And They Call This Debate?

Anyone who has been involved in the culture wars for a while, or has publicly stood up for faith, family, and life, will know just how ugly things can get, and just how the other side tends to operate. After a while one recognises all the tricks of the trade as the other side attempts to shut you down or shout you down.

There is very little genuine debate. Instead, all sorts of sneaky and low-down tactics are used to intimidate you, to present bluff and bluster, and to derail and destruct your work. I know a little bit about this. With nearly 26,000 comments on my website, I think I may have seen it all.

Indeed, with many public debates and speaking engagements, I get plenty of first-hand experience as to how the other side operates. But it is on my own website that I especially see close up how they like to engage in “debate”. With many years of experience of this under my belt, I thought I would offer to you some of the main tactics and methods of how they seek to engage our side.

Ad hominem attacks

Probably the major way in which the other side engages our side is through the cheap route of name-calling, mud-slinging, verbal abuse and nasty intimidation. Simply swearing a lot, calling names a lot, and getting all hot and sweaty seems to be a major approach of our ideological opponents.

Of course all this is so much easier than actually offering an argument, presenting evidence, or dealing in fact. They seem to think if they just keep shouting louder and louder they have somehow won the debate. Of course they don’t just do this on websites like mine.

They are especially adept at seeking to shut down and shout down any speaker in any public events. Holding noisy demos with plenty of attempts to disrupt meetings or bully speakers is a common approach for these guys. They have learned well how to shut down a meeting, bully the opposition, or intimidate a speaker.

And such tactics are lavishly employed on blogsites such as this. The amount of ugly, poisonous, and jaundiced comments that I receive on a regular basis is really something to behold. I used to just delete all these hate comments in the past, but now I am saving them. They will make for a great book one day.

Indeed, true to form, just as I was typing this, the following comment just arrived: “The most racist vile crap I’ve ever read.” There you have it folks: another great example of an articulate, well-reasoned, thoughtful, and properly argued comment which sticks to the facts.

Guilt tripping

A common tactic of the other side is to try to get you to feel guilty in various ways. They want you to feel bad about standing up for your beliefs, and they will use any trick in the book to get you to stand down. A common one – used both by Christians and non-Christians – is to suggest that you are not being “Christlike” or “loving” or some such thing.

Non-believers – who of course know little about the biblical Jesus – will throw this out quite often. They somehow seem to think they know more about Jesus and the Bible than believers do. So they hope to silence you by laying this silly guilt trip on you.

Believers may also do it. They try to take the high moral ground, and seem to think that never standing for anything and never giving offence is somehow the supreme Christian virtue. They think that to be a Christian is to be a silent wimp who never rocks the boat and never stands for truth.

And they buy into all the stupid clichés of the secular humanists. They will chirp on about how we shouldn’t judge, how we should just love everyone, how we should just be accepting of everyone and everything. They sound just like the pagans do, and may in fact just be wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Censorship

A favourite tactic of the other side, and related to the above point, is to try to lay a guilt trip on you by claiming they are somehow the poor victims of our oppressive censorship. They will try to get us to relent and run with their nonsense by saying we are cruel censors. I get this all the time.

Of course this is nothing of the sort, for several reasons. First of all, I tend to run with the three strikes policy. I usually give most people several goes, but when it becomes quite clear that they are just there to cause trouble, to argue for the sake of arguing, or to push their agendas, then it is time for me to bid them adieu.

This has nothing to do with censorship. It simply has to do with standing by my clearly delineated commenting rules. And I have every right to determine how debate is carried out on my site. Everyone has boundaries which they insist upon. This is not censorship, just common practice and common sense.

Jekyll and Hyde

Over the years I have found this to be a fairly typical approach. The initial comment or two from my critics will appear to be all sweetness and light. They will actually sound somewhat civilised and mildly coherent. No screams and rants and hissy fits – at least at first.

But it is interesting to see how quickly all this changes. If I do not instantly post their comments, or if I dare to challenge them, then the real commentator emerges. Soon all of the civility and niceness – which was obviously just a sham – is replaced by the real deal.

