t mean it OUGHT to be.  The ‘duh’ solution to the meatloaf is to find a larger pan!

But sometimes the truth requires an OUGHT to flow from an IS

I thought about this yesterday, reading about today’s ‘nones’, those nominal church-attenders who might have identified at one time as Christians.  Given the rapid upheavals in western society, they no longer see a benefit to attending church.  Yet some of them claim to be spiritual.  What they mean is that they don’t discount the immaterial. They just prefer to choose and select their own beliefs and practices.

What they DON’T subscribe to is a God:

  • who is personal
  • who requires His followers to submit to His authority

According to these ‘pickers and choosers of the spiritual’ the way God IS does NOT impose an OUGHT.  They would cry, “Fallacy!”

Why object to any ‘oughts’ flowing from a reality?  That’s easy!  Who wants a God who requires SOMETHING from you? The only way to reconcile a demanding God with one’s autonomous wishes is to deny such a God exists.  Voilà!  then no obligation remains. It can be inconvenient to believe in a personal God who:

  • creates and sustains EVERYTHING that exists and therefore is the rightful ‘owner’ of all
  • makes human beings in His image with the capacity for a personal relationship with him
  • as originator, has the RIGHT to require certain responses from his creation

Americans, of all ‘1st world’ people, are a peculiar bunch.  Their nation was birthed in rebellion.  They see themselves as a people who exercise self-government and ones who cherish individual rights.  Their national DNA pulses with that 18th century symbol of an angry snake ready to strike:

dont-tread-on-me-meaning

So what do we logical Janes and Joes do with this assessment?  Just keep the distinction handy in your toolkit.  What people criticize as a fallacy might not be. We’re called to pause and think and question whomever makes a claim.  And if you are a Christian logical Joe or Jane, more is expected of you.  God, through the apostle Peter, calls His children always to be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is in them, but to do so with GENTLENESS and RESPECT for the other person (1 Peter 3:15).

Question: What other ‘fallacy’ out there might not always be a fallacy? 

 

Bible verse logic

19 Apr

I love reading Scripture in French, just for the different wording.  Psalm 65:1 in English reads: There will be silence and calm waiting before you, and praise in Zion.

But in French, it’s ‘Notre calme attente à toi est la louange que nous t’offrons’Our calm counting and waiting on you is the praise that we offer you.  (ESV/Blue Letter Bible site:)

This morning in my study time, I linked THAT affirmation with Psalm 34:1 – I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. 

What I saw was that for His praise to be “always in my mouth”, it must be always in my mind.  And what will guarantee that I’ll always be thinking of ways to praise God?  Only my neediness.

To be needy raises this question: when do we actually HAVE to wait for or count on someone?  When we don’t have what it takes, when we are DESPERATE!

But it’s human nature to DESPISE being needy.  And especially trying/difficult for those of us in the ‘modern West’.  As moderns, we have weaned ourselves off of being dependent on others by all our personalized, automated, self-contained devices and life-style choices.

But God knows best.  After all, He created us.  And His ON-PURPOSE design for us is to need Him, to be dependent on Him.

But here’s the good news.  This design is not just to keep us in our place with a kind of resigned ‘I had better be grateful’ acceptance.  No, on the contrary, our good and all-wise God has structured us to find pure, satisfying joy in having our needs met by Him.  (After all, Jesus waited and endured the dreadful, shame-filled cross for ‘the joy set before Him – Hebrew 12:2)

At almost 60 years old, I have finally reached the stage where more often than not, I can see the soundness of His purpose in making me stumble-prone and inadequate when I lean on myself.  Like Paul, I am BEGINNING to learn to be content when I am weak.  As in Hebrews 11:34, I am one of those ‘….whose weakness was turned to strength…..’

Further building my case for the power of a life defined by Psalm 65:1, I draw assurance from the Father’s promise in Psalm 84:11 – …..No good thing does He withhold…..  Of course, I have learned that what God calls ‘good’ is not always what Maria considers good. But my confidence in Him grows day by day as He provides the evidence of promises delivered, over and over again.  I am beginning to SEE the wisdom in the ‘good’ He decrees for me, even if this ‘good’ comes wrapped in brown paper.

How are you building a case for God’s ways in your life?  What evidence are you assembling that strengthens your resolve to count on Him?

Who’s the one with a bias?

