“…the Bible tells me so”

29 01 2012

PWND - I see...it means, "Take an argument out of its context and then allow no reply."

The poster started with a definition, and so shall I:


Plausible but fallacious argumentation

In my last post I lamented that we live in a world of snippets and soundbites.  I am all too often provided with examples such as this.  I would say that this is full of fallacious arguments, but it’s not full of much of anything since the “transcript” is neither sourced nor complete.  Nevertheless, it has a particularly memey smell to it, so I figured I ought to provide a ready response for those who would like to consider this further.

The first arguer, Patti, doesn’t really make an argument.  If she got the chance to, we never see it.  She states a fact that the second arguer, called “Lacey” doesn’t dispute.

First I will point out where Pinky has a great point: Needing more justification than “the Bible says so” is commendable. Someone must interpret the document and determine what it says and why. Lacey apparently doesn’t find Patti’s interpretation wrong, but spews out a bunch of other “rules in the Bible” that apparently she doesn’t think Patti lives out or would agree to. That is another book length (or documentary length) topic.

It’s a weird sort of Hypocricy by Association (often incorrectly called “Judging”) – “You don’t live out everything the Bible says, so you have no right to tell anyone else what is Right or Wrong on any topic, because that would be Really Wrong.”

Unfortunately,  Lacey then seizes on both an incorrect definition of and a false dichotomy between “morality” and “religion”.  “I believe in…doing right regardless of what I’m told…not in doing what I’m told regardless of what’s right.”  Why not just be clear and say, “I follow my own rules, regardless of what the rest of human history has found to be just and prudent through millennia of trial and error”?

Basically, she asserts her desire to conform all Conformists to her specific brand of Nonconformity.  This borders on hypocrisy, but I think that Lacey just didn’t fully think through her argument.

Let’s clarify terms:

Morality is simply a set of principles that govern behaviour. “This is Right.  That is Wrong.  This Other Thing is okay only on the second Tuesday of the month.”  Where one obtains this code is a separate issue.

Religion is a set of principles that govern the outward signs of a serious spiritual practice. In short: A code of Worship.  The way in which one worships often influences ones’ morality, but we all know someone who can be “religious” without being “moral”.

Without any code to remind us when we go astray (I’m just thinking of all the examples of how *I* tend to go astray, here) morality becomes subjective, and hence, useless. The very concept of “right” is nonsensical otherwise. Without a standard or code, “right” becomes “what I prefer right now”.  What’s the use of having rules if there are no consequences for not keeping them?  Even gambling is no fun without rules.  Imagine a casino where you sometimes didn’t lose money, but they almost never paid out.

Codes, however, do not function as a dead letter. A written code without an interpreter of that code leaves one no better off than having no code at all – unless you’re a Sophist. Terms can be redefined, arguments can be made, and we are back to arguing that “this code says what I prefer right now”.

This is the result of 500 years of Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone).  Each individual believer is the sole arbiter of Truth.  The result is that more people deride the Church and what she has always stood for.

By way of analogy, replace “right” with “law” and imagine for a moment what state of anarchy our nation would be in if each citizen got to decide how to interpret the Constitution.  You get pulled over and the officer says “You can’t have a gun”, but you say, “I have the right to bear arms!” and a shoot-out ensues.

Fortunately, our Founding Fathers gave us the Supreme Court – 9 Justices who can rule with authority as to what the Constitution says.  It isn’t a perfect system, but it is far preferable to chaos.

Fortunately, Jesus didn’t leave us a book – he left us a Church.



2 responses

29 01 2012

Whether a person agrees or not that the argument made is sophistic, there is a valid argument that can be made along those lines, one that is often discounted by the “church side” and causes others to distance themselves from the church if they’re on the “non church side”. This argument is in large part why I consider myself religious without really being able to get behind a/the church anymore.

The argument, boiled smaller, goes something like:

The bible says lots of things are right or wrong (homosexuality no, slavery yes, polygamy yes, killing your kids yes, helping the poor yes, shellfish no). Over time there has been a feeling like some of these are no longer applicable, or at the very least, much less applicable than others. No church is going to support you stoning your kids for misbehaving. Heck, even the vast majority (if not all) churches are “ok” with an adulterer (one of the ‘big 10′) in their midst, and many even support one for president and there’s no way they’d overlook something like being gay in the same way.

So, the question becomes why are some rules that are “clearly in the bible” no longer an issue, and others aren’t? How is this line drawn? If the “most important” commandment is to love each other, isn’t loving the gays more important than anything?

Or even spending some of that energy helping the poor?

This struggle is a big reason I’ve drifted from the church and continue to do so. Each time I hear “because it’s written in the bible” as an excuse to hurt people, I find myself sliding further away.

Sure, the original post/picture could have made the argument better, and teasing isn’t a great way to make an argument, but it’s hardly a worthless argument – it’s one that has caused at least one person to leave the church because it couldn’t be answered.

Some day this may be reconciled for me. I grew up in the church and question whether my children will.

29 01 2012
Mensa Domini (The Lord's Table)


Thanks for your response! You ask more questions than I can rightly answer in a combox, but I’ll try to hit some and create posts for the rest.

”How is this line drawn?”

That is THE question. The interlocutor here does not ask that question. She dances around it, but then dismisses Patti’s statement and we never find her reasoning, if any. I’m not going to try to really tackle that one here, but will not leave it unanswered.

“This struggle is a big reason I’ve drifted from the church and continue to do so. Each time I hear “because it’s written in the bible” as an excuse to hurt people, I find myself sliding further away.”

I must admit, (and I don’t know quite why) that this is making me tear up. Perhaps it is because I think I felt the same way not so long ago. Perhaps it is because it is a tragic irony that anyone would hurt someone in Love’s name.

If you have not watched “Lord, Save Us From Your Followers” I would recommend it (linked above). Based on your post I think you would appreciate it. At one point, the producer/director/host Dan Merchant sets up a “Reverse Confessional” at Pride in Portland. He apologizes to dozens of gays for laughing at jokes, for being mean, and for the way Christians have treated them.

As a Catholic, I look to the Catechism for the Church’s official guidance on the issue. The Catechism follows in the footsteps of the Jewish Talmudic tradition of explaining Scripture, but it goes beyond that. The issue of Authority and interpretation are worth a completely separate blog post (That is THE question). But for now, I’ll present the Catholic position:

“2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”


I would also recommend Steve Gershom’s blog “Catholic, Gay, and Feeling Fine, Thanks” over at http://www.stevegershom.com/

This is a tangled mess, but I’ll do my best to show you how I’ve navigated it to get where I am, and maybe you’ll come up with some things I’ve missed along the way, and we can both get to a better place together.


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