Category: fallacies

On two contemporary fallacies

By , 6 March 2009 7:40 pm

Four quick points first.

  1. Thank you everyone who contributed to last week’s blog about what I ought to do with the Lamb Among Stars series. I am coming to some conclusions, but will wait for another week as there will probably yet be a few comments from those people who have not so far said anything.
  2. I have just signed a modest contract with Hodder in the UK for a short book on the Prodigal (specifically) and parables (generally), which I am doing with my old friend J John. We don’t have a proper title for this yet but it should be out next summer.
  3. My previous book with J. John – The Life: a Portrait of Jesus – is now close to hitting sales figures of 100,000, which is really pretty awesome.
  4. Our grandson Simeon is continuing to do well and is slowly creeping up the weight charts. I must post some pictures some time.

Anyway several things have come together this week to make me consider that one of the main problems in contemporary society is a pervasive belief in two related fallacies. The first is a belief in the ‘Free Lunch’. This is, of course, a reference to the idea that ‘you need to do nothing in order to have something nice to happen’. Believers in such a creed (and there are many) think that you can lose weight without slimming, pass exams without working, achieve a successful marriage without effort and so on. I wish I could say this was a belief exclusively found amongst the adolescents that I teach. In fact, it seems to me that much of modern Britain (and probably the United States as well) is built on this idea. The present economic system seems to have been based around the extraordinary notion that all we need for national prosperity is a lot of people moving a lot of paper around in London and charging for the privilege. No product of any value is created but nevertheless wealth appears.

The second (and related) fantasy I am provisionally calling the ‘Get Out Of Jail Free fallacy’, although I’m open to suggestions for a better name. This is the negative version of the Free-Lunchism and can be summarised as ‘you can do all sorts of bad things and nothing bad will happen to you’. If the Free Lunch belief centres on ‘blessings without a price’ this majors on ‘sin (or stupidity) without a cost’. It seems to see us as having any number of get-out-of-jail-free cards which absolve us from any responsibilities and penalties, so that ultimately things are consequence-less. So, we can do all we want to whoever we want and it doesn’t really matter: there is no judgement, no price to pay and no penalty. This notion is found in adolescents who seem to be happy to engage in both careless sex and reckless driving. But it is also to be found in those who ought to know better, such as those politicians, heads of industry and bankers who are now exposed as quite happily having believed that they could do all sorts of outrageous things and nothing bad would happen.

Now as a Christian I feel somewhat ambivalent towards the free lunch and get-out-of jail-free fallacies. After all I believe both in grace and forgiveness; concepts which bear some resemblance to both of these. Nevertheless, the fact is that both grace and forgiveness do come at a price – one that is paid by someone else: Jesus Christ. We need to teach people the reality of a hard and fallen world: good things have a price and bad things a cost. In fact, one possible merit of the present recession is that it may be drumming home this lesson with a vengeance.

As a final comment I wonder whether the fact that the Gospel has so little impact in the West may be due to the fact that through a belief in a ‘free lunch’ and ‘get out of jail free cards’ people take its blessings for granted. The Gospel of grace and forgiveness is not good news to those who haven’t taken on board the bad news first.

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