Soon enough they are cussing me out and threatening me and showing just how hate-filled and ugly they can be. But perhaps one of the worst and most nasty examples of this comes from those who feign to be Christians. This happens quite often actually.

Commentators will come along – people I know nothing about of course – and simply pretend to be on side. They figure they can pretend to be one of us, and seek to undermine us from within. But as you go back and forth with these folks, it soon enough emerges that they are not at all believers, or are simply apostate hyper-liberals, who have long ago abandoned biblical truth and the claims of Christ.

Trolls

Then there is the troll. One definition of a troll is “someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”

These folk simply come to argue. They do not have the slightest intention of learning, listening or actually debating. They have simply come to disrupt, to be a nuisance, and to unravel whatever good you are trying to do. They have their minds made up, and are not in the slightest interested in truth or counter-arguments.

Their purpose is simply to disrupt and to derail the proceedings. Many of these folks are simply on ego trips, and just want to argue for argument’s sake. They seem to like the sound of their own voices, or get excited about seeing their names in print.

I really don’t want to waste time on such folks. Indeed, I often come out and tell them this. If they are there simply to argue for the sake of arguing, or they simply like to have their intellectual palettes tickled, then they are welcome to go elsewhere. I am not in the least bit interested in playing their little games.

As I have often told them, life is too short for such silly mental gymnastics and ideological games. Truth is important, and it is vital that we all get the truth. Those who come with an open and humble attitude, really interested in learning and receiving truth, are the sorts of people I will always cater for.

I will spend as much time as possible with such folks. I will always seek to give honest answers to those asking honest questions. But if people come to my site simply because they get their jollies in arguing and pretending they are clever, I have no interest at all in letting them do it here.

Behind your back

Of course many of these guys will not even bother actually interacting with you. They do not seem to have the guts to appear on your site with a comment, and if they do, they usually seek to remain anonymous. They can hurl all the abuse they want that way, and not be detected.

But my commenting rules clearly state that I will not post anonymous comments – people must post their full name if they want to get on to my site. This does not deter many of these folks. They simply decide it is easier to attack you behind your back.

So there are in fact a number of websites which have been set up with only one purpose in mind – to viciously attack me. A number of these sites exist solely for dragging my name in the mud, lying about me, making false accusations about me, and seeking to discredit me.

Of course such people don’t have the guts to actually engage in proper debate, so they simply take pot-shots from the safety of their own anonymity. Indeed, some of these guys seem to monitor my every word, my every movement, and my every activity.

These people really need to get a life, or try to resurrect the old KGB or Stasi. If they really think I am the greatest threat in this country, they have some pretty weird ideas and values. But we already know that.

Two caveats

Two closing remarks are in order. The other side (those pushing anti-faith, anti-family and anti-life agendas, etc.) is not a homogenous group. Fortunately there are some who are not name-calling, irrational trolls and hate-mongers. Some are willing to play by the rules of the game, and I am more than happy to spend time with such folks.

Also, I should mention that some of the things I have said here about these various “debating” tactics can also at time be ascribed to people who call themselves Christians. Unfortunately there are some Christians who are really just trolls as well, who just like to argue for argument’s sake.

They can be just as argumentative and cantankerous as any non-believer. And some believers can also resort to ad hominem attacks as they interact with you. So it is not only the other side that can argue this way. Christian critics can also be guilty of this.

To conclude, can I suggest that if you want to live a quiet and peaceful life, don’t you dare get involved in publicly standing up for truth, or setting up a blogsite dedicated to the hot potato issues of the day. It will only just be one big pain in the neck.

But then again, if you think truth is important, and standing up for faith, family and life is essential, then you will be willing to endure all the mud, all the abuse, all the hatred, and all the crap. That is the price we will have to pay for standing up for what is true, for what is right, and for what is important. How can we do otherwise?

[1922 words]

35 Replies to “And They Call This Debate?”

  1. Have I told you how proud I am to know you Bill? This is it ; )
    You are a man of faith, courage, truth and vision and this world might be a different place if there were only more men like you! God bless you!
    Lynn Nerdal

  2. Thanks Bill – well articulated.
    One of the very sad realities in all of this is just how uneducated many Australians seem to be, even choosing to remain as such.
    Consider the ‘arguments’ for same sex marriage and parenting as an example:
    ‘everyone else is doing it’ (not even true- but hardly an argument)
    ‘love is love’- (TV campaign)
    ‘all love is equal’
    ‘look at Penny Wong’
    ‘why not us, what about divorce and single sex families’?

