January 25, 2006

Psycho-Fundy Argumentation 101: The False Dichotomy

I can't think of anything better to call this particular "debating" tactic that frequently crops up on chat forums and mailing lists, such as BaptistBoard or the Fighting Fundamental Forums, that are frequented by Fundamentalists.

Basically, the "argument" works like this: Fundamentalist A advocates a certain moral position, usually a strict and abstemious one. Fundamentalist B disagrees mildly. Fundamentalist A then accuses Fundamentalist B of wanton moral profligacy: Fundamentalist B doesn't merely disagree with Fundamentalist A on the one point that Fundamentalist A was arguing; rather, he has a secret agenda of wanting to legitimize every big, dangerous, grossly sinful act that his depraved little mind can possibly conceive of.

Alternatively, Fundamentalist A will imply that Fundamentalist B lacks self-control, therefore if he allows himself that one little activity, a downward spiral of moral degeneracy will be the inevitable outcome. Hence Fundamentalist A is protecting Fundamentalist B from himself.

Here are some actual examples that I have encountered of this form of "reasoning" in action. Some of them I have paraphrased from memory, but some were copied, more or less verbatim, from various Web forums.

Fundamentalist B: "Why can't you provide scriptural support for your view that smoking is sin?"
Fundamentalist A: "Do you advocate the liberty to drink antifreeze? After all, it has a sweet flavor. How bout the self-mutilation thing? Would that be okay?"

Fundamentalist B: [talking about various types of pulpits] "We use a table and a bar stool on our platform when we preach at our church."
Fundamentalist A: "What's next . . . a stripper's pole? I guess then you'll be able to wear your Speedo to the service though. What do you guys serve at communion . . . shots???"

Fundamentalist A: "The Bible says that women should not wear that which pertaineth unto a man. The Bible also says that women should dress modestly. Pants are men's wear, and furthermore they highlight a woman's sex. It is immodest for women to wear them."
Fundamentalist B: "There is nothing intrinsically immodest about a woman wearing a pair of jeans."
Fundamentalist A: "Apparently, you believe public nudity is all right, and there is no such thing as modesty when it comes to covering areas of the body, nor is there a problem with flaunting one's sexuality through attire."

Fundamentalist A: "The King James Bible is the only Bible God blesses."
Fundamentalist B: "There are many good, God-honouring translations of the Bible into English, and no reason to believe that God approves of the KJV more than those."
Fundamentalist A: "Well, I guess you must also believe that the Jehovah's Witnesses' New World Translation must be good and God-honouring too. And what about the Book of Mormon or the Quran? People claim they are the word of God, too."

Fundamentalist B: "I was in the dorms at the school I attend the other day, and noticed two empty beer bottles on a student's book shelf full of change, so I asked him what was up with the bottles on the shelf. He told me he didn't drink; they were just to hold change. How should I handle the situation?"
Fundamentalist A: "I would demand to know where they bought the beer. Then I would go and buy a great big jug of wine and have a party for all the Christian drunks, and then you would all have bottles for your change. I would imagine you could keep your dope in one also. Is there nothing in this world that a Christian is told to abstain from in your eyes? Man, don't you people read the Bible?"

This is a false dichotomy because Fundamentalist A is implicitly saying there is no in-between. Either you abstain completely from drinking, or you chug your way through a 40-ouncer of vodka and a dime bag of weed every night. There's simply no possible allowance for the bottle of beer after work or the glass of Cabernet with your steak; indeed, for a Christian to admit to an occasional drink is to call his motives into question. He only wants to drink the glass of Cab because they secretly want to get completely blasted and have a wild, Bacchanalian orgy.

This species of sophistry crops up so often that I'm starting to wonder if psycho-fundy pastors are spiking the communion winejuice with some sort of mind-control drug. Someone needs to point out to these people (preferably with the Cudgel of Cluefulness™) that extremism doesn't make points, reality does.