Editor’s note: This article is published by the Board of Church Ministries as we explore how to discuss and discern together. It appeared in The Daily Bonnet (Dec. 18, 2017), an online publication of gentle satire. The Anabaptist-Mennonite church is global with many cultures and languages, though in the article some German-speaking members are highlighted. Whatever our background, there is a common challenge: how to talk and decide together.
By Andrew Unger
Mennonites are pacifists, so we can’t use physical violence to achieve our goals. So, how do we get our way? Well, by winning an argument, of course! We use words, not swords.
In order to make a good argument, however, we need to learn to be logical and not resort to reasoning errors. Therefore, to aid Mennonites in this quest, The Daily Bonnet has created this handy guide to common logical fallacies (i.e., bad arguments), each one explained in a way that Mennonites can easily understand.
- Ad Hominem – This is a personal attack in place of an argument. When your opponent runs out of good arguments, they usually resort to insults. For example, Mrs. Friesen argues that vereneki (perogies) are better boiled than fried. Since Mrs. Penner can’t think of a comeback, she simply retorts, “Waut es mit die, du ola Schnodda Näs!” (What is it with you, you old snot nose!”)
- Ad Populum – This is arguing on the basis of popularity, but it’s not a good argument. Even though all church decisions are made by committee, it doesn’t matter how many people believe in something; that doesn’t make it true. The whole world could believe Menno Simons was a mermaid; that wouldn’t make it true—although that would be pretty awesome!
- Appeal to Pity – This fallacy is when you’re using pity and emotion rather than logic to win an argument. So, for example, Mr. Klippenstein wants to get a new hitching post in front of the MCC shop. Instead of using a rational argument to make his case, he appeals to pity and says, “Na, junges (No, boys), you wouldn’t want your old Opa (grandfather) to have to hitch his horses in front of the Co-ops across the street, now would you?”
- Appeal to Tradition – This is self-explanatory. Just because something is traditional, doesn’t mean it’s correct. This is basically the Mennonite defence for everything: gender roles, church start times, Mr. Toews’ parking spot. Everything seems to be defended by simply saying, “Ach, that’s the way we’ve always done it yet!” It’s a bad argument.
- False Dilemma – A false dilemma is when someone provides an artificially limited number of options in order to make one (previously undesirable) option seem more desirable. “You don’t want to eat chicken livers tonight? Well, it’s either you eat your chicken livers or you’ve got manure-spreading duty for a month. You decide!”
- Personal Incredulity – This is when someone argues that something must be wrong just because they, personally, don’t find it believable. Your uncle does this one a lot, I’m sure. “Women wearing pants? Makes no sense to me!” or “Drums in church? It doesn’t give such!”
- Red Herring –Mennonites don’t eat a lot of fish, but we do use a lot of red herrings. This is the use of distraction to change the subject from the original argument. So, for example, Andrea Wiebe says that the church should order 12 dozen raisin buns for the next funeral because they ran out the last time. In typical old Mennonite man fashion, Mr. Doerksen retorts, “Yeah, well, who’s going to shovel the sidewalk in front of the building?!” The meeting is then diverted into a lengthy conversation about icy sidewalks and Miss Wiebe’s original perfectly reasonable request is completely forgotten.
- Slippery Slope – The slippery slope fallacy occurs when someone argues against one thing on the unfounded basis that it will lead to something worse. “You want people to be able to purchase a glass of wine with their meal? Well, if we allow that, then the next thing you know we’ll be legalizing cocaine, we’ll all become addicts, then there’ll be no one to harvest the grain, our entire society will collapse, and Kleefeld will never be the same again!”
- Straw Man – This is when you distort someone’s argument to make it easier to defeat (like a straw man). Say, for example, Mrs. Loewen argues that the church should allow women to enter the building without a head covering. Mr. Plett retorts, “Yeah, well, you’d probably like to come into church completely naked.” I’m afraid, Mr. Plett, you’ll have to do better than that, as this statement is a fallacy.
- Tu Quoque – From the Latin for “you also.” This is related to ad hominem, because it’s a personal attack in which you point out someone’s hypocrisy in order to diminish their argument. However, an argument must be judged on its own merit. Being a hypocrite does not negate an argument. Like when Mr. Peters suggested changing the communion wine to non-alcoholic Welch’s grape juice, but Mr. Fehr pointed out that Mr. Peters was the biggest boozer in town so who is he to talk. And then Mr. Peters said that Mr. Fehr’s wife Alice was known to down her fair share of real Mexican vanilla. And then Mrs. Fehr said that Mr. Peter’s wife Susan enjoys those brandy beans at Christmas a little too much, “not to mention the rum balls and boozy fruit cake,” and then Mrs. Peters said that…. You get the idea.
So, there you have it! The next time you see a Mennonite friend making a fallacious argument, just show them this article. Problem solved. Oba yo! (Definitely yes!)
Andrew Unger (Stony Brook) is a teacher in Steinbach, Man.