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.

§ 8 Responses to Sacrosanct by association

  • William Luse says:

    Some Catholics, like that commenter, somehow end up following the wrong magisterium. Don’t know why. Seems to me you ought to know where it genuinely resides before calling yourself a genuine Catholic.

    Your larger point is certainly correct. Whenever you’re wrong, I always tell people what a great guy you are.

  • Scott W. says:

    But she called Cyprus! Therefore her spittle-flecked rantings are true!

  • Zippy says:

    Scott:
    But she called Cyprus!

    I’m not even sure what that is supposed to mean, when her defenders claim it. She announced the end of the world (again) when the EU proposed that Cyprus – whose banking system is an order of magnitude larger than its GDP, largely on the back of Russian mafia money and other tax haven activity – levy a property tax on “money” deposited there (ahem). The different proposed tax brackets are a rough proxy, targeting mainly foreigners who use the Cypriot system as a tax haven and locals who have profited from that use.

    Like every politically expedient proxy it is rough: people buy homes in “senior only” developments to keep out young thugs who tend to be disproportionately of certain races; but because you can’t say that out loud, “no residents under 50 permitted” as an HOA covenant accomplishes the goal without violating PC pieties. So yes, some “innocents” would probably be caught in the proposed Cypriot tax net — if Cyprus hadn’t rejected the proposal, that is.

    I’ve made an argument that property taxes in general may be intrinsically unjust. I am open to a conclusion that property taxes in general (as opposed to taxes on transactions) are all basically forms of robbery perpetrated by the sovereign. But the notion that this rejected proposal on a small Mediterranean island somehow represents the end of private property is ridiculous: either private property ended long ago, the first time Mom and Pop had to sell the family home to get out from under property tax liabilities, or there is nothing to see here. I am somewhat inclined toward the former view.

  • Zippy says:

    Bill:
    You are one of the greatest guys I know.

  • Peter Blood says:

    Yes, liars can tell the truth, but when a liar–say, a Cultural Marxist–tells the truth, I look for how he’s trying to use the truth to destroy us. Often it’s because he’s not telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, but some half-truth.

  • Zippy says:

    Peter Blood:
    There is a symmetry though: it is just as important to watch ourselves and our allies for mistakes as it is to watch our enemies for their trojan horses. Which is why our focus should remain on what is good, true, and beautiful in the fallen world; and not on associations which hide the good, the true, and the beautiful.

  • Peter Blood says:

    My starting point with the enemy is “guilty until proven innocent” and with my friends “innocent until proven guilty.” I admit and embrace the asymmetry.

  • Zippy says:

    We are talking about truth claims here; and there is often far more at stake when we are wrong about something. Furthermore we will very much tend to overlook our own mistakes, while it is just natural to look upon our enemies’ claims with suspicion.

    In fact it seems to me that incalculable harm has been done by conservative tendencies to react and embrace the apparent opposite of whatever liberals propose, on all sorts of different subjects.

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