Lassoing Cats

In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise. ~ Proverbs 10:19

In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise. ~ Proverbs 10:19

The 5 stages of internet comment grief.

We had high hopes for the internet. We could all log on and access the same things no matter where we were in the world. Web 2.0 emerged with even more hope. Not only could we access the same things, but now we could all comment and share. We could interact with people hither and yon around the same topic.

Did we at last have this free marketplace of ideas we had dreamed of? Did we at last have a platform for elevated discussion, enlightened reasoning, and collegial exchanges of ideas that made us all better people? Not so much.

Though I’m sure there are some cobwebbed corners of the interwebs where high-brow discussions are the order of the day, I have yet to find them or become entangled therein. I am particularly disappointed with the “Christian” discussions. Yes there are helpful, worthwhile articles being posted, but the comment sections of the same leave much to be desired.

After years of scientific observation and study of Christian discussions of the Bible and all things relevant, here are my generalizations of the 5 stages of internet comments that cause grief.

  1. The intellectual red herring. Every good Bible discussion usually has someone who resorts to jargon in order to slam on brakes. They deliberately make abstract statements with high-sounding words in order to imply inferiority in their opponent. They try to stop the discussion by making the other commenter look unqualified to speak on such topics.

    This tactic is closely akin to the enlightened condescension ruse. The above commenter’s brother uses his combox space to pity the poor simpletons in the discussion. They are not as enlightened and will continue to toy about until they arrive at the same plane.

  2. The starving children dodge. How could you all spend time discussing this topic while children are starving in Tierra del Fuego? Or, insert whatever issue demands supreme urgency over whatever is being discussed. If while feeling convicted you query the dodger about where you might put finger oil on a pamphlet or tractate to wisen up about such urgency, you will probably only get a weak muttering about Googling. Turns out they’re not that all-fired concerned about the Fuegian indigenous after all, and their own information seems to have had no update since the days of Captain Cook.

    No matter the subject, there always seems to be those who suggest there are more important things to discuss. I do not deny there are things of greater and lesser importance, but it seems if all Scripture is inspired and profitable, that we should get around to discussing all Scripture at some point.

  3. The ad hominem. Comments don’t go far before someone goes to-the-man. When someone disagrees with this commenter’s position, they are immediately labeled a heretic and their motives for holding such a position can only be wicked cruelty that puts them in company with the sort who enjoys lassoing cats and tying them in a sack.

    These commenters can be quick to assign ignorance to anyone disagreeing with them. If someone holds a different position, it is because they have never studied the issue and do not have any reason why they hold their position. Could it be possible that through study, thought, and reasoning someone has come to a different conclusion? Nah . . . it has to be the cats-in-a-sack thing.

  4. The proof-texter. These commenters will not be convinced of any teaching unless they can be supplied with reference to a single verse that makes a direct statement with relevant key words to prove that teaching. I guess their Bible must look a lot more like a dictionary or an OSHA code book. The Bible just doesn’t work that way and Jesus didn’t proof-text when proving the resurrection (Matthew 22:31-32).
  5. Where’s the love? Without fail, whenever a discussion takes place and at least two people are not speaking the same thing, someone will stand up to proclaim that we should all just love each other. It seems to them there is never any place to discuss where we differ. There is no time when we should examine a public teaching critically. It’s unloving.

    I guess we will just forget about all of Paul’s disputing in Acts. We should probably expunge the council at Jerusalem and Paul’s correcting of Peter from our minds. All that iron sharpening iron stuff should probably just be taken figuratively for back-patting and side hugs.

The list could go on. I don’t quite know what to call this post. A rant? A plea? I see so many discussions going exactly nowhere and it is disappointing. I don’t advocate angry arguing. I don’t scotch for ill-spirited flamings. But I do love a good discussion and I don’t mind at all if it’s impassioned. In fact, I downright like it. I wish there was more of it. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I think we would be better off for it.

Ad Hominem

This is an argumentative device in debate, and, I should add, an improper device at that. Ad Hominem is a Latin phrase that literally means, to the person. It refers to two different fallacies in argument:

  1. Making an appeal to emotion or prejudice rather than to logic or rational thought
  2. Attacking a person’s character rather than the substance of their argument

This is a favorite device of many politicians who play to emotions when pitching their plans rather than expounding the merits of their proposals. They also use ad hominem to discredit their opponents rather than rationally debate the merits of their opponents’ plans.

I will forego giving examples of ad hominem arguments in order to give time and space to our purpose in considering it: What concern should Christians have for ad hominem arguments, besides being careful not to use such a device? Note also that in this post I want to restrict the consideration to the second definition given above, though many good applications could also be made from the first.

Though personal attacks are technically out of bounds in good debate, evil men break rules (the law) because they are evil. It should not surprise us when the world does precisely that rather than answer the arguments we make for the truth of God’s Word. This is what Jesus faced when the people asked, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?” (Matthew 13:55-56). The disciples were likewise despised because they were fishermen from Galilee. We can be sure to be despised and attacked personally over something in our life, e.g. birthplace, nationality, education, lack of education, physical impediments, etc.

We can do nothing about many of our physical attributes for which we may be despised. Though it is bad form to attack one’s person and it may be inconsequential to the subject at hand, it may also be perfectly true that we are short, fat, bald, or whatever and we will have to bear all such reproaches patiently.

Additionally, the ad hominem response may take the form of accusations against us of wrongdoing. Say that a certain man is ably and eloquently setting forth the doctrines of grace to a group of people. And then, someone in the corner yells, “Yeah, God may be sovereign but you’re an adulterer.” You know as well as I do, if that accusation is true, everything the man has said is lost and the party is over. I realize that if he was speaking the truth, the fact he was an adulterer does not alter the truth he spoke and I will try to deal with that aspect in another post where I consider ad hominem in evaluation of an argument and its impact on a Christian.

What is our response to be to this sort of ad hominem? There are two things primarily that we must consider in this regard. First, we must ensure that the accusation is not true. In other words, we must ever seek to have a conscience void of offense toward God and man (Acts 24:16). Actually, through a godly life we will give weight to our words and put to silence our detractors (1 Peter 2:12, 15; Titus 2:7-8). Secondly, we should rejoice. That’s right, when we are falsely accused, we should rejoice, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).