The Ever-Present, All-Powerful Ad Hominem

If you have done even the smallest amount of culture wars activities, you will know something with absolute assurance: you will be attacked, abused and vilified for making a public stand. It simply goes with the territory, and sadly we have to expect it.

Whether we are standing up for the institutions of marriage and family, or seeking to defend the unborn, etc, we will be attacked, insulted and abused. So we had better get used to it. It is simply the way it is in today’s harsh and hostile ideological, political, cultural and spiritual climate

When I teach Christian students on the basics of how to reason, how to think, how to assess, and how to use one’s mind for the glory of God, I of course always have to have a section on the various logical fallacies. We need to know how to argue and how to make our case – and how not to.

At the top of my list of fallacies is the ever-present ad hominem attack. This is Latin for ‘to the man’ or ‘to the person,’ and has to do with attacking the man you are debating with. Instead of making an argument and instead of responding to the argument of your opponent, you simply attack him.

Usually, this fallacy involves two steps. First, there is an attack against the character of the person making a claim or argument, and second, this attack is taken to be evidence against the claim or argument the person in question is making or trying to present.

Of interest, one even finds this in the Bible. In fact, just this morning in my daily reading I came across an example of this. Consider Mark 6:1-6:

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Notice how even though they acknowledged his amazing teachings, they still tried to discredit him and demonise him, in part by mocking who he was and where he came from. They sought to dismiss his teachings by disparaging his person.

So there is nothing new about ad hominem attacks. Let me offer another example of this that just happened to me today. I had recently written an article on the sin of Sodom, rebutting the foolish and false notion that homosexuality had nothing to do with it:

A friend had shared my article on the social media, only to be quickly set upon by a critic. He wasted no time in attacking me and seeking to discredit everything I said – not by a careful refutation of my arguments, but by simply smearing my character and telling gross porkies about me. It went like this:

Critic: Who is Bill Muelenberg? Search him up. The Bible suggests that if you want to be a teacher for the church you need to be well known and of good standing within the church community. Who does Bill represent? Who vouched for him? Where did he train and what are his references?

Defender: Bill Muehlenberg is actually very well known in Christian circles, from what I have seen.

Critic: Which circles exactly? I was hoping that S**** B*** had posted an Australian perspective but wait it’s another White supremacist hater from the Southern States of the US. His arguments are incoherent and he has no formal association with a university or reputable Bible college.

And then, to top it all off, he offered “proof” of his assertions by posting the entry on me from the uber-hostile RationalWiki website, which is a militant misotheist site. It is filled with denunciations of Christians primarily by means of ad hominem attacks. You can see how they deal with me here if you dare:

The entry on me begins in this objective and fact-filled manner: “Bill Muehlenberg is an American-Australian Christian and homophobic/transphobic hate leader.” The rest of this attack piece is no better, But this is what we have come to expect from so many on the other side.

It has just one “external link” to me, and this website is also the epitome of balance, fairness and impartiality: “Bill Muehlenberg: Bullying and lying for Jesus: blog devoted to exposing Bill Muehlenberg as a Bigot, Christian fundamentalist and liar. This blog is to expose his vile campaign of hatred and lies against the LGBT community, atheists and Muslims.”

I always love it when my critics – and those who claim to be Christian critics as well – will completely ignore everything there is on and by me in cyberspace, including my own 4000 articles on CultureWatch, and resort to one or two obvious hate sites to dig up dirt on me.

But let me get back to this guy’s comments about me. Not only are they ugly, crude attacks on my person, but they are completely and utterly false! There is nothing at all true in his comments – nothing. Yet he somehow thinks he is making an argument and winning a debate!

As is usually the case with such folks, I did not bother trying to answer him. When you have that much hatred, animosity and bitterness, there is not much you can say to these guys. It is usually best just to pray for them. However, just for the record, let me clear up a few things here if I may:

-Um, I have lived in Australia longer than I lived in America. I have an Australian wife and three Australian children.

-How exactly am I a white supremacist? If I am, I sure seem to have a lot of non-white friends! (Indeed, one gal I caught up with recently interstate just wrote this: “Well of course…I could sense white supremacy written all over you when you gave me (of black African descent) a big friendly hug, and took the time to chat with my husband and I. The fact that we’re really looking forward to catching up again and inviting you into our home for dinner on your next visit is just further proof of how much of a white supremacist hater you are.”)

-From the southern states? Maybe this guy is as geographically illiterate as he is theologically illiterate. Last time I checked, Wisconsin was one of the northernmost states in America!

-I will let the reader decide just exactly whose arguments are incoherent. Indeed, only one person here has used any arguments, and it sure was not my angry critic!

-No formal association with a university or reputable Bible College? Really? So graduating with honours from Wheaton College (via the University of Wisconsin), and highest honours from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary means nothing? And lecturing at a number of Bible colleges in Melbourne means nothing either?

-Oh, and he does not even know how to spell my name. So I should pay serious attention to this guy? Really?

