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Fr Dwight Longenecker: Watch Out For Little Red Fish

By Fr Dwight Longenecker
6/24/2014 (3 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A red herring is a rhetorical device to distract someone from the real argument.

In the debate on current issues like same sex marriage, matters of church discipline and moral teaching there are three little red fish that are used in our society constantly, and like those Swedish fish candies, they're sweet and irresistible. The three may be named the sentimental heresy, the utilitarian heresy and the political heresy. These forms of argument are subjective and relativistic. In other words, they are based in personal experience and opinion, not in facts or evidence.

Fr Dwight Longenecker is the author of Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing. His book More Christianity explores the fullness of the Christian faith in the Catholic Church.

Fr Dwight Longenecker is the author of Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing. His book More Christianity explores the fullness of the Christian faith in the Catholic Church.

GREENVILLE, S.C. (Catholic Online) - I can't resist those candies called Swedish fish, but whenever I munch through a pack I'm reminded of a different kind of little red fish--a red herring.

A "red herring" is a rhetorical device to distract someone from the real argument. It could be a false clue in a mystery story or a logical fallacy used as an argument or an arguing point that is simply irrelevant.

In the debate on current issues like same sex marriage, matters of church discipline and moral teaching there are three little red fish that are used in our society constantly, and like those Swedish fish candies, they're sweet and irresistible. The three may be named the sentimental heresy, the utilitarian heresy and the political heresy. These forms of argument are subjective and relativistic. In other words, they are based in personal experience and opinion, not in facts or evidence.

The sentimental heresy uses strong emotions-either negative or positive-to argue the case. Here's an example from the debate on married priests: The sentimental argument in favor of married priests goes like this: "Father Bob is so lonely being celibate. He's such a fine man, and a good woman and a beautiful family would make him happy. Think of all those celibate priests who go home every night to an empty house." You get the idea. This is an argument based on emotion.

The utilitarian heresy used for the same cause would be, "Father Bob would understand family life so much better if he were married himself. He would be a better priest because he would have a good woman to back him up, and she could earn a second income as well, which would be good!" In this case the argument seeks to show how a particular innovation would be more useful than the status quo. If it works it must be good--right?

The political heresy turns the debate into a question of human rights and justice and fairness. So for married priests the political argument is, "What right does the Pope have to ban marriage for priests? Don't they have the right to be hap py like anyone else? It's unjust. Why do men have to take on celibacy just because they have a call to priesthood?"

Don't get me wrong. I'm not making these arguments, but giving examples of those three red herrings--sentimentalism, utilitarianism and political correctness.

These three forms of argument are okay when you're dealing with genuine questions of human rights, or a genuine debate about the usefulness of an idea or when you genuinely want someone's sentimental opinion about an issue. Where they become heresies is when they become the only argument, and when they are used in matters where sentiment, utility and politics are of secondary importance-there being a more important and higher priority of truth to be decided.

This is where Catholicism cuts through the muddy thinking. Catholics should understand that there is a hierarchy of truth, and that true teaching on faith and morals trumps mere sentiment, utility and politics every time. The subjective opinions expressed as sentiment, utilitarianism and politics are necessary, but they need to be enlightened and informed by the greater teachings of the Catholic faith.

The teaching of the Catholic Church is not determined by individual opinion and emotion. Neither is it determined by what is useful or brings about a desirable consequence. Nor is it determined by what is popular or politically correct in a particular society or context.

The teaching of the Catholic Church, like the Church herself is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. In other words, it is unified within itself and with all other truth. It is Supernaturally inspired. It is universal through all time and in all places and it is handed down to us from the Lord through the Apostles and on to the living apostolic authority in the church today.

This Catholic truth is a bedrock on which we can build and the successor of Peter the Rock is the living emblem of our firm foundation.

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Fr Dwight Longenecker is the author of Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing. His book More Christianity explores the fullness of the Christian faith in the Catholic Church. This is a friendly explanation of Catholicism for Evangelical Christians. Taking off from C.S.Lewis' famous book with a similar name, More Christianity calls Evangelical Christians to come "further up and further in" to the Catholic Church.He serves as the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary church in Greenville, South Carolina.Please visit his blog, listen to his radio show, subscribe to his weekly newsletter and contact him at dwightlongenecker.com  Read his blog, Standing on My Head His latest book is The Romance of Religion --Fighting for Goodness, Truth and Beauty

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