How the Great Books Can Help Christians Avoid Looking Uncharitable and Stupid

I know this story is at least a week old and thus completely off everyone’s radar by now, but I’m up in the middle of the night with a sick child and feel like posting, so there.

Recently a server at an Applebee’s restaurant in St. Louis posted a scanned photograph of this receipt from a customer.PastorTip Soon the internet was abuzz with atheists crowing about how Christians are skinflints and hypocrites. To make matters worse, it appears that the self-identified pastor, upon seeing the photograph of the receipt on the internet, called the restaurant to complain and got the server fired, so now Christophobes can accuse us of being vindictive as well.

I contend that this public relations problem for Christians would not have occurred had the pastor acquired any familiarity with the Great Books.

My most recent Great Books Project post included observations on the Platonic dialogue Euthydemus, in which two sophists befuddle a crowd of listeners by employing the fallacy of equivocation, in which the meaning of a term is changed in the middle of an argument. In the Euthydemus, Socrates calls out the equivocators and debunks their arguments. This is just one of many examples of a Great Books author helping a reader to clearer and more logical thinking.

Clear and logical thinking is something the non-tipping pastor lacked; she equivocates as well in her tipping message. Can you spot the fallacy?

I give God 10%. Why do you get 18%?

Percentages by themselves are meaningless without context. 10% of what? 18% of what? Here the pastor is referring to 10% of her total income (the Christian tithe) and 18% of her lunch check at Applebee’s. This is comparing apples to oranges, but the pastor implies that the two percentages are off the same base, that tipping a server “18%” is being more generous than giving “10%” to God. This is equivocation; the meaning of “%” has effectively changed midway through the argument.

If we compare apples to apples, we can easily see that the $6 and change the server was expecting is a tiny fraction of 1% of the pastor’s total income and that an 18% tip on a check would have come nowhere close to overshadowing the tithe in the pastor’s finances.

Unfortunately, the illogical (Great-Books-less) pastor failed to see this and ended up uncharitably stiffing her server, making herself seem stupid in the process.

There was a time in the history of the church when a prospective minister of any kind wasn’t allowed near a pulpit without a thorough training in logic first. How many incidents like this one must occur before the church reinstates that requirement? Read the Great Books, Christians!

UPDATE: In my semi-wakeful state at 3:00 a.m., I forgot to mention that a very convenient way to get some solid training in logic is through Dr. Gerard Casey’s series of videos at Liberty Classroom. If you think your mind could use some discipline in this area, I highly recommend it.

About Dr. J

I am Professor of Humanities at Faulkner University, where I chair the Department of Humanities and direct online M.A. and Ph.D. programs based on the Great Books of Western Civilization. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy and a member of the faculty at Liberty Classroom.
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7 Responses to How the Great Books Can Help Christians Avoid Looking Uncharitable and Stupid

  1. Preston says:

    But…but…surely all we need to read is the Bible? Which we then will interpret for ourselves without having any knowledge of the history or culture it came out of. How could this go wrong?

  2. pdefor says:

    I think you make an excellent point about changing the terms midstream. And yes, the Pastor did nothing whatsoever to help any larger cause.

  3. moira31 says:

    Thank you for this excellent commentary, Professor.

  4. Awesome blog and post. I am always up for delivering folks from the fallacy of equivocation.

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  6. Pingback: Interview: Why Christians Should Read the Great Books | The Western Tradition

  7. Adam says:

    Great commentary. I often get frustrated by my fellow Christian’s lack of reading outside the Bible (and a select number of Christian™ books) and the results it brings, and how silly it makes Christianity look. *coughCreationismcough*

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