    Do most Australians actually consider these to be rational ‘arguments’ or even ‘ facts’?
    Have you read the Greens ‘Motion for Marriage Equality’ delivered in November last year,?
    I can hardly believe it was not laughed out of parliament. Sounds like it was written by a primary student.
    It would make an excellent piece for a high school English lesson on propaganda.
    http://adam-bandt.greensmps.org.au/content/speech/marriage-equality-motion

    Given the lack of any rational arguments, it appears the strongest armor they have in this ‘debate’ is that which you have articulated – to bully, intimidate, name call, and silence the opposition. I am only sorry that people like you Bill, who do present rationality, logic and plenty of sound reason are ridiculed and verbally abused rather than heard in the MSM.

    I’m sorry you have to endure such abuse Bill.
    Press on, good and faithful servant.
    Annette Williams

  3. Let’s not forget the most significant issue underlying this analysis – that those who do not know God are enemies of Him and hate Him, they do not discern truth but are darkened in their understanding (Romans 1-2; 1 Corinthians 1). When we understand that they are captives of sin and enslaved to the wicked one, even in the face of such irrational, degrading attacks – we are enabled to shine through the love of Christ to them, fearlessly speaking the truth and giving no occassion for them to have a real cause against us (as you highlight at the end of the article Bill).

    God bless you, (and looking forward to picking up a copy of your new book soon Bill!)

    Isaac Overton
    ACT

  4. I had been wondering about how you respond / handle these issues. Sounds like you have a handle on Proverbs 26: 4&5.

    The NIV puts it:

    Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.
    Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.

    But I think G.M.Lamsa’s english translation of the Aramaic Peshitta puts it better:

    Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be also like him.
    But answer a fool according to your wisdom, lest he think in himself that he is wise.

    I seem to fall for their attacks easily, so its a pleasure reading the occasional example of a rebuttal that you include on this site, you seem to go around the frontal attack and confront the meaning behind it, and expose their lies. Great stuff Bill, thanks to God for your work for Him.

    Mark Lambert

  5. The nominal Christians who attack Bill need to be reminded that they get the funding and feting they do only because they’re useful tools of the political class.

    As Bill has written, one can mix religion and politics in any proportion as long as it serves the interests of those who administer an increasingly massive state. Promotion of sexual sin and the destruction of marriage and the family is especially in the interests of our rulers – it decimates the working class and so prevents them organising and challenging those in power. Professor Codevilla and James Kalb are excellent on this too.

    I wonder also if these ‘Christians’ don’t experience capitulation in the face of the ‘culture’ as a great relief and the release of psychological tension. They may even confuse it with a movement of the good spirit. But solemnly this spirit cannot be harmonised with Biblical Christianity They need to turn off the TV immediately and read Bill Muehlenberg instead.

    Martin Snigg

  6. I always read your comments with great interest, and so far have not disagreed with much of what you have to say – if I have, the disagreement has been inconsequential, so I daresay that makes me just as much of a wowser as anyone. I have been amazed at many so called Christians who hold completely different ideas to the ones expressed in the Bible, and you have been a voice for the truth of God in this blog.
    Keep up the good work.

    Joan Davidson

  7. Thanks, Bill.
    Your post here highlights something of great concern to me in our present climate, and thank you for this timely essay. Logical fallacies are the stock-in-trade of all kinds of people today, from rank-and-file to even academics and politicians. They use the devices you mention, and even some more. Let me mention a couple that you missed:
    1. The tu quoque fallacy. This is the stratagem of the irrelevant counter-charge, “You can’t talk; you (or your side) do X too!” Often it is called the “moral equivalence” argument. We see it often used by Muslims: when for example they are challenged by their history of violence and war they will point to the Crusades. We see it used by secularists: when we show them their record of violent protests, they point to the violent passages in say the Book of Joshua. None of this answers the issue at hand; it is simply yet another device to delegitimise their opponent in some way, to shut him up. That is, “Shoot the messenger, and (hopefully) the message will go away.”