I have no idea who this guy is, but he seems to despise me big time, and is quite happy to tell one lie after another about me in the vain hope of discrediting everything I have said. But as mentioned, that does not an argument make. Simply throwing mud at a person and publicly abusing him is not how one makes one’s case.

That instead requires facts, evidence, logic, reason and truth. But it seems all these things are in very short supply from those on the other side, be they atheist, homosexual, or a “progressive Christian”. Thus this fellow is simply representative of so many.

Oh, and I should point out that one defender of mine did come along and refuted a number of his false claims about me. This critic then replied again. Was it to apologise, to acknowledge he was 100% wrong, to admit he was just up to his ears in ad hominem attacks? Um no, he simply kept on attacking me, ignoring the truth and heading off on another tangent.

But as mentioned, he is not unique. He is a dime a dozen. I experience this pretty much on a daily basis. Plenty of hate mail, plenty of abuse, plenty of false accusations, and plenty of vile slander. This is how the other side so often “argues”. Hey, it is a lot easier than rationally making a case with loads of evidence and documentation, and carefully crafted reasoning.

It is so much easier and quicker just to attack the person and mercilessly abuse him. I of course realise that people like this will not easily be reached. But the good thing is, when these poisonous and diabolical attacks are posted in public for the whole world to see, that helps all those in the middle who may not yet have a firm position on things like homosexual marriage to make up their minds.

They can see so very plainly that all the hatred, abuse, bullying and thuggery is coming from one side. Indeed, many folks have already said that they were either uncommitted, or in the “Yes” camp, but after witnessing all the insults and attacks from the other side, they will now be voting “No” on the marriage plebiscite.

So all this hatred and poison serves a purpose I guess. It certainly is not fun to be on the receiving end of it all, but if it helps the cause of truth, then it is worthwhile putting up with it I guess. I will simply have to grin and bear it, and expect it on a regular basis.

So, I will pray for folks like this and hope that some of them will see the light, and by God’s grace turn their lives around. But even if they do not, we still must expect the attacks and the hatred. After all, Jesus received all this hate and abuse as well, and the servant is not above his master.

Stand strong my friends. And expect this only to get worse in the days ahead.

[1766 words]

18 Replies to “The Ever-Present, All-Powerful Ad Hominem”

  1. Never mind Bill, it is an honour to be attacked for the truth and God’s word. I was accused of being homophobic by a middle aged lady and I thanked her for it which startled her and I explained to her that she put me on the highest pedestal along with God who is also homophobic – why? God knows well the dangers of same sex sex and condemns it. We are about to learn why as the great plague approaches our position in time.
    John Abbott

  2. Hi Bill, I’m so sorry that you have to put up with crap like that. If it’s any consolation, your articles AND YOUR CORROBORATED FACTS AND STATISTICS are having a major effect on our darling little 1.70% of the population. I’ve just finished going through 1st and 2nd Peter again, and both Books line up with thrust of your article, Bill, please keep dishing it out! Blessings Kel.

  3. I’m curious what the critic means by reputable Bible College. Is it only those schools which teach the Bible as mythology or something? I suspect incoherent argument means argument the critic disagree with and so rejects as being logical. I wonder if language is starting to go as tribal as society. If true, then like John Abbott noted, being called a homophobe may be a badge of honour – that you’ve refused to kowtow to the LGBT agenda, in which case a positive response to the accusation may be the best course of defusing things.

  4. Thanks Bill for another great article, especially for this nice summation of the strategy behind an ad hominem attack:
    Usually, this fallacy involves two steps. First, there is an attack against the character of the person making a claim or argument, and second, this attack is taken to be evidence against the claim or argument the person in question is making or trying to present.

    It’s only when reading it just now that I realized that it’s exactly the method used by JWs over the years when I’ve encountered them in the street or other public places where they hand out their literature. When they see the strength of my argument on a particular issue e.g. that Jesus cannot be Michael the Archangel, or the contradiction in their NWT ‘Bible’ between John 1:1 and 1:3, they quickly change the subject to demonstrate (in their mind) that I am of questionable character because of any of the following: I don’t specifically say ‘Jehovah’ in my prayers; I don’t go ‘house to house’ as they do; I accept blood transfusions; I vote in elections (which they don’t, not even the SSM survey, they told me recently). Bill, thanks to your article I now in hindsight recognize the pattern of the JWs strategy: how they’re actually employing an ad hominem attack despite knowing nothing about me prior to our encounter. The pattern is so consistent over the years that I can only presume it’s something that their leaders teach them formally to do.

  5. “Playing the man” instead of “playing the ball” is for Aussie Rules footie players and fans the epitome of unfair and unsporting conduct. Aussie cricket fans immediately think of Douglas Jardine and the infamous 1932-33 Body-Line Test Series, where the English fast bowlers’ tactics were to bowl at the batsman rather than at the stumps – sometimes with near-fatal effects.

    The ad hominem attacks par excellence were those hurled at the Lord Jesus during His short, violently-terminated public career (Matthew 10:24f; 12:24; John 8:48; 7:20; 10:20f).

