Stop Being an %$#@& on Social Media: False Dichotomy, the Bane of Modern Debate

Stop Being an %$#@& on Social Media, PART 1: 14 Quick Tips for Better Online Interactions

Stop Being an %$#@& on Social Media, PART 2: 5 Common Logical Mistakes to Avoid

Logical Fallacy: False Dichotomy

Picking up right where we left off…

A false dichotomy is another logical fallacy that I see regularly used in online debates. It’s to offer only two possible options even though a broad range of possibilities are available. These often can be summed up in “either/or” statements.

For the sake of illustration, let’s say someone asks me, “For coffee, do you like Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks?” This is a false dichotomy because the implied idea (whether purposely or not) is that these are the only two options: Dunkin or Starbucks. Essentially, the person is saying, You can either like Dunkin Dounut coffee or Starbucks coffee — and there’s not other option. But what if I don’t like either? What if I like both? What if I like the local coffee shop down on the corner? Or Tim Hortons? (My northern friends know what I’m taking about.) What if my favorite coffee is the coffee I make at home? Or how about this: What if I don’t drink coffee at all? 

To give a theological example, one of the biggest debates in Christian history is Arminianism versus Calvinism. But Molinism is a perfectly acceptable, biblical alternative. Another big issue with this “only-two-options” way of thinking is that it tends to ignore nuance and details. In other words, the two options are generalized; specificity is overlooked or ignored. When false dichotomy is going on, often stereotyping is going right along with it. For instance, there are different “degrees” or flavors of Calvinism. Someone may agree with most of the tenets of Calvinism while not subscribing to them all. We can fairly say there is “soft” Calvinism, “hard” Calvinism, and even “hyper-Calvinism.” I don’t care what John Piper said; it doesn’t mean the Calvinist you’re talking to holds that same exact belief.

I don’t know what it is about human beings, but we love creating false dichotomies. Is it because we love a good rivalry? Or are we just too lazy to think harder? And I think it’s even worse with us Americans, likely because of our two-party system.

You’re either liberal or conservative. (Can’t some of my views be “conservative” and some “liberal,” depending on the topic?) You either affirm everything about group X or you hate all of group X. (Can’t one disagree with views of people X but still respect and value them?) You either love whatever president is in office or hate him. (Can’t I criticize where it’s due and praise where it’s due?) 

For some reason, we Americans can’t help but think that there are two — and only two — options. You’re either on “the Left” or on “the Right.” You’re either Democrat or Republican. There’s no nuance. No middle-ground. No moderation. No compromise. This way of thinking is a false dichotomy. And it’s illogical. (And this is why the U.S. is in big trouble.)

False dichotomy is what I call the great fallacy of American thinking today, and sadly it’s negatively affecting the thinking of Christians as well.

Faith VS. Politics

It is my strong opinion that if you are truly living consistently to the biblical guidelines you claim to live by as a follower of Christ, then you fall outside of the false dichotomy of modern U.S. politics. A Christian cannot align him- or herself to the Democratic or Republican parties (or even with what is generally called “the Left” and “the Right”) without compromising biblical values. Yes, plenty of Christians align with one or the other, but they do so by raising certain biblical values over others. I’m not here to try to tell anyone how to vote; that’s something all Christians need to wrestle with, as I do each election cycle. But what I am declaring is that biblical Christians should be uncomfortable with the current false dichotomy of U.S. politics. If you’re a Christian and you find yourself sitting comfortably within one of those political tribes, I think you need to study your Bible more closely or pay better attention to the world around you.

It has been my experience that Christians who pledge undying allegiance to one of the parties have their judgment clouded when having moral discussions. To give an example, I was having a online debate about a certain moral issue that is easy to know where to stand morally based on Scripture and God’s moral law as well as logical thinking and science. This is the issue of abortion. During this moral debate — well, that’s what I thought it was — my opponent (a self-proclaimed Christian) suddenly made a statement about me voting for a certain political candidate. I asked, “When did I ever say I was voting for him?” — rendering my debate opponent totally befuddled. So, what was a moral debate for me appears to have been a political debate for my opponent. In her mind, I was making an argument about who to vote for, not whether the murder of the unborn is something we should stand against. Clearly, the false dichotomy of U.S. politics is damaging the clear thinking (and clear witness) of the Church.

I realize giving any sort of specific example of a politicized issue is asking for trouble. I’m not trying to start any sort of political debate. (I can hear some of you clicking away on your keyboards already…) So, before anyone pipes up, let me be clear that this is certainly an issue with Christians that align themselves with both parties. Don’t believe me, just point out President Trump’s unChristian behavior and watch right-wing Christians fall over each other trying to defend him.