    2. The ultimate fallacy: pigheadedness. This occurs when all arguments (if any) are done, and the resort is to shouting over the opponent, yelling, blocking of the ears, and an obvious refusal to listen. “I’ve got my view; don’t confuse me with reason and facts!” We can see this with the global warmists: a more pigheaded lot I have not seen in recent memory. Likewise the homosexual lobby.

    Murray R. Adamthwaite

  8. Thanks for keeping up your blog, Bill, despite all that gets thrown at you. I had guessed it would be tough, but I had no idea just how much you take! (We need many more like you!)

    There’s a very real example of this kind of thing happening in the UK at present. Nadine Dorries MP (Conservative) and Frank Field MP (Labour) decided between themselves to table an amendment to the abortion bill.

    They aren’t seeking to make it illegal again. All they proposed was that women in crisis pregnancies should be offered the opportunity of independent counseling. And that the advice be not from abortion providers.

    It sounded pretty sensible to me. But you should see the attacks this has attracted! (If it happens to get parliament time now, and comes to a vote, it will only pass through prayer and fasting, I’m sure. There is so much nastiness opposing it!)

    Sue Dallibar

  9. Thanks Sue

    Yes, whenever one stands up for faith, family, or life in the public arena, all hell will break loose as the other side hurls abuse, vilification, hatred and insults. It seems to be their preferred way of “arguing”. Our side had better get used to it I am afraid.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  10. Good article Bill. Not long ago I followed a friend’s link to a believing Catholic’s web site which was raising concerns about public displays of homosexual affection. What followed immediately in the comments section was an overwhelming torrent of abuse by a number of opponents. To all intents and purposes they shut down the web site with extreme, hateful comments for several hours, with comment after comment coming every couple minutes. What was amazing to me, considering the level of vitriol that was there was that some had been deleted as too extreme by the site ownner – I can’t begin to imagine what was worse than what I read. I’d never seen it so overwhelmingly before, and it gave me a much more vivid picture of what you face every day. May God bless and protect you, my friend!
    Ed Sherman

  11. Many thanks Ed. Yes, as I mentioned, I used to delete such horrible comments. But now I am saving them, and may turn them into a book. Tentative title: “More Sweetness and Light From the Tolerance Brigade.” They can get very nasty and ugly indeed. That is why prayer cover is so important here.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  12. It’s sad to see what the PC left/green brigade are doing to this country. The sooner the greens power trip is over the better. It’s most reassuring to know that the gates of hell will not prevail. Keep up the good work Bill – I stand with you.
    Andrew Alser

  13. Great post, as usual!

    I see these very tactics used by some of my friends who are militant atheists – I don’t even bother engaging them as they just want to argue and insult people who disagree with them. They are constantly rude and push their beliefs down peoples throats, all the while complaining about how religion is forced on people. I don’t think they even see their own hypocrisy! And yet, somehow God has placed me in their lives, and we are friends, despite the fact that I’m “unintelligent and retarded enough” to “have an imaginary friend” (words not said directly to me, but about Christians in general). Funny how they never bag out Muslims or Hindus… just Christians.

    One tactic I have seen recently is the reverse of the usual “the Bible doesn’t even mention homosexuality”. Instead, it’s argued that the Bible contains instances of and condones homosexuality, infanticide and rape (if the victim marries the attacker), with the appropriate references listed. It’s ridiculous! One would think that these intelligent and enlightened people have never heard of the word “context”.

    Christianity must be the true religion, as it’s the only one so consistently and ferociously attacked! And while I acknowledge that we are the greatest fools alive if Jesus did not rise from the dead, the hope and sureness of eternal life within me can’t be denied, and I anticipate the day when every knee shall bow.

    Bless you, Bill.