    One ought not wilfully seek to get under other people’s skins, but the living and powerful Word of God is not calculated to sooth us to sleep, when it sets about “separating marrow and bones” in people’s souls.

  6. Sad really. Good move not to reply to him. Stay strong Bill. As you say, I suspect things are going to get harder. Blessings.

  7. Each of your CultureWatch blogs are informative Bill. Wheaton college even I have heard of. America’s loss is our gain as a Christian Aussie I’m rapt I can call you both a fellow Aussie and more importantly a brother in Christ. Disappointing is hate speech and being called bigot or homophobic is for many standing against Ssm is the worst part is they cannot see the loss of freedom or speech yet will be the first to cry foul if this happens. For me because I’ve said I believe in traditional marriage I’ve been told I do not support those who have been a part of my life. That Jesus might have been gay then hastily had that retracted oh didn’t real mean that just wanted you to see Jesus loves gays too. Which I said yes Jesus does love gays as the person too yet He only accepts righteousness like His Father. Loving a person in God does not mean accepting the sin as ok. It’s such a tight balancing rope that’s strung across Niagara Falls nowadays as loving God , being assured that tradition marriage is God’s best for us. Following the Word of God with both words and actions is becoming more dangerous for a Christ follower in Australia nowadays. Yet know that those who understand will not take on board false claims about you Bill. God bless you

  8. Good on you Bill. You and your Australian wife are welcome to come and stay with us any time. I have a Chinese wife and we are retired but we both have great admiration for you. We can offer you a double air bed and some cask wine; I don’t think Mary and Joseph did that well and ultimately the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head. Many people appreciate what you do Bill and would be honoured to have you as their guest. You are a powerful influence for good coming from the USA with your courageous heart and your special love of God. Thank God for you.

  9. Not hard to understand where all the left’s God hating vitriol comes from seeing Satan is the accuser of the brethren. We can take the abuse of this world knowing through Jesus Christ we are free from the penalty for sin when we stand before our heavenly Father. Passing by a street table in Swanston street Saturday I challenged the team as to the meaning of ‘equality’ they were calling for seeing they already have the legal ability to have a civil union. I was assured that they intend destroying Christianity. they are so full of hate they can’t stand talking with a Christian with anything resembling civility.

  10. Some what taken from elsewhere……….

    The so-called ‘Antifa’ [anti fascists] are also prone to use the odd ad hominem, ‘racist’ ‘capitalist pig’ etc.

    Given then that the homofascists are the most prominent of fascists —- I’m surprised then that Antifa don’t just put a ‘g’ on the end – Antifag.

    Both groups will soon stop name calling when the irony is seen and spoken about by the public.

    God Bless Bill.

  11. There is no point in trying to convince an irrational hate-monger. The only value in arguing the point is to persuade lookers-on. Always attack. Point out that the insults they use are just hate-mongers’ terms for people they disagree with, and that an insult is not an argument. When you defend your position, always take the high ground. Never apologize, but always discuss your position with the unstated assumption that all sensible people will agree with it. The reason is that the enemy always talks as if the argument has already been settled; you must turn it back on him and let him either prove his case or demonstrate his irrationality with more invective. And remember, the enemy hates being called “politically correct”.

  12. Bill you wouldn’t be human if all this twisted nonsense didn’t hurt some. However ,as you pointed out ,you are in the very best possible company, that of Our Lord Himself, where we’ll all want to be on judgement day.
    “There are more with us than there are with them.”, — one of my favourite scripture quotes —– and one to hold on to in the heat of battle where we certainly are now.
    Much is certainly being asked of you Bill, but God can never be outdone in generosity or faithfulness so the future is looking pretty good for you I’d say. May He bless you beyond anything you could ever hope or imagine.

  13. Spot on comments. If you look at Jesus’s three and a half year ministry, he was taking ridicule from the Pharisees, Sadducees, Roman leaders. His engagement with them was short and sweet, not from a worldly view, but a eternal kingdom view. He knew he could not change their evil, self seeking ways with a lengthy diatribe. But, there were people that did have an open heart to his message, and it is to them he went. That is where we must focus, for we are the last and only chance for those people who will listen with an open heart. Within these times we life in, we all need a greater measure of our Helper, the Holy Spirit, for discernment and boldness. As Jesus told the apostles in Luke;9,3-5 , take nothing with you but your message, if the people do not welcome you or your message, dust the dirt off you feet and move on. We also have to be cognizant of the fact that the ruler of this world (the devil) has blinded the eyes of the people who don’t believe. They CANNOT see the truth of the Good News.

  14. Overcoming evil with good is not so easy but it’s the only way that works, at least partially, for now.

  15. Bill. These are the Apostolic Sufferings for the sake of the Gospel. So am I saying Bill Muehlenberg has an Apostolic office and Ministry? You decide.

  16. Sad in one respect that an American has to come to Australia and do what the Australian leadership of the church should be doing. If Bill wasn’t here, the church would be up the creek without a paddle.

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