Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The logical fallacies of Chriss Matthews vs. Bishop Tobin



Back in June I discussed the debate between Bill O'Reilly and Joan Walsh over abortion. I thought O'Reilly won because he made the most debate points that went unanswered. But not surprisingly, many liberals felt Walsh won. Further analysis of the responses lead me to believe that in the liberal forums I was reading, a "win" meant making the other person lose his cool and get angry. If that is the litmus test of whether one wins or loses a debate then clearly in the discussion this week between Chris Matthews and Bishop Tobin, the good Bishop was the clear winner. Not once did Bishop Tobin raise his voice or appear angry. Matthews on the other hand was clearly riled.

But I don't think composure is the best test of whether a debate is won or lost. And when I watched this clip it was clear that Chris was depending on a whole stack of logical fallacies to make himself feel better.

In case you don't know Bishop Tobin asked Representative Patrick Kennedy to refrain from taking communion because he is outspokenly against the church's teaching regarding abortion and the right of the unborn to life. And incidentally - it is Kennedy who has decided to take this public. Tobin counseled Kennedy on this privately.

So this is what Chris Matthews was so ticked about when he invited Bishop Tobin to his show.

Matthews starts out the segment with a clip of Senator John F. Kennedy giving his views of his Catholic faith and his role as a politician/public official. This of course is the appeal to authority fallacy. Although, I'm not sure why if Matthews is a Catholic that he thinks Bishop Tobin should accept JFK's views of faith/morals and law as authoritative let alone binding. Kennedy's statement is also being used as a strawman in this case. Bishop Tobin isn't trying to regulate public policy by banning Kennedy from communion, but it is Tobin's job to shepherd Kennedy for the good of his immortal soul and to protect other souls from Kennedy's errors. In fact in Tobin's open letter to Kennedy he states:
Your rejection of the Church’s teaching on abortion falls into a different category – it’s a deliberate and obstinate act of the will; a conscious decision that you’ve re-affirmed on many occasions. Sorry, you can’t chalk it up to an “imperfect humanity.” Your position is unacceptable to the Church and scandalous to many of our members. It absolutely diminishes your communion with the Church.

Congressman Kennedy, I write these words not to embarrass you or to judge the state of your conscience or soul. That’s ultimately between you and God. But your description of your relationship with the Church is now a matter of public record, and it needs to be challenged. I invite you, as your bishop and brother in Christ, to enter into a sincere process of discernment, conversion and repentance.

It’s not too late for you to repair your relationship with the Church, redeem your public image, and emerge as an authentic “profile in courage,” especially by defending the sanctity of human life for all people, including unborn children. And if I can ever be of assistance as you travel the road of faith, I would be honored and happy to do so.
 The gist of Matthew's argument comes from then Senator John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech
But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured--perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again--not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me--but what kind of America I believe in.
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute--where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote--where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference--and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish--where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source--where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials--and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

Sure that's a good reference and a very famous quote of course. A little bit of a difference though, I think what the ex-president was talking about was the establishment of a national religion,  In fact what we're trying to do is  not dictate what the public policy should be in the United States from a purely Catholic doctrinal point of view.

What we're trying to do most of all is instill good human values but also have Catholics who are in political office be faithful to the dictates of the church and the dictates of their conscience and the teachings of the church

But Matthews doesn't care about what the Bishop says, he wants the Bishop's policies to line up with.... John F Kennedy!

For Bishop Tobin it is about his responsibility as the bishop to instruct Kennedy and about his relationship with God and saving his immortal soul - all things you don't hear that much in the secular media these days.

In fact Bishop Tobin has been very open about what what his actual bone to pick with Kennedy is all about:
For example, the “Code of Canon Law” says, “Lay persons are bound by an obligation and possess the right to acquire a knowledge of Christian doctrine adapted to their capacity and condition so that they can live in accord with that doctrine.” (Canon 229, #1)
The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” says this: “Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles, ‘He who hears you, hears me,’ the faithful receive with docility the teaching and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.” (#87)
Or consider this statement of the Church: “It would be a mistake to confuse the proper autonomy exercised by Catholics in political life with the claim of a principle that prescinds from the moral and social teaching of the Church.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 2002)
There’s lots of canonical and theological verbiage there, Congressman, but what it means is that if you don’t accept the teachings of the Church your communion with the Church is flawed, or in your own words, makes you “less of a Catholic.”


At about 3 minutes in, seeing that Bishop Tobin doesn't care about squaring his views with the late JFK, Matthews changes course and asks Bishop Tobin what he thinks the legislation on abortion should be.

This is the big strawman that Chris Matthews wants to dance with and he keeps trying to force the Bishop to pick up this strawman partner and dance with it as well. At 3:36 Matthews insists that this is about the law and now about morality.  But the truth is Tobin did not privately tell Kennedy not to receive communion because he wasn't passing the correct laws, but rather because Kennedy keeps calling himself a good Catholic while he continues to defy and thumb his nose at the teaching authority of the pope.

Matthews blathers on by himself telling the Bishop what authority he does and doesn't have. I wonder who died and gave Matthews the authority to assign roles to the bishop.  Anyway, in this particular part I wish the Bishop could have just been a tad stronger, but he does a good job of keeping his cool.

I would have said, the penalty should be counseling for a first time offender, fines and jail time after that. Mandatory jail time for abortionists. End of story. Would have shut Matthews down pretty quickly.

For what it's worth, the Bishop's authority doesn't come from the secular law but from the Catholic Church.
He doesn't need the secular law to come down hard on Kennedy, because he has the law of the church. If Kennedy doesn't like it, he can always leave the church. He's practically out anyway.

The end of the interview is a gem. When Matthews does finally let the Bishop back into the discussion he sums up his responsibility as Kennedy's bishop perfectly and then even gets a shot to admonish Matthews to perhaps learn some more about the Catholic faith he too claims to share.








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