A World of False Dilemmas

I owe you a blog, friends. And what is on my mind?

I’ve been thinking about false dilemmas. The all-knowing Wikipedia defines a false dilemma as,

a type of informal fallacy that involves a situation in which limited alternatives are considered, when in fact there is at least one additional option. The options may be a position that is between two extremes (such as when there are shades of grey) or may be completely different alternatives

In my own words, a false dilemma is when two positions are set up as polar opposites, and we are led to believe (whether intentionally or not) that these are the only two options. So…why is this on my mind? I’m not sure. It seems that I am seeing false dichotomies more and more, and in more and more areas of life.

The first time I recognized (that I can recall) a false dichotomy was about ten years ago when I was first becoming enraptured in the Calvinist/Arminian debate. It struck me as odd that these two extremes were set against each other, as if God couldn’t somehow both foreoredain our lives and allow us to make free choices. I had always sort of believed both, and so I set myself firmly in a “fencepost position” and have been there ever since. In the meantime, of course, I learned of Molinism–the great fencepost I could sit upon. In that case, there was a false dilemma: Calvinism or Arminianism, with absolutely, positively, undoubtedly no other option. And there was. There is. There are several, in fact.

I have seen false dilemmas more and more over the years, and not only in theological circles (although definitely there, also–it amazes me how we set God’s justice against His mercy, as if the two are mutually exclusive and there is no third option whereby He can be just and merciful [and He is; He must be; if He isn’t, He isn’t God; mercy loses all meaning without justice; and justice loses all meaning without mercy]).

I am reading a book by Jeremy Begbie that I’ve drooled over and coveted for some time. I am, quite disappointingly, near the end. I have two chapters remaining, which I’m loathe to read because I don’t want to be finished. I have enjoyed this book so much (it reminds me what I am passionate about: not merely music, not merely theology; but how the two relate), but I have noticed that even in the perspective of music and theology, there has been something of a false dichotomy: Either music is something uber-cosmos-related–and thus, very theological–or it is merely artistic–and thus, merely expressive.

I don’t mean to imply that Begbie sets up this dichotomy–he certainly doesn’t. But as I’ve read the stories of composers and theologians that Begbie offers, I’ve become aware of this idea that music is often seen as one or the other.

Tell me it isn’t so in your own church: music is either very theological (ie: traditional hymns, doctrinal) or very expressive (ie: this is how much you love me, Jesus, and this is how much I love you back, choruses). Whether a church engages both types of worship music, there is an underlying assumption that the two are set in oposition to one another.

I have many thoughts to share about Begbie’s book, but this one is heavy on my mind. It seems to me, as with most of the things I accept as true, that there must be a paradox. There must be a coming together of two opposing ideas to offer a third solution. In terms of sacred music, I truly believe there is another option. I truly believe there is something both theological and expressive in music. I’m not sure what to call it.

But recognize it. I do. I recognize it as certainly as I recognize Jenn in a crowd. We go to choir rehearsal every Monday, and we sing these songs rich with the theology of the Lutheran church (oh…did I mention we’re singing Lutheran songs this semester? How happy is this girl? OH yeah!), and I recognize both the eternal and the emotion. They are grafted together in beautiful music.

What do you think? Do you view music (particularly music that pertains to Christianity) as important doctrinally, or emotionally, or both? Or neither? Or…something entirely different? What do you think?

More thoughts on Begbie’s book next week. I hope. Maybe even something of a review. I promise, it will read something like, It was so great! Begbie is so wonderful! I need more books like this! I drooled all over it! Overtones make my heart skip! Who knew Bonhoeffer was a musician? I’m so in love with this topic!!!! Just to give you a preview. ;)

Pax Christi.

Sar