I worked in politics for five years including two congressional campaigns and a two-year stint as a legislative aide on Capital Hill. So, I know how the system works but that doesn’t mean I still don’t roll my eyes when watching news shows.
Lately, I have been shaking my head in disgust at the debate over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s role in the Benghazi tragedy. A portion of a chapter of Secretary Clinton’s book was leaked stating the following over the deaths of four Americans who were attacked on September 11, 2012 at the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya. Secretary Clinton writes,
“I will not be a part of a political slugfest on the backs of dead Americans. It’s just plain wrong, and it’s unworthy of our great country. Those who insist on politicizing the tragedy will have to do so without me.”
To be fair, Secretary Clinton says a lot more about the tragedy for the chapter is more than thirty pages but the problem with the above statement, which basically summarizes the tone of the chapter, is that it is wholly irrelevant to the questions at hand. The motivation a person has for asking difficult questions or taking a certain side say absolutely nothing about whether the question is fair or whether the argument is a good one. The Republicans are certainly “playing politics” with the Benghazi tragedy but so is Secretary Clinton with her statement. A person who feigns surprise that partisan politics drives Washington, D.C. is like Claude Rains in Casablanca when he shut down Rick’s Bar announcing, “I’m shocked, shocked to find there is gambling going on here!” while pocketing his winnings from the rigged games he played all night long.
Let me give you another example that I have used before. A friend was criticizing Obamacare on Facebook. One person accused him of being racist for opposing the law. I quickly came to my friend’s defense (which I shouldn’t have done because arguing on Facebook has proven to be as useful as trying to teach what good music sounds like to a Nickelback fan). I interjected that it didn’t matter if my friend was a racist or not (although he’s not) because his argument rests on its merits not on who makes it. A racist may be right that immigration reform could save the nation money even if he is motivated by his irrational hatred of people of color. A businessperson may be correct that cutting capital gains tax rates could jumpstart the economy and help everyone even if he or she has the most to gain from the cuts.
These are examples of fallacies on the left but the right may be challenged on several fronts as well. For example, it is perfectly fair to ask whether it is even possible to truly “close the borders” or whether illegal immigrants truly take jobs that Americans actually want to work.
I wrote a series of posts a few years back about recognizing logical fallacies during election years. If we are ever going to reclaim the kind of public dialogue that truly protects our Constitutional republic (BTW, the United States is NOT a democracy, it is a Constitutional democratic republic and there is a difference), we must call politicians on the carpet when they utilize logical fallacies.
Christians are called to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). It is important to remember that salt was used in the ancient world to preserve that which would otherwise decay. We see decay in the political sphere (and Hollywood and academia) because we have not been salt by vigorously engaging these areas. We have largely embraced a faith that implies we just need to hunker down and wait to be raptured out of this trailer park we call modern culture. Such an approach is NOT Biblical.
Christian apologists, professional or lay, are the ones who should lead this charge. We train ourselves in spotting logical fallacies and calling them out with grace. Thus, we should take the lead.
My fellow nerds need to recognize, however, that the average person does not speak in the words of logical fallacies. Too many apologists have IQ’s but handicapped emotional IQ. We need to learn to relate and, take a breath, speak in catchy sound bites. So, ad hominems need to be translated into something like “calling someone a name is not an argument.” Also, please toss “necessary” and “sufficient” from your public vocabulary!
If we are exiles in a pagan world (which we are), then we should seek the “peace and prosperity of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7) and we can begin doing this by calling out public officials who make poor arguments, so that we force our elected officials (and others) to make truly wise decisions and possibly cut down on the hyper-partisanship that plagues modern politics.
Grace and peace.