12 Apr

The email response greeted me with this first sentence:

“This site and its articles are extremely biased and on the verge of alt-right/tea party. It reminds me of Breitbart.   I have a hard time taking much of what they say seriously. ” 

I had sent a work colleague an essay about why the Swiss seem to encounter little to no terrorism in their country.  The author had posted her thoughts on a conservative website (Townhall).  Since this 8th-grade humanities teacher seeks to train his students to ask deeper questions, I thought he would appreciate the anomaly that Switzerland represents in a Europe menaced by terrorism.

I wasn’t prepared for his differing worldview, but I should have been given his youth and generational milieu and the fact that we teach in Asheville, NC.  Taken aback at first, I carefully chose my response.  Rewriting my comments in the form of questions (I reflected) might make it easier for him to read and accept my thoughts.

To his credit I realized he had indeed read the entire essay and given it some consideration. His comments bore that out.  So I complimented him on that, but asked him the logical question all of us should employ initially:  Why do you think that? (regarding his dismissive first couple of sentences)

Here is how I worded the rest of my response to his opening salvo: Why is that?  Shouldn’t we judge ideas on their merit?  I think that’s the genetic fallacy, to dismiss a viewpoint because of its source.

Continuing on gently, I spring-boarded off of his observations with some further thoughts.  In the end, I repeated my acknowledgement of his generous use of time DESPITE his skepticism about the ‘validity’ of the point of view.

What I re-learned from this encounter was this:

  • just as I and my husband and some like-minded friends believe the other side is ‘biased’, they also assume we are predisposed
  • there is no cause for fear when someone tries to marginalize one’s beliefs and reasons.  I probably know more than this young man.  I read a lot more and I’ve been at this clear thinking/reasoning work for years now.
  • asking questions is a safe and disarming approach in responding to what might FEEL like an attack

I’m grateful for the occasion to exercise some of my ‘logical gal’ skills.

 

Mission statements can obscure

5 Apr

Our church mission is “Joyfully to love all, serve all, and to share Jesus Christ with the world.”

A friend who belongs to a Methodist church mentioned her church’s guiding mission in the context of a discussion about homosexuality and a church association to which her church belongs.  This local group of churches had united to serve the community, but differing policies and doctrine threatened to derail some of their momentum.

I got to thinking about the importance and difficulty of choosing words.  Words carry not only verbal descriptive meanings, but also emotional messages, both positive and negative. Just like one’s tone of voice and delivery can alter the explicit meaning of a word, so can culture and the times add layers that color and influence communication.

God does not ignore such obstacles but takes them into account.  He responds by calling us FIRST to think, ponder, and invest time in understanding HIS divine words to us.  In turn, we are to be truthful in how we use words, especially the WORD of God.  Recall Paul’s exhortation to his protégé Timothy: “…Rightfully handle the word of truth!” in 2 Tim 2:15.

Mission statements matter – every word counts.  The verbs my friend’s church chose demand examination.  Let’s just look at the first one, to love:

Since it’s a church that is using this term, does it not make sense to turn first to the Bible to see God’s use?  Besides, should we begin with man’s definition, that is culture’s use, we’d immediately step into a morass.  We can’t assume consensus even within one country. What I consider ‘loving’ probably doesn’t match your personal view.  My ‘love’ might tap into the American ideal of pursuing happiness.  Translated, this has come to signify ‘allowing one freedom to do whatever one pleases, regardless of the consequences’ as long as it doesn’t impinge on my happiness.  But if I’m an alcoholic or drug addict, how loving is it to let me abuse substances and die?

God doesn’t leave us to wonder about what HE says is love.  Here is His standard:  You shall love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  And your neighbor as yourself. Mark 12:30-31  God cares not just about people’s temporary physical desires and needs, but their eternal soul’s condition.   Is it loving to clothe, feed and house someone for just their fleeting years on earth?

For a flesh and blood case of love in action, I’ll mention ‘Uncle Paul’.  He shows clearly how he himself loves in his letter to the Corinthians.

  • 1 Cor 10:33 I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

It is quite possible that my friend’s church had this kind of love in view when they crafted their mission statement.  But in giving them the benefit of the doubt, I’ll tell you that I have grown cautious in making assumptions about the meaning of terms. Just because a church uses the word ‘love’ or a colleague talks about ‘God’ or even mentions that they ‘pray’, I stop now and ask them what they mean.  More often than I would have imagined, that person’s usage does not match mine.

When it comes to terms, logical Joes and Janes seek clarity above all.