For many years, I’ve thought that people confuse fairly neutral conduct with bad motives, resulting in false syllogisms. I first came to this conclusion after reading John McWhorter’s wonderful Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America. Although my memories are a bit hazy about the details of the book, I seem to recall reading him bemoaning the fact that part of the Black community’s self-sabotage was the refusal to engage in the “white” work ethic of being reliable.
The message I took away from the book was that the Black community created a false syllogism: Slavery was work and slavery was evil, therefore all work is evil. Merely to state the proposition is to expose how flawed it is. Slavery wasn’t about work. It was about owning human beings and treating them like animals, rather than free agents, who could select their employment and be properly compensated for their contributions. The work of a free agent in a free market isn’t evil. It is, at least as far as I’m concerned, a good thing or, at the very least, a neutral thing.
Another false syllogism is that the Vietnam War was a bad war, therefore all wars are bad wars. Wars are certainly hell, and there have been bad wars, but not all wars are bad. War is part of a human condition, and what matters in determining a war’s validity is the motives of those who fight a given war.
Looking at things from the American perspective, I truly believe that WWII was a good war, and that was despite mismanagement and mixed motives. I believe the Civil War was a good war, and that was despite mismanagement and mixed motives. And I believe the Revolutionary War was a good war.
What made those wars good despite the blood-bath element? The fact that, on our side, the American side, they were being fought to free people, not to enslave them. That a particular post-war period didn’t necessarily see freedom being put into effect as one would wish (especially with regards to slavery in the post-Revolutionary era and Jim Crow in the post-Civil War era) does not change the fact that these wars were fought for the highest human ideal: freedom.
In the same vein, I would categorize the Vietnam War as a good war, since we were trying to rescue Vietnam from the slavery of Communism. That we failed — and we failed mostly because of our own Fifth Column — resulted in those poor Vietnamese and Cambodians being subject to precisely the Communist slavery we sought to avoid.
Another false syllogism is that, because people have killed in God’s name, religion is evil and should be abolished. In fact, as history shows, while people have used religion as a vehicle for their evil motives, it has also been the light shining the way to their greatest good.
Certainly there are things in the Jewish Bible that anti-religious people can criticize: The unfair killing of the First Born in Egypt, merely because Pharoah was stubborn; the Jews’ scorched-earth policy when they first returned to the Promised Land; the harsh prohibitions against homosexuality; and the mandate to kill witches spring to mind.
But overall, compared to the moral landscape in the ancient, pagan world around them, the Jewish Bible was a hugely moral book. Just to name a few examples, the Jews were the first people in the ancient world to limit slavery, requiring that Jews free their slaves after a set number of years. The rules around Kosher food, too, were humane: When the Jews mandated that animals be killed swiftly by having their throats cut (something animal rights activists find horrifying today), they were doing so against a backdrop of ritual animal slaughter that saw animals having their bellies slit open and their entrails slowly removed, while they still lived, so that they priests could read the “signs.” The rule against mixing meat and milk was also humane in intention, because the Jews thought it indescribably cruel to cook an animal in the milk that once gave it life.
And yes it’s true that, in the medieval world, the Christian message was often perverted to allow the powerful to put their enemies to death, whether it was the Spanish Inquisition or the religious wars that convulsed Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. Those were human twists on Christ’s words, though, not the words themselves (something that stands in stark contrast to Mohammad’s words, which enjoin his followers to slaughter and subjugate unbelievers).
By the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Christianity was paving the way for the freedoms we recognize now: our Constitutional freedoms, which the Founders believed came from their Judeo-Christian God; the abolition of slavery, which was, first and foremost, an Evangelical concern; the end of child labor, another Evangelical concern; and the end of Jim Crow, which also found footing amongst church groups, at least in the North.
In other words, religion is as easily a force for good as it is for evil. Man can go either way, and it is his intentions that determine the use to which religion is put. Religion as a force for good becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, with each generation teaching its morals to the next.
It’s worth thinking about this last point when you hear Sarah Palin being taunted as a religious “extremist.” What, precisely, is extreme about her religion? She believes in God, she prays to God, she has the humility to hope that she is doing God’s work, and she chooses a child’s Life over woman’s inconvenience, which is not great for many women, but is certainly the more humane, less pagan/medieval option, etc. The extremist tag comes about because, on the Left, a false syllogism has taken root: Because bad things have happened in the name of religion, religion is bad — and anyone who takes religion seriously is, therefore, bad too.
I bet you can find other false syllogisms permeating Leftist thinking, especially as this political race heats up. As for me, I’m tired and I’ll leave that thinking to you.