As fallacies go, non sequiturs are pretty well-known. This fallacy, which literally means “does not follow,” leaps from the premise to the conclusion without any substantiation. Thus we draw a conclusion that does not follow from the above premises.
One popular logic textbook by James Nance and Douglas Wilson offers the following example: “God is love. Love is blind. Ray Charles is blind. Therefore, Ray Charles is God.” Though perhaps the form of the syllogism looks valid, the conclusion cannot be drawn from these premises.
Here’s a real-life example that just came across my computer screen late last night, and it has me twitching.
This weekend on the popular social network FaceBook, members encourage one another to replace their profile picture with a picture of their favorite cartoon character. Here’s what members tell one another: “Change your profile picture to a cartoon character from your childhood and invite your friends to do the same. Until Monday (Dec 6) there should be no human faces on FaceBook, but an invasion of memories. This is a campaign to stop violence against children.”
Not only is this a non sequitur, it also evinces a fallacy called “Begging the Question,” or petitio principii. Putting a cartoon character in my FaceBook profile picture, joining the masses who currently follow suit, will stop violence against children? Another faulty logical maneuver is implication: by NOT changing my profile picture to a cartoon character, I have (gasp!) said I condone violence against children.
While you make faces and accuse me, like Grumpy Bear, of popping that wonderful little red balloon Love Bear holds in his sweet, fuzzy paw, I will challenge you to think carefully how lemmings on a social website will end violence against children by changing their profile picture. It makes me wonder whether I could begin a new campaign to bring the moon closer to earth if we change our profile picture to our favorite snack food. It does not follow!
Remember those chain mail letters you got when you were younger (back before email took over and we were inundated with similar missives promising $50,000 to everyone who added their name to the email and sent it on)? If we just sent out ten letters to friends, then we’d receive some sort of promised benefit. If we broke the chain, bad luck would soon follow.
Even as a child, I knew that was a bunch of hot air and waste of good money on stamps. It was superstitious nonsense. Yet here we are, on the internet, still purveying the same kind of silliness. There’s nothing new under the sun.
It simply does not follow. No social change will come about from posting a picture of my favorite character, not even if 350,000 of my closest friends do the same. “But,” someone argued when a friend bravely pointed out the façade, “we need to consider those less fortunate than ourselves and do something! Raising awareness of an important issue prompts some people to take action. Some may adopt a better parenting style. Others may support an organization that supports kids in distress.”
Really? From changing your profile picture, this will come about? My friend defined the real meat of this fallacy:
What will REALLY help __________? (Insert whatever cause you want to ‘raise awareness’ of.) Is it a color of ribbon that I wear? or changing a picture on a public forum? Those things smack of blowing my own horn for my self-righteousness — to my glory, not to God’s. I need to speak the Law (to convict people of sin) and the Gospel (to tell of Christ’s atoning work on the cross to pay for and forgive sin). That is the ONLY thing that will not only change people’s bad behavior, but give eternal hope and peace with God to both the abused and the abuser.
I agree that there are actions to be taken, love to show, money to be raised, but in the end (and I mean THE END), the One who will help/love/provide/change this world won’t be me.
Truly, what brings about social change? Not some action of my own devising, but the saving act of Jesus Christ. Not some new program by government or in my community or in my church, but the Gospel. It is my great joy in the knowledge of my salvation—unearned through no act of mine but solely through the grace of God—that compels me to step outside and help others, carrying out the Great Commission.
One more thought comes to mind, about acts done publicly “to make our world a better place,” like stopping violence against children. Such boasting is a form of self-righteousness. Matthew 6:1-4 reads,
Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.
Lest you argue that I’ve gone off the deep end in searching for such profound meaning in a cartoon character, I will remind you that following a trend such as this is just that: a trend, not a promise to end world hunger or AIDS or violence against children. It has no meaning; it is mere symbol.
Change your FaceBook profile picture—go ahead! Just don’t try to tell yourself your act is doing anything but making people smile when they associate a cartoon character with your name. It just does not follow that this will cause great social change in this world—don’t fool yourself.
Here’s an interesting commentary on the above passage from Matthew 6: http://www.pbministries.org/books/pink/Sermon/sermon_22.htm