Demagogues, when they make arguments, frequently employ a logical fallacy called a false dichotomy. That is, they will present two choices and tell you that if you do not choose one, then you must be choosing the other of necessity.
Frequently, when making such an argument, one of the choices presented is so unreasonable as to make most people instinctively move to choose the other.
We see this in politics all the time. A supporter of Candidate X will tell you that if you do not vote for Candidate X then you are of necessity supporting Candidate Y. They frequently fail to mention Candidates A and B, wanting the entire process to be viewed through a binary lens. Support Candidate X, they will say, or you are throwing away your vote. As if all voters who supported a losing proposition were wasting their time by not being on the side of the winning issue.
A false dichotomy is fallacious because the choice presented as binary is not. There are very few true binary decisions in life. Frequently you have a multitude of valid options to choose from, and failing to pick one of them does not mean that you must be supporting another. If you don’t want to eat beef, you don’t have to choose chicken. Pork is always a possibility. Or fish. Or any one of a number of other possibilities, including going meat-free.
We understand this.
But there is one important choice in life that really is binary: to serve God, or not to serve God.
As Joshua, the leader of the Israelites who had led God’s people across the Jordan and into the promised land, realized that his time on earth was drawing to an end, he called together the nation he had led and he gave them a choice to make.
Joshua said, “Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell.” (Joshua 24:14-15a; NKJV)
The first choice Joshua offered was the preferred choice: fear the Lord, serve the Lord, and be faithful to the Lord. Choosing God and being faithful to God, would require that they put away all other “gods,” but it was the right choice. Therefore, it was the choice Joshua urged.
If the Israelites decided not to be faithful to God, then Joshua made it clear that it did not matter what belief system they replaced it with — it would all be the same. They could choose the Amorite gods; they could choose the Egyptian gods; either way, they would be choosing a path other than the one path that led toward Jehovah God.
Years later, Jesus would present a similar lesson: ““Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14; NKJV)
There is one path that leads to life. It is a narrow path because it is an exclusive path. There is a broad path that leads to destruction and it’s a wide path because there are so many entrances onto it. The path of life is the path of God. The path of destruction is every other path that does not involve God.
When men present dichotomies, they are often false because they are not true absolutes. There are alternatives which must be considered for an actual informed decision to be made.
But choosing whether to serve God or not serve God does present an absolute choice. There is only one Creator, one Father of all who has loved us and sent His Son to die for us. He is the only God who can save you eternally and offer you an eternal home. All others are a lie. You can choose, like Joshua did, to serve God. (cf. Joshua 24:15b) This is the choice which Jesus taught leads to life. If you make a different choice, the details won’t matter, as, in the end, you chose against the only right choice.
The Church of Christ echoes the cry to “Serve the Lord!” We invite you to come worship and study with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.