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Quick Hits: Four fallacies that tempt Catholic leaders

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Jun 30, 2017

The interchangeability fallacy: As an addendum to Wednesday’s commentary (The problem with doctrinal obscurity), allow me to notice that those who tend to favor a very loose approach to Catholic teaching on faith and morals typically place a great deal of weight on what they regard as Catholic social solutions, as if the two are completely interchangeable. In March I noted that Liberalism and Modernism treat intrinsic evils as relative and prudential decisions as absolute, which is a gross subversion of rational analysis.

Pope Francis is typical in this regard. At the same time as he repeatedly suggests that we do not need to emphasize doctrinal and moral issues, he tends to assign tremendous weight to prudential social concerns. His encyclical on the environment, Laudato Sí, is a perfect example (beautiful as much of it is), as is his constant attempt to interpret those who oppose his pastoral priorities as “rigid” (read sinful).


The players fallacy: There is a tendency among Catholic prelates generally to speak out for or against the social policies and programs which dominate politics these days, as if they can always be classed as either good or evil in the context of public discussion. Perhaps this is how they seek to be recognized as “players”. Meanwhile, too many bishops are comparatively silent when it comes to insisting that the members of the Church must first and foremost properly recognize intrinsic moral evils. These evils, running rampant in the West, consistently prevent even well-intentioned social programs from producing positive long-term results.

The effort of a Churchman to be a “player”, given our culture’s grasp of social responsibility, will never work. The overlap between the values of the State and those of the Church today is extraordinarily narrow, primarily restricted to feeding the hungry. If the Church cannot inject the absolutes of the natural law into socio-political discussions, it is very nearly worthless to engage in socio-political advocacy at all. And you will note that there is essentially no socio-political advocacy in the New Testament.


The ideology fallacy: It does not surprise anyone that Pope Francis has written the preface to Cardinal Turkson’s new book-length interview on the human costs of political corruption, entitled Corrosion. The two men are cut from a very similar cloth, and Francis himself appointed the bizarre African cardinal to head the new dicastery for Integral Human Development. (Such a dicastery might also be viewed as the product of the interchangeability fallacy; in the New Testament, human development is typically called conversion.)

It goes without saying that corruption must be condemned, and that it does hurt others. But it is a fallacy to assume that the very existence of the poor proves the existence of political corruption, or that poverty and the suffering that goes with it can be eliminated by rooting out political corruption. This sort of inversion inescapably morphs into utopian ideologies (such as socialism and communism). Funny how such ideologies also invariably absolutize social policies to justify acts which are intrinsically evil.


The calendar fallacy: It has long been a favorite hobby of relativists to pretend to be calendars. “Come on, get with it,” they shout. “It’s 2017!” Or 2001. Or 1984. Never slow to adopt the most recognizable “arguments” of our modern secular culture, some bishops adhere to the calendar fallacy, which is another name for the fallacy of “progress”. The latest ideas are always the best on offer. The moral principles grasped by our culture invariably improve as the calendar advances.

A perfect example of this is found in a letter to the editor of the London Times in which Bishop John Arnold of Salford described President Donald Trump as being on the “wrong side of history”. This is so, said the good bishop, because Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change. Such a statement serves as a kind of self-condemnation for a Catholic bishop. Whatever one’s position on climate change, the assumption that culturally fashionable causes are the wave of the future, and that the wave of the future never—but never—curls and crashes around our heads is ludicrous in its inversion of Providence. We cannot get on the wrong side of history; only of history’s Lord.


The mother of all fallacies: “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gn 3:5).

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Jul. 01, 2017 8:53 AM ET USA

    Nice, succinct analysis. And also a good translation of the word "rigid." When is someone going to publish a dictionary of Francis-isms?