St. Paul Preaching in Athens by Raphael. Source: Wiki Commons

In Defense of Comparing Culture War Issues to Cannibalism and Other Sordid Things

on November 26, 2014

Traditional Christianity by definition is at odds with many things Americans value in our culture today. Whether it is abortion, gay marriage or contraception, there are plenty of hot button issues to stir up some small debate once whomever you are spending time with figures out what you are. Today I’d like to point out a rhetorical sleight of hand I’ve experienced in not a few conversations.  As everyone knows, next to eating turkey, debating religion and politics with family members and loved ones around the holidays is a cherished part of that tradition. Here is an excerpt of a conversation, paraphrased, I’ve had:

Me: …and that is why, if I found out on the first date a girl was okay with artificial contraception, that would be a deal breaker for me.

Him: That is absolutely crazy. How could you dismiss someone right away just because they did not agree with you on contraception?

Me: Well, you would agree there are certain things that would qualify as instantaneous deal breakers, right? What if you went on a date and you found out she was a white supremacist?

Him: Unbelievable. How can you compare using contraceptives to white supremacy?

See what happened there? The debate originally started on whether it was ok to cease seeing someone romantically if you found at they believed in something you thought was morally wrong. I then brought up an example of something that most Americans, rightly so, find morally objectionable and most of them would agree a relationship should end over. He then threw out the debate because it was simply outrageous to him to put contraceptives as analogous to white supremacy i.e. in a category of immoral things.

This is in no way responds to my point. He doesn’t answer the original question but simply side steps by labeling the comparison as objectionable. And contraception use is not equal absolutely with racism, but I used racism because most Americans agree it is terrible. The comparison is use because it illustrates that there are some beliefs that can be held that would justify ending a relationship.

Something similar happens in debates about gay marriage. When it comes up that I am not in favor of legal recognition for gay marriages and believe that it is disordered, it is sometimes met with “What do you care what two consent adults do?” I then respond, “Say one person consents to allow himself to be tortured and eaten by another person. Is that morally ok?” This is of course met with “How dare you compare gay couples to cannibals!”

In both cases I use an extreme example to show that their criteria for moral decisions are unjustified. Instead it is just met with an objection that the comparison is unacceptable.

This tactic is unfortunate because it makes debate about morality impossible. If an appeal to something generally recognized as immoral is made in order to illustrate a point about another belief that is up for debate, it is thrown out. This assumption kills any kind of rational debate about what is good and evil. Things like cannibalism and racism become axiomatic examples of what is wrong, when they actually rest on things like human nature and reason. It means that any hot button issue is already off the table because it can be debated. If it can be debated it must not be immoral because things that are immoral (cannibalism and racism) are just “common sense” assumptions. It makes us intellectually atrophied and unable to defend morality as we face challenges to it.

So if you find yourself cornered by a belligerent relative who insists you must engage in another theater of the culture war, add this to your arsenal. Get him or her to stick to the original question at hand and, remember, always debate charitably.  We must speak “the truth in love” lest we become “clanging cymbals.”

  1. Comment by MarcoPolo on December 1, 2014 at 7:14 pm

    Holiday gatherings do present some challenges!
    It is a shame your conversation got torpedoed before it really was allowed to float. The exchange of ideological differences is only able to be exercised, if all are willing to listen.
    I sense, your Holiday was enjoyable, nonetheless?

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