Posted On June 26, 2018

When Comparisons Fail

by | Jun 26, 2018 | Theology

June 22, 2018: White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was refused service at a restaurant called the Red Hen in Virginia. By all accounts, the exchange went as well as you’d hope an exchange like this to go: those with Sanders sticking by their friend after they were allowed to stay in the restaurant when she was asked to leave, but still offering to pay for what they consumed, with the restaurant giving them what they had already eaten ‘on the house,’ and individual employees choosing to serve her party against their desires, before the owner stepped in and made the decision.

We All Love a Good Analogy

My concern is the failed comparison that a number of people seem to be making out of this situation to a situation where a baker refused to make a wedding cake for a gay wedding 1. After hearing that Sarah Sanders was refused to be served dinner by the (liberal) owner of the Red Hen, the good people of the internet quickly compared this situation to conservatives refusing service to homosexuals.

Liberals pointed out that conservatives should not complain about the treatment Sanders received, while conservatives pointed out the faux outrage they believe liberals to have about discrimination because liberals celebrate the refusal of service to Sanders, but not to their homosexual counterparts.

Logic is Hard

One of the most powerful tools in logic is a good analogy. The ability to draw a picture of an abstract concept or a hard to understand idea in a way that people unfamiliar with that concept or idea can understand is a special skill. Using analogies to show logical inconsistency is a good use of logic and analogies.

In 2 Samuel 12:1-4, Nathan employs this technique marvelously by telling the King David a story which, rightly, engenders David’s anger toward a character in the story who had done wickedly. Then, after David expresses his outrage, Nathan explains the analogy by showing David that in his own circumstances, he is analogous to the man in the story who deserved harsh punishment. David understands the point of the comparison and quickly repents, becoming a model for Christians for all time.

As Christians, we all must show our love for the God of faithfulness and perfect logic by doing our best to always use logic in a godly way. This includes not carelessly tossing around accusations of logical fallacies while arguing with others. But it also includes cogent thinking when we make analogies and comparisons used to teach.

Every analogy will ultimately fall short, like a last place throw in a shot put competition, but some analogies actually break down because they are not valid comparisons at all. When we employ the “here’s an analogous situation” logic in a discussion, we best be sure that the logical point of the comparison holds true.

Just Tell the Bigot to Bake the Cake

The reason why analogies fail when comparing a baker refusing to make a gay wedding cake and the Red Hen refusing to give dinner to Sarah Sanders is that the baker refused to provide a service that the baker does not, in fact, even provide (baking gay wedding cakes). A baker who does not perform that service (gay wedding cakes) would indiscriminately deny that service to anyone who requested it, regardless of their race, sexual orientation, etc.

That is to say, there is no discrimination toward a person in the situation we are most familiar with concerning bakers and gay wedding cakes. The baker is simply not providing a service he or she does not, in fact, provide. It’d be like asking a plumber to fix your circuit breakers – it’s just not something he does.

But, in most of the cases I’ve seen, the baker would have still happily served a gay person a cake or any number of other services they do happen to provide. That is, these bakers in question do not refuse to serve homosexuals any service they actually provide.

In the case of the Red Hen denying Sarah Sanders to be served, this restaurant is not refusing to perform a service which they do not regularly provide. In fact, as evidenced in this case, they were actually beginning to provide the service. In the case of the Red Hen denial of service, it was purely discrimination based on the fact that Sarah Sanders believes and acts differently from the values held by the employees.

That is, Sarah Sanders was denied a basic service the Red Hen provides (serving food to people for eating), because of who she is, not because of what the food itself represented. She was discriminated against because of who she is and what she holds dear.

She was not refused a Republican Party celebration or something where the intent of the product went against the convictions of the owner or employees, nor was it a service they don’t normally perform.

What’s The Difference?

In the case of the Christian bakers who do not bake gay wedding cakes, the prospective buyers were denied service not because they are gay, but because the service itself is not one they provide (gay wedding cakes). In fact, the same bakers would (likely) refuse to bake a gay wedding cake even if it was ordered by a heterosexual or even a Christian.

The point is that the refusal to provide the service in the latter case is based on the fact that the establishment does not actually provide that service (baker who does not bake cakes for gay weddings), while the refusal to provide service in the former case is personal discrimination of a widely provided service.

In each case, a form of discrimination is occurring, but the actual reasoning behind it is different. That is, the impetus, or driving force, behind the decision is not comparable between the two situations, at least not in the way that many are employing analogies.

