Monday, August 23, 2010

Ad Hominem

I find it semi-hilarious when I'm attacked because of my stance in a debate, in a kind of strange, bittersweet way that isn't really all that funny when you really think about it.

Count as of now:
Three times in the past week my faith has been called into question.
Two times in the past week, my love for America has been called into question.

Two of the first three was because of the Cordoba House (Park51). The other was because of a gay marriage debate concerning Elena Kagan's confirmation and Prop. 8. The past two were because of said Cordoba House.

Once it was from someone I've looked up to as near-family.

It's rather sad, actually, how people you know and love can call into question some of the things that shouldn't be questioned just because you disagree with them.

So, for future reference, to all those who may want to attack me on these two things:

Don't call into question my faith in my God. Please. Let me and God take care of that one. We have a pretty good handle on it.

Please don't attack my "love for America." America is a great nation. She has problems. Calling her out on those problems isn't "attacking America." That's constructive criticism that should be put into effect to make America better.


Don Emmerich said...

Well you need to hang in there.

From everything of yours I've read, I would definitely conclude that (a) you're a Christian (one who tries to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously) and (b) you're a patriot.

It just so happens that many of those who call themselves Christians and patriots are neither; they might like the idea of being saved, but they don't take Jesus' teachings seriously; and they might like identifying themselves with America, but they don't care all that much about such values as liberty and property rights.

So hang in there. Don't be discouraged. You're truly a gifted thinker. You're doing wonderful things here. Stay strong. Keep seeking after the truth.

Don Emmerich said...

But I definitely know how you feel. People can be pretty nasty online. A while back, I wrote an article about blowback, and someone subsequently referred to me as "the apologist for Islamic terrorism." Pretty nasty stuff, you know? But I guess you gotta just keep trekking along. :-)

suntzusays said...

You get used to it. Most of the time. I never back down on an opinion just because someone wants to change the subject and question my patriotism. I parse between that and nationalism, patriotism is very much as you defined it in that last paragraph. Nationalism is insidious nonsense. And you can imagine how being an atheist goes over with lots of people, though it's probably easier to manage than having someone tell you what the rules for their version of Christianity are and that you don't measure up to them.

Harder in real life than online to see people hold extreme and often opposite views and want to push you around by making other claims as to your character. Helps if you can avoid making them of your own, which is hard sometimes.

Tragedy101 said...

If in fact someone, who knows and loves you, has a question concerning your character would you prefer they pretend otherwise?

Now a complete stranger, like myself, is one thing.

But those whom you love are prohibited from questioning you on certain stances because... ?

I don't want you to answer me, just think about it. I'm not trying to argue or debate. Just turning the problem and looking at it from a different perspective.

Liberty said...

Don- thanks. :)

Sun Tzu- it definitely helps if you don't respond in the same way. Its a struggle sometimes, especially if its somebody I don't know, but I manage it, LOL

Tragedy- its when they phrase it in the context of a political debate, and when its something that should not be questioned, IMO. Like my love for God. If you haven't seen in five years (which, though I love this woman dearly, is the last time I've seen her), then don't make judgements about that. If you don't know me well, don't make judgements like that. Now, if you know me well and see a problem in my world view, feel free. But don't jump all over me about my love for God because I disagree with you politically.

Yeah. :))

The Golden Eagle said...

People can be so . . . prejudiced. It's not like you have to believe one thing and not believe the other, or vice versa. It's not all down straight lines!

suntzusays said...

Tragedy - How often should the question of one's Christianity, or standing as a "good Christian" be associated and even condemned by others because they hold different particular political views on some controversial issue? That seems like the first priority question. It would seem like making claims about religious views is a non sequitur or ad hominem as the post suggests, defaming the character of the person who holds views rather than dealing with the views themselves first and seeing if that then implies some risk or inconsistency on the part of the person later.

I'd agree that if you disagree for some reason about the application of faith toward some issue then you can raise that as an attempt to convince someone of their perceived error (assuming they also share a similar sense of faith). But since most faith comes down to questions over interpretation rather than hard and fast rules that can be easily applied to complex political issues (especially those issues that must govern people who do not hold a particular view of Christianity as is common in a very diverse society), it's hard to see that anybody would have "the right" way to practice that faith in political matters and that this should be a final and consistently effective argument to change someone's mind or behavior from whatever they seem astray or lost on. If people are reaching for it off-handedly, as they often do, it's usually suggesting that they haven't thought very seriously about the matter at hand.

It's not to say that they would have no basis for questioning someone's character, but they don't yet have very good reasons. It's sort of like the Godwin's Law approach to Christianity arguments.

Tragedy101 said...


Christianity aside for a bit, all "hard and fast rules that can be easily applied to complex political issues" are religious in nature.

Religion: Latin: religere to bind. Originally, only dealing with Christian sects and their divisions concerning conduct and action regarding God. In a modern general sense, one's beliefs regarding conduct and action.

This would include one's "hard and fast rules that are easily applied to complex political issues". That is: political views on state issues are no less religious than political views on church issues.

I do not accept your premise.

suntzusays said...

