Sacrosanct by association
March 22, 2013 § 8 Comments
Back during the Great Torture Debate I recall several times when commenters claimed that if waterboarding prisoners is torture and torture is intrinsically immoral, it would somehow cause a personal crisis of faith. The idea seemed to be that if those of us who opposed torture didn’t tone it down we were going to drive torture-sympathetic people away from the Church; therefore we should shut up.
Over at Catholic and Enjoying It there was recently some discussion of Ann Barnhardt’s political, economic, and religious punditry. A commenter claimed (I won’t link because I don’t want to make this about that person specifically) that reading Barnhardt’s economic commentary was a first stepping stone to him finding apologetic material which led to him personally joining the Church. Criticism of Barnhardt’s writing, then – and he was explicit on this point – was tantamount to telling him that he should have stayed a Protestant.
I’ve pointed out before that there is more than one form of ad hominem fallacy, the fallacy of truth-status-by-association. Ad hominem most commonly takes the form “Bob is a bad man, therefore his statement is false,” which everyone recognizes to be baloney: bad men make true statements all the time. But we are more prone to fall for it it when it takes the form “Bob is a good man, therefore his statement is true”. If we maintain that the statement is false in the face of this contention, it is implied that we are saying that Bob isn’t a good man; and who are we to judge him?
But we shouldn’t allow falsehood to establish itself through this subterfuge. If the statement is false, it is false: it doesn’t matter who is saying it or how great a guy he happens to be. We aren’t doing anyone any favors by pretending otherwise. Fornication is unequivocal wickedness. A new child conceived in sin is a wonderful, unequivocal good: the child, not the sin. That God makes good come from evil does not license us to call good evil and evil good.
We live in a fallen world, so anyone other than the Blessed Virgin and Christ Himself who has gotten anywhere good has taken some evil paths along the way. It is great if something happened to be a stepping stone toward the good for a particular person; but that doesn’t sanctify it (whatever “it” may be). Our obligations are to what is good, true, and beautiful.
The “sacrosanct by association” maneuver doesn’t serve the good, the true, and the beautiful. It serves what is evil, false, and ugly by shielding them from the light of truth. So we shouldn’t do it ourselves, and we shouldn’t give it a pass when others do it.