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

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

  1. You hit on an awful lot of truths there Steve. I often liken it to being sifted from different size pebbles or grasping the bigger picture. The thing is, as I go through my Bible, I am aware that I also have yet a good number of smaller pebbles to get rid of. And when one begins to look at the complexity of all of these individual small pebbles, it can easily become overwhelming. But God in His mercy, seems to work in a small number of pebbles with each individual and then moves us on to another set of small pebbles. Of course, once you see the fallacy of the smaller pebble you bought into, it becomes relatively easy to see this same pebble in others. But just to make it interesting, God seems to have a habit of putting some of these pebbles in small groups, where one is interlaced with another and another, so it takes time for the clarity to unfold. The Kingdom of God and nationalism is but one example of many. Same with politics. Human imperfection masquerading as the light on the hill. I’m learning that I am poorly equipped to sift other peoples pebbles. Oh I can try and I often do but to those who are convinced that the smaller pebble is a much larger pebble, it is like swimming against the current. And I am reminded that I must present the same picture of resistance, to our Lord, yet He continues to be patient with me, in spite of my shortcomings and lack of comprehension. With the gift of God’s wisdom comes a blanket of acknowledgement of our own inadequacies. I applaud you for your insights, many of them are bang on. Keep plugging away like I do but be mindful of how long the journey is. That acknowledgement sets the stage for our mindset in dealing with others. Blessings brother.

    • Well said, and thank you for the encouragement, brother. Yes, we certainly need to keep humble and recognize we’re all on a journey; we all have blind spots and room to grow. We also have to work together to keep each other sharp.

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