We live in an age of instant gratification and poor attention spans; an age that places no importance on rational arguments or true optimism. One of the consequences of this is that society places little importance on the power of analogy in argument. Analogies are powerful ways to convey rational points using truths which are widely accepted in other circumstances. It is difficult to understand the importance of analogies because we so rarely see analogies in modern arguments.
One professor I knew at Boston College theorized that this was due to the modern generation’s dependence on computers. I tend to think that it is a consequence of a culture which lives 140 characters at a time. All too often one writer makes the claim that situation A is similar to situation B, only to be attacked because there are subtle differences between situations A and B, differences which do not make an analytic difference.
Consider two examples of analogies, one poorly considered and the other all too true.
First Situation: A family sits down to dinner and after grace the youngest boy puts his face into the dish to eat his food without hands or utensils. The mother, understandably confused, corrects him and instructs him to eat properly. The boy responds: If it is proper for Rufus (the family dog) to eat like this than so can I. The boy makes a comparison between himself and his pet dog. Of course, there is a difference between a boy and a dog and that difference makes a difference to the analysis. Man has been separated from the animal kingdom and different standards of conduct are expected. The difference in the analogy changes the analysis.
Second Situation: Pro-Life activist John Smeaton recently made an analogy in support of his argument that the bishops should deny communion to politicians supporting pro-abortion policies and legislation.
“I ask you … if Catholic priests or bishops were targeted by the legislation passed by the Irish Parliament, for example, so that they could be executed with impunity, would you or would you not say publicly that politicians who voted for or who supported such legislation, without apologizing, retracting and refuting their position, may not go forward to receive Holy Communion?”
Mr. Smeaton compares a Catholic priest to an unborn child in his analogy. Some will be quick to point out that a priest is not an unborn child and an unborn child is not a priest. While this is true, this difference does not impact the analysis. The bishops admit that a priest is life with a human soul. The bishops admit that an unborn child is a life with a human soul. The analysis invited by the analogy is that someone who supports the murder of priests is not admitted to communion. For the purposes of murder there is no difference between a priest and a child because all human lives are equal. Therefore someone who supports the murder of a child should not be admitted to communion.
Do not be afraid to use a carefully constructed analogy when defending the faith, but be prepared to argue over whether the differences between two situations impact the analysis.