There is a very familiar pattern that emerges when one gets involved in the culture wars in the public arena. Especially if one is a Christian as well, there is a very predictable course of events which will occur whenever one attempts to stand up for what is true and what is right.
Things tend to go something like this: you will make a statement or claim, or post an article or link, and the other side will come in like a flood, attacking everything you have to say. Very rarely do they even bother to use logic, reason, evidence or sound argument.
Instead they will tend to make use of just about every logical fallacy in the book, such as straw men arguments, false dilemmas, red herrings, question begging, and so on. But the number one logical fallacy which almost invariably comes up is for the other side to start attacking the person.
All these logical fallacies have nifty Latin names, and this one is known as an ad hominem. It is an attack on the person making an argument, instead of responding to the argument itself. Typically, this fallacy involves two steps. First, an attack against the character of person making the claim, her circumstances, or her actions is made. Second, this attack is taken to be evidence against the claim or argument the person in question is making (or presenting).
Here is how one source explains this: “An ad hominem (Latin for ‘to the man’ or ‘to the person’), short for argumentum ad hominem, is an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or belief of the person supporting it. Ad hominem reasoning is normally described as a logical fallacy.”
This is quite common, and people such as me experience it all the time. This is because it is always far easier to attack a person, throw mud, and engage in name-calling, than to actually refute an argument with sound logic, proper reasoning, and admissible evidence.
I can provide what seems like a never-ending supply of examples here from my own website. This one came in just hours ago: “you’re an unreasonable, vile bigot”. Consider a few more from various people that came in during the past day or so: “You are a Pig-headed fool.” “god, you people are reprehensible and loathsome, and so very very stupid.” “you are pure evil.” “you are scum- you are whats wring with the world.”
Of course this is just a small sampling of what has just come in. There would be many thousands of such comments I have received over the past few years. And of course what I shared with you here is the material which I can print. Most of it I simply cannot print in public since it is so rude, crude, poisonous, and putrid. But this is routine stuff from the other side.
This is how the other side tends to argue. All this ugly hate mail used to go straight into the bin. But now I am collecting it, and may one day put it all into a book. Maybe I will entitle it, “More Sweetness and Light From the Tolerance Brigade”.
By releasing it in a book I can then let the whole world know just what kind of people we are dealing with here. And it will perfectly demonstrate that these folks who shout the most about tolerance, acceptance and love are in fact often the most intolerant, un-accepting and unloving people around.
Of course not all these guys argue this way. Some are reasonable and open to civilised debate. But some will be just a bit more sophisticated and nuanced, yet still engage in ad hominem attacks. Consider this one for example which just recently came in: “Bill, you do realise that your obsession with homosexuality raises serious questions about your own sexuality.”
This is a perfect example of an ad hominem attack. Notice how the person does not in any way deal with my arguments or the evidence or the facts. All he does is cast aspersions on my character, in this case suggesting I am actually a repressed homosexual!
And such a person then goes away, pats himself on the back, and thinks he has landed some telling blow, some knock-out punch. But all he has done is show how foolish, shallow and irrational he can be. Indeed, these folks prove to the whole world that they do not have any arguments at all. All they have is heaps of mud to throw.
In all this I can certainly relate to what Margaret Thatcher once said: “I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.”
Quite so. But let me finish with two additional thoughts. First, in the light of all this hate mail – as well as death threats which also come my way – I can quite understand why so few Christians are willing to get involved in these battles. It is certainly not for the faint-hearted or the thin-skinned. It can wear you down and become quite overwhelming at times.
All the abuse and hate and ugliness and foul language can certainly take its toll. But despite all the hate and abuse, we must take a stand, or we will lose it all. These battles are far too important to pull out of because we don’t want to get our fair share of abuse.
Enmity, hatred and persecution go with the territory. Jesus made it quite clear that if the world hated him, it will hate us as well. That is the price we must pay to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Indeed, Jesus told us directly that we dare not allow the fear of man to cause us to remain silent: “Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matt 10:33).
Therefore anyone who wants to get into this work must surround himself or herself with a shield of prayer, and a team of intercessors. We dare not go into these battles in our own strength. Without solid prayer cover we will all just be toast.
And that leads to the second point. We must be aware that behind all these cultural and intellectual battles are spiritual forces battling it out. There are dark forces at work here. Indeed, the truth is, behind all this vile, ugly rage and poison are demonic spirits. These folks will laugh to hear this of course, but any biblical Christian is fully aware of the pervasive nature of the demonic in the Bible, and how Satan is doing his best to enrage people into hatred against truth, against Christianity, and against everything that is right and good.
While demonic episodes occur in the Old Testament, they especially come to the fore in the New. Jesus of course faced demonic activity on a regular basis. We read of these power encounters with foul, enraged demonic forces in the Synoptic Gospels, especially lengthy accounts in the Gospel of Mark. And we also read much about demons in the book of Acts. As the disciples proclaimed the gospel they found themselves often confronting demonic forces.
Satan hates the truth, he hates Christ, he hates Christians, and he hates everything that is decent and right. Thus it is no wonder that such incredible outbursts of rage and hatred will come our way as we seek to stand for Christ and his Kingdom. Indeed, it is to be expected.
One could almost say it is a truism that if you find everyone getting along swimmingly with you, and no flak, opposition, or difficulties, then maybe you need to look at your life and see if you really mean business for Jesus. Satan of course will leave alone the believer who is doing nothing for the Kingdom, who does not want to rock the boat, and is not pressing on in biblical holiness and Christian discipleship.
Satan saves his heavy artillery for those who take God seriously, and who will put him first no matter what. And when they take a public stand, you can expect all hell to break loose. So we must deal with all levels of the battle: intellectual, ideological, philosophical, and spiritual.
If Jesus and the disciples faced nasty demonic opposition, so will those who follow in their footsteps.