    Kathy Scott

  14. Thank you for all work you do. “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11 v 29). It scares me knowing that you and others have been trying to wake the church for quite a while, and yet are we saying “no, please just five more minutes”?
    The Lord bless you and keep you;
    The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you;
    The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. Numbers 6 v 24 – 26.
    Alison Stanley

  15. Many thanks indeed Alison.

    Yes that Numbers passage is often on my heart, and I often say it as a prayer, hoping more people will be stirred out of their slumber. Thanks again.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  16. Annette Williams (no relation as far as I’m aware) provided a link to the Adam Bandt motion. An interesting quote from the document:

    “We know that there are many small groups who are well-organized and well-resourced and that they will continue speak out very loudly… But it is a mistake to think that because they speak loudly that they speak for everyone.”

    Could he be talking about the Gay lobby?? Silly question of course.

    David Williams

  17. Bill, you’ve painted a reasonable picture here! The old ‘straw man’ technique is another popular one, although you alluded to this in your first listed style. Kathy has also pointed to a variation on this, which you could call the ‘straw bible’.
    Simon Kennedy

  18. Yes, the silly “everyone is doing it” so-called reasoning is common: as a Brother in the school I went to used to say, “give me a reason for what you are doing/saying” and if the boy said, “everyone’s doing it or most people say so”, he’d rejoin with “I said give me a REASON: that’s not a reason”.
    Jerome Gonzalez

  19. Jerome
    Your teacher’s rejoinder put me in mind of my dear late mother’s response when I was stupid enough to reply: “But everyone’s doing it”.
    She would simply reply: “So, if everyone jumped into a well, would you follow them?”.
    Dunstan Hartley

  20. Thanks Bill, your explanation and dissection of the difficult issues facing us all are most appreciated.
    Peter Coventry

  21. Dear Bill,
    it’s certainly informative to learn more about the price you pay for your love of the spirit of truth. One of the big things I remember from my military training in the early seventies, was “know your enemy.” Spiritual warfare of course, is so much more subtle than military warfare. I think this article is most instructive in helping believers understand the emotional side of the nature of spiritual warfare. It would be great to see it added to apologetic courses in Bible Colleges, reading/discussion for Youth groups and adult Bible studies. This article is most timely as we are seeing a continuous ramping up of the devil’s tactics to shut believers up through the fear, shame, guilt etc. tactics, you have spoken of. Thanks brother.
    How about considering writing a 10-20 page booklet (no longer!) on the subject? Just something brief with a bit more on how to handle the fiery darts of the evil one. By being brief, you would capture a far wider readership.
    Peter J Magee

  22. Hi Bill,

    Another “debating technique” that I encounter on-line (you might have mentioned it but I missed it) is “conveniently disappear”. In other words: get involved in a debate, but once your opponent starts to prevail upon you with superior, rational arguments, rather than continuing to press your point or admitting you are wrong, simply disappear without any explanation. Slip out of the room, so to speak.

    Further on the “guilt trip” method which you described: my wife and I were actually discussing just a few days ago how on many occasions we have found that in debates with more progressive-minded people (Christians especially), a debate is often ended by the other side saying “now you’ve really hurt my feelings”, starting to cry, and so on.

    In some instances, I am convinced that the “you’ve hurt my feelings” move is simply a clever tactic for evasion and gaining the “sympathy vote”. But the sheer number of times this seems to happen, and the repetitive and stereotypical nature of the behaviour, suggests to me that there might be another explanation.

    My theory is that left-leaning / progressive folk are, by nature, wired more emotionally than conservatives, and this is precisely what makes them left-leaning in the first place. We call them “bleeding hearts”, right? Lefties tend to have their heart-strings pulled more easily — by stories of teenagers falling pregnant, scenes of animals in pain, children in immigration detention, third-world workers in Nike sweatshops, criminals who had a tough childhood, poor old David Hicks being locked up in Guantanamo Bay, etc. By contrast, conservatives tend to be able to look past the knee-jerk emotional reaction, and rationalise about the bigger picture, long term consequences and so forth.

    So, if more emotionally oriented people tend to become progressives in the first place, then it is not at all surprising that debates with progressives so commonly end in hurt feelings and tears. What do you think?

    Jereth Kok

  23. Thanks Jereth

    Yes I believe you are quite right in all that you say. In fact, you remind me that years ago I wrote on the different temperaments, or dispositions, or emotional/psychological makeup of people on the left and right. I came to similar conclusions to what you have said here. I will have to try to dig that article up.