If you’re a Christian dedicated to a certain party, let me point out to you, that this doesn’t mean you have to blindly accept all of the party’s views. What better way to make a party more godly than to have biblical Christians as part of that party changing it from the inside?

My point is Jesus defied the false political, cultural, and even religious dichotomies of his day, and so should Jesus’ people. (And, yes, sometime Jesus even confirmed true dichotomies. See Matthew 12:30.) I often run into the false dichotomy that pits biblical truth versus compassion; the underlining attitude is we need to downplay truth so not to hurt any feelings. Now, this could be a whole blog by itself because there is a load of issues with this thinking, but let me point out that Jesus was both compassionate and truthful. He never compromised God’s truth, but he also spoke and acted in love.

Say it with me: It’s both/and, not either/or.

NEXT: Some biblical concepts to assist in online interaction and debate.

Stop Being an %$#@& on Social Media, PART 1: 14 Quick Tips for Better Online Interactions

Stop Being an %$#@& on Social Media, PART 2: 5 Common Logical Mistakes to Avoid

The Importance of Family Discipleship (w/ Book Review)

“Discipling your child is not primarily your church’s job, your child’s school’s job, or your pastor’s job. This job is yours,” Matt Chandler and Adam Griffin write in their book Family Discipleship: Leading Your Home through Time, Moments, and Milestones.

And they’re absolutely right. In our consumerist and busy culture, parents often “outsource” the spiritual development of their children, expecting the local Sunday school teacher, pastor, or Christian school for the important work of building up their children in Christ. Obviously, part of raising a child in Christ is, in fact, being part of a local church community. As I heard one pastor put it (quoting an African proverb), “If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a church to raise a Christian.” But this doesn’t change the fact that the primary responsibility to spiritually disciple children belongs to parents. “To parent without deliberately discipling your child is to build your family’s house on a foundation of sand,” Chandler and Griffin write.

Even if the Scripture didn’t put this responsibility squarely on the shoulders of parents, the fact that parents spend much more time with their children than any pastor or Sunday school teacher, it’s common sense that the main spiritual influencer in a child’s life would be his or her mother and father. Thus, Chandler and Griffin spend time on the importance of parents modeling Christian behavior and spiritual disciplines to their children. Here, Chandler and Griffin give some gold nuggets that are important for any Christian parent to hear. For one, parents’ attempts to disciple their children will often be both frustrated and frustrating! Children will break into tantrums during devotion time; siblings will fight during discipling activities (like they do with other family activities); and what you think is an important lesson will be met with listlessness. It’s a reality of being a parent, so accept it and keep doing your best! 

But, with this, parents are imperfect sinners just like their children and often fail to be perfect examples of our perfect Savior! Big surprise, right? But it’s important for parents to hear this. Thus, these failures are the opportune moments to model the Gospel to your children: To share the truth of the Gospel, to admit your sins, and to ask for forgiveness. Chandler and Griffin write, “No matter what your household looks like, your family is the primary instrument and environment for discipleship in all the fantastic and flawed ways that it might be worked out.”

Discipling your family must have intentionality and consistency, which means having a plan or strategy (which will always be getting adjusted as your children grow and change). In the core of the book, Chandler and Griffin focus on three opportunities to disciple: Time, Moments, and Milestones:

Time – Creating intentional time built into your family’s life rhythms to disciple. This might be, for example, regular family devotions.

Moments – Looking for spontaneous opportunities during everyday life to have important spiritual talks or lessons. In professional teaching, we call these “teaching moments” — unplanned opportunities to teach a short lesson.

Milestones – Marking special days and events in the life of the family and giving them spiritual significance.

If I have any complaints about the book, it’s that I would’ve liked more specific examples and idea-generators for discipling one’s family. Perhaps if the authors included examples from families other than their own, it would have filled out the book nicely. Family Discipleship is a fairly quick, easy read; still, sometimes when I read a book like this by pastors, I can’t help thinking that it didn’t need to be a whole book; the same information could’ve been passed on in a sermon (or two) or blog article (or two). (I also suspect that such books are the result of a past sermon series.)

I would recommend Family Discipleship to new parents, parents who are new Christians, or parents who have never considered how to disciple their family before and need guidance on where to start. The book certainly convinces the reader of the importance and responsibility placed on all Christian parents to disciple their own children, and the book gives a great framework for thinking about discipling. Despite my small complaint above, the personal illustrations from the authors, the ideas they give, and the end-of-chapter activities help stimulate the readers’ own ideas for their own families. Reading the book has certainly made me more aware of my discipling efforts with my children.

*Crossway provided me with a free copy of this book for review.