Ultimately, it is perfectly acceptable (that is, logically coherent) to be bothered by the Red Hen’s discrimination, while still supporting Christian cake bakers who do not perform the service of gay wedding cakes (as long as they’d sell other bakery items to homosexuals). What is not cogent is to tell someone that if they support Christian bakers in this way that they must also support the Red Hen. 2

God is Worth the Effort

Our Great God is the author of logic and we owe it to Him to put in the effort to properly represent him when making logical arguments. We also owe it to every man, woman, and child we hope to influence. He is worth the effort and His creation is, too!


1 There is, of course, no such thing as a gay wedding since there is no such thing as a gay marriage. But that’s the generally understood term used to describe the situation.

2 Whether a business ought to be legally required to serve people without discrimination is not the question here. You may agree or disagree with whether there should be government regulation or oversight in these areas and the logic of person outrage doesn’t change. But that logic would apply if there are laws prohibiting discrimination. Because there IS a difference between discriminating against someone because of their sexual orientation or because you do not provide a particular service.

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14 Comments

  1. Jason Marianna

    Logic IS hard. It’s harder when one employs a false premise. It’s fine to say that the baker doesn’t provide that service, but in the eyes of the law he does. Most people employing the analogy you criticize were offering commentary in the arena of law and politics. We, as Christians, may philosophically state a difference between a gay wedding and a real wedding but the law does not. Right or wrong, love it or hate it, that’s simply a fact.

    Since the baker was asserting a legal right, other situations must be judged in their similarity in a legal sense even if they wouldn’t be found similar in any other sense. Once found to be similar in the legal sense, the analogy comes into play. It seems fairly obvious that in a legal sense, the two events are strikingly similar even if, in an ideological sense, we may see scores of differences.

    Simply put, you have to play by the rules of the arena into which you step. It’s unfair to those making the analogy to say that it’s illogical because it doesn’t make sense when judged by the philosophy of the Christian worldview. Those making the analogy never set out to assert a Biblical point of view, they set out to point out an inconsistency in legal philosophy which we all agree to live under.

    It gains us little to dismiss that reality and impose our own premise as if it all operate from it, or as if the issue is based upon it. In the legal arena, the denial of service is considered the same and therefore the analogy you criticize is, in fact, apt.

    Reply
    • Michael Coughlin

      It seems you didn’t understand the post very well. Thanks for commenting though.

      Reply
      • Jason Marianna

        That’s not a particularly useful response. Neither useful in helping someone to understand, nor useful in explaining your position.

      • Michael Coughlin

        I am sorry, Jason; I misread your comments and didn’t think you wanted clarification. It could be a little you and a little me, but (from my perspective) your response lacked any component such as “maybe I’m misreading you…” which would have made me feel like you were more open to a follow up.

        Here’s a commentary on your comment. I do recommend you re-read the article if you have not because I don’t think I was too unclear, but maybe, as always, I could do better.

        You wrote:

        Logic IS hard. It’s harder when one employs a false premise. It’s fine to say that the baker doesn’t provide that service, but in the eyes of the law he does. Most people employing the analogy you criticize were offering commentary in the arena of law and politics. We, as Christians, may philosophically state a difference between a gay wedding and a real wedding but the law does not. Right or wrong, love it or hate it, that’s simply a fact.

        Here you make an assertion that I have a wrong premise. For no other reason than “you don’t see it the way I see it,” it seems. Because…

        You say “most people…were offering…commentary regarding law and politics.” But that wasn’t the people I was referring to. See my second paragraph where I lay out the types of reactions to this situation I was writing about. At no time did I employ any terminology that could be considered “legal.” My second to last paragraph again explains the basis of the argument. At no point did I say one should be legal and one should not or anything of that sort.

        Since the baker was asserting a legal right, other situations must be judged in their similarity in a legal sense even if they wouldn’t be found similar in any other sense. Once found to be similar in the legal sense, the analogy comes into play. It seems fairly obvious that in a legal sense, the two events are strikingly similar even if, in an ideological sense, we may see scores of differences.

        I would concede this point as it has no bearing on what the article was about, implicitly or explicitly. It’s a nice addendum, but phrased as a counterargument it actually fed the belief that you didn’t really get the point.

        Simply put, you have to play by the rules of the arena into which you step.

        Assuming you are referring to some legal discussion, sure.

        It’s unfair to those making the analogy to say that it’s illogical because it doesn’t make sense when judged by the philosophy of the Christian worldview. Those making the analogy never set out to assert a Biblical point of view, they set out to point out an inconsistency in legal philosophy which we all agree to live under.

        Again, I was not speaking of these folks.

        It gains us little to dismiss that reality and impose our own premise as if it all operate from it, or as if the issue is based upon it. In the legal arena, the denial of service is considered the same and therefore the analogy you criticize is, in fact, apt.