    And yes there are all sorts of different techniques and tricks the other side uses. One could sum it all up by saying that they simply tend to fight dirty, and do not stick to the rules of proper debate.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  24. g’day Bill,

    I would be very interested to see that article when you find it!

    It might be a bit of an over-generalisation to say that the left tend to fight dirty. Certainly, the rabid leftists never play by the rules, but there are some more moderate left-leaning people out there who I find I can have a respectful conversation with. Right-leaning people are sinners too and sometimes use unfair techniques (straw men, generalisations, etc.). We should all take care that we engage others in a fair and godly manner.

    The differences in dispositions and emotional/psychological makeup certainly raises challenges when debating politics, ethics & theology. Being more rationally oriented tends to go with a relative lack of emotional empathy — which is why we conservatives tend to be perceived by progressives as being cold and heartless. In a debate, we might press the attack heavily without noticing when the progressive person has starting to “bleed” — by the time we realise it, they are horribly “wounded” and there is no hope left of persuading them. We think to ourselves “why don’t they just think it through logically?” — meanwhile, the progressive person is simply incapable at that point of thinking it through, because they are so emotionally rattled.

    Sometimes, I think it is simply impossible to engage progressives in rational debate because we are wired so differently to them. To use just one of the examples I listed above: it seems that many progressive people are incapable of thinking “big picture” & long term on the topic of asylum seekers — they cannot contemplate rational questions like “what if 600 people start arriving by boat each month”, and “what happens when onshore detention centres become full?”* — because they simply cannot get past the emotional distress of seeing children behind barbed wire. And it isn’t necessarily a conscious refusal to think rationally — it may be that the progressivist psychological makeup prevents them from doing so.

    * source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/immigration/onshore-processing-a-threat-to-social-harmony-labor-told/story-fn9hm1gu-1226131767271

    Jereth Kok

  25. Thanks Jereth

    I think I wrote that way back in college for a political ethics class run by a lefty. I will have a look for it. And yes, I did say in my article that thankfully not all lefties are guilty of these cheap tricks. But you are quite right that “compassion” can often run far ahead of reason for these folks, and they can look at things though their hearts rather than than heads.

    We of course need both: a compassionate heart but also a wise head. Either one without the other is a recipe for disaster.

    BTW, Thomas Sowell has written entire books on the differences between the worldviews of the left and right. He calls it a “conflict of visions”. See here for example: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2007/10/19/a-conflict-of-visions/

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  26. Here’s another couple:
    False lines in the sand….
    Isn’t “left” and “right” one of these dirty tactics too? Who says Chrsitians have to fit into the “right” box for example? Bit like when Joshua asked the angel are you for us or against us, and the answer was “for the Lord”.
    One could argue that since the enemies of Christianity have mostly congregated on the left side of politics, they have forced Christians onto the right side – where they don’t really belong.
    The “sides” are false lines made by the world, and we belong to the kingdom of God.

    And another: Hijacking a good cause…
    What has environmentalism got to do with redefining sexuality? Absolutely nothing. Yet the Australian Greens should be called the Sexual Redefinition Party, since this seems to be their primary obsession. So to stand against most of the Greens rubbish forces the Christian to appear to be against environmental responsibility.
    I’d call this hijacking.

    Tim Lovett

  27. Tim,

    I don’t think Christians — including those with conservative convictions — are against environmental responsibility. Most Christians I know are good at recycling, re-using, turning off the lights when not needed, putting rubbish in the bin, etc.

    What conservative Christians are against is a form of political & social ideology which says that humanity must save the world by halting progress and redistributing wealth on a large scale. This is not environmentalism. It is political & social ideology masquerading as environmentalism.

    Jereth Kok

  28. Jereth… Um – Isn’t that what I just said?
    i.e. Greens hijacking of a good cause (environmental responsibility) in order to push deviant sexuality and all things unbiblical.
    Tim Lovett

  29. Forgive my sense of humour Lord but what about the atheist claim of how unloving we are.

    Atheist: You are not very loving are you?

    Me: You do not realise how much love I have to draw on to listen to your pontificating claptrap!!

    Roger Marks

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