Stuck on the Horns of a False Dilemma

The above is an expression of logic. Bad logic. It’s been about a hundred years since I took couple of courses in logic, but have faith. The expression symbolizes that since a person either loves America or hates America, and if they don’t love America, they hate America.

It’s called a false dilemma. It’s nonsense, because the first bit falsely limits the possibilities. Right off the bat, there are many people who don’t feel all that strongly either way and just want to get through life without all the drama. And then you can both love America and hate America at the same time. You can get choked up watching a group of schoolchildren taking in the Grand Canyon at sunset and at the same time be thinking how much you hate America for sending buzz bombs into weddings in Afghanistan.

Reduction to black or white is a powerful way to build sides, and all sides do it, not always in obvious ways. Politics, where argument is the point, wallows in falsity, but the breakfast table has its moments, too. While “eat your food or go to your room” is a true dilemma, “if you don’t eat your carrots you’ll go blind”, “if you don’t go to college you’ll end up digging ditches” and “if you don’t have children you’ll live to regret it” are horseshit.

So what about those not so obvious ways? Here’s a favorite:

“Person of faith”

Clearly there is a with us/against us classification of people going on behind the expression, and I always find such oversimplification suspicious. Modern resource material tends to define faith as adherence to some organized religion, and that tendency only fortifies my suspicion that battle lines are being newly drawn. A more classic definition of faith is belief beyond evidence. In this sense, we are all persons of faith. In this sense, “the expression “person of faith” smacks of an attempt at exclusivity. But read the next before giving up on an old paranoid agnostic like me:

The phrase divides “people of faith” from everyone else. And who is that “everyone else”?  I’ve never heard anyone say this, but the underlying assumption seems to be that other people (normal people?) do not have faith, are not people of faith.

John Bowen, Professor Emeritus of Evangelism at Wycliffe College, Toronto–person-faith

I guess I’m not the only one. Dr. Bowen continues:

Sure, many (perhaps most) religious people believe in God—a God of some sort—on the basis of faith. Why? Because we believe the evidence is adequate, and we choose to trust.…

In the same way, an atheist is equally a person of faith—though they may claim the opposite. In other words, they too consider the evidence. They simply come to the opposite conclusion. Of course, the atheist and the Christian may differ as to what they see as evidence, or good evidence, or what that evidence means. And, of course, neither of our conclusions can be proved.…

“Person of faith” sounds innocuous enough, but underlying it are assumptions which are disrespectful and even patronising. And that doesn’t help conversation or mutual understanding one little bit.

So I, of all people, am the unlikely one to agree with Professor of Evangelism John Bowen? I’m curious to know if he has deeper concerns about this kind of classification of people–ones that go beyond “doesn’t help conversation” and “patronizing”. Is this implied false dilemma—that one is either capable of belief or not—a rallying cry? A taking of sides?

It’s no big deal, you might say. Il n’y a pas de quoi fouetter un chat*, if you spoke French.

And you might be right.

I hope you are.

*(there’s no reason to whip the cat)

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