        Again, nothing I wrote had anything to do with a legal arena. Although, I do believe it is fallacious to think we cannot impose the Christian worldview on ethics and legalities. I do understand there are some who operate differently. Ultimately, I think that is a mistake.

        That is why I have always supported you when you write about President Trump, because you impose your biblical Christian worldview onto the politics of our country, even though that’s not the native worldview of our government and not all operate from it.

      • Jason Marianna

        You’re saying gay weddings are not a service the baker offers while meals are a service the restaurant offers. You make this claim based on the baker’s say-so in the first case and observation in the second case. Your entire premise is built the idea that this distinction makes a difference.

        My response to that is that the law doesn’t allow for the distinction the baker makes; and further that we must argue within those parameters if we wish to remain consistent in that arena.

        If the accusation is that I don’t understand, then you’d do well to not make the accusation an empty one; risking the appearance of baseless dismissal.

      • Michael Coughlin

        See other comment which took some time to draft and footnote 2 which was there when you first read the article… 🙂

      • Jason Marianna

        Yeah, we were “cross-typing” there. I’ll respond on the other thread.

      • Michael Coughlin

        The claim is based on cases where bakers/florists have been show to NOT actually discriminate against homosexuals, but have taken a stand about a wedding. Any business that would refuse gays on the basis of being gay would be entirely comparable to the Red Hen.

      • SlimJim

        Michael I think your point about the differences between services for particular events and regular routine services for a person as a regular customer. That is where the analogy breaks down between the two. One is rejecting the person from any service on the ground of who that person is; the other is not catering for a service for a particular catering event though that person won’t be discriminated if they just bought cupcakes, etc.

      • Jason Marianna

        They did discriminate against homosexuals the moment they decided not to provide a service to them they normally provide.

        Same with Red Hen only with Trump admin officials instead of homosexuals.

        You can try to claim that the wedding they discriminated against is not a real wedding because we say it’s not. I agree with you. But in the eyes of the law, the wedding is a real wedding and no different than your wedding to your wife. That fact can’t be dismissed and an entire case built upon the dismissal. You don’t get to wipe it away as much as I wish you or I could which is why I say we have to play by the rules of the arena into which we step. And yes, this is a political/legal arena. Why? Because the state made it a legal action in Colorado and the Baker responded in court. The entire point of the analogy was to illustrate a legal point of view in the first place.

        If a baker can deny to serve a “wedding” in some way because of the people involved and a restaurant owner can decide not serve a meal in some way because of the people involved. That’s the point of the analogy and that’s why I think it’s defensible.

    • SlimJim

      Jason,
      1.) “In the legal arena, the denial of service is considered the same”
      Really? The law does make distinction between permittable and impermittable denial of services.

      2.) ” It seems fairly obvious that in a legal sense, the two events are strikingly similar even if, in an ideological sense, we may see scores of differences.”
      Its strange how it seems fairly obvious to you that the two events are legally similar. When I was reading excerpts of MASTERPIECE CAKESHOP, LTD., ET AL. v. COLORADO CIVIL RIGHTS COMMISSION ET AL. I thought the court opinion made it clear at the get-go how it wasn’t obviously an easy case:
      “One of the difficulties in this case is that the parties
      disagree as to the extent of the baker’s refusal to provide
      service. If a baker refused to design a special cake with
      words or images celebrating the marriage—for instance, a
      cake showing words with religious meaning—that might
      be different from a refusal to sell any cake at all. ” (Kennedy, MASTERPIECE CAKESHOP, LTD., ET AL. v. COLORADO CIVIL RIGHTS COMMISSION ET AL, 2).

      Note how there is an acknowledgement of the distinction between not providing any services at all versus to the extent of what services can be refused.

      I think Jason your comments are neither useful in helping someone to understand the legal dimension, nor useful in rebutting Michael’s post.

      Reply
      • Jason Marianna

        Jim,

        Understanding comes when you realize I’m defending the use of an analogy and not when you believe I’m trying to explain the law or rebut Mike’s post.

        Thanks.

  2. fred triplett

    Thanks I had thought they were the same issue. But now my opinion has changed and I see that they really are different

    Reply
  3. Jason Marianna

    Surely this will get lost in the shuffle, but allow me to put it out there that I fully supported the Baker in Colorado and would have acted similarly in his shoes. I don’t think he should be forced to conduct business contrary to his principles. And I agree with his principles.

    I also think that fairness dictates, and that it honors God, to extend our political opponents the same courtesy and leeway; even if I think the owner of the restaurant has bad principles under which she operates.

    With that, I’ll sign off from this post. Thank you for the discussion.

    Reply

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