I think my specific point was more limited to attacking someone from the basis of a dogmatic argument, that you possess some specific truths which you feel they have erred upon without acknowledging the weakness that recognizing that appeals to some titular constraint on what constitutes "Christian" or "Muslim" or "American" that you have personally defined means to someone else in effect requires you to argue over the merits of the specific disagreement you may have with that person over what those titles mean rather than dismiss their difference as being "less Christian" or "un-American" or some such.

This would imply that the religious sense of hard and fast rules are (almost) always a subjective interpretation of some deeper moral truth binding only to yourself rather than becoming political views which must become binding upon other people.

I don't think one can argue that very many moral imperatives are universally valid, but rather that they are at best specifically valid as they apply to specific people or specific circumstances. If that's the premise you are rejecting, fine, then at least I know where we disagree.

But I'd like to see what moral premises you think are actionable and binding upon other people in a universal sense. Because that's the nature of political machinery: using legal stricture to create a sense of moral stricture. One insight of libertarian philosophy is that determining the underlying values of a society as they interact with its machinery and processes is likely to be very difficult at best, and so it is best not to tamper with it and risk unintended consequence and damage. Perhaps that as a basic principle is what you're referring to, as something "binding", but I don't think that was an insight that Liberty was complaining about seeing from friends or online debaters or that I see quite frequently. In fact, it is hardly a position very commonly held by Americans that their own moral (or patriotic) views are privately binding interpretations rather than possessions of active moral truths.

suntzusays said...

In other words, my point is that in order to take hard and fast moral imperatives that you feel/know/believe are right and turn them into political views actionable for others, you have to find a reason that they are universally valid, failing that as near to universally valid as you can in order to make effective laws that are actually binding upon other people rather than just yourself.

Simply stating that a view is "un-Christian" or "un-American" doesn't refute the necessity of engaging in this question of what other people want through the political process.

Tragedy101 said...


I am sorry, the question you ask is a good question. The premise to the rest of your argument, I disagree with.

How often should the question of one's Christianity, or standing as a "good Christian" be associated and even condemned by others because they hold different particular political views on some controversial issue?

I will first condense it:

How often should one's Christianity be associated or condemned by others, because of differing political views?

As often as any one has a question concerning Christ and His teachings it should be answered as to the best of one's abilities.

For every such question comes from God moving that person's thoughts. How can any of us even think of God without Him first giving us that thought?

Every time a person asks me concerning my Chritianity, it is an opportunity for me to witness of my Redeemer.

When you asked, I failed to witness. I pray that I will not be so easily dissuaded in the future from speaking of my God and Saviour at any opportunity.

I should never put my "Christianity aside". I am not a good Christian.

suntzusays said...

I don't think that answered my question or addressed my concern at all. I think you answered the question for how you would approach the situation personally, which might be admirable. I'm not sure you answered the problem Liberty brought up as to how Christians (or others) feel justified to demand fealty to their own particular views from others as to what constitutes the true form of "a Christian" or an "American" and so on.

Telling me that you have a belief in God or in Jesus does not tell me specifically how that informs your political worldview or your moral and personal values. I've seen all kinds of people claim such beliefs, and apply them in a wide variety of ways. As a result, this does very little as far as moving opinions when people do share a common faith and interest in that faith but have a strong disagreement over a point of how to best apply and practice it with their own life because there appear to be many ways to do so without one true answer as divined by any one man (or woman). Much less how they use it to inform their views as applied to the broader population.

Witnessing their faith may be of use, as it may be some kind of exemplar for others to follow. Commanding their faith by using it as a cudgel in arguments and disagreements with others seems less useful. That seemed like the problem being exposed. There's a gap between those two things as far as I'm concerned, largely because of the fallibility of man and the probability of error of first assumptions or second interpretations. Perhaps you don't see that gap and that's the source of dismissing my premise, but I'm not sure this is the actual disagreement.

To some extent I find myself guilty of the same problem with "libertarian" as I feel the label is tossed out (usually by unsympathetic media types) broadly upon political views that the average person is deemed likely to be uncomfortable with (we of "kooky" ideas) rather than political views that are consistent with a set of basic philosophical principles. So it is a problem that needs to be wrestled with by all of us on some level.

Tragedy101 said...


So many words, so many arguments... Which one should I choose? I will simply continue to disagree with your premise, the more you say the more things I disagree with.

I think that most attacks of this variety: An attack on my character via fealty to a general, undefined idea, e.g. Christianity, is a sign of emotional pain in my opponent. And is best dealt with by shutting up and listening. Asking how one feels this way, since this isn't thinking, but feeling. Then they start talking about emotions and how I have hurt their feelings and why they feel this way. And that's it. Great for witnessing, being kind, supportive, understanding, and such, terrible for expressing my opinions. They don't want to talk about my opinions.

And that was the intended perspective of my original question.

Do you understand? Does this make any sense to you? Or should I just give up?

Liberty said...

Tragedy- so, how does someone calling me a bad Christian in the context of a political debate automatically mean they are in "emotional pain"? To give you some background- the people who said that are Christians themselves. The whole point of this post was that tactics utilizing ad hominem attacks (calling someone a bad Christian/bad American/whatever) are not conducive to an intelligent, constructive debate. They cheapen the arguments on both sides.

suntzusays said...

Tragedy - Again I think the problem is, as usual, that we do not appear to be arguing about the same thing in the same room.

To your original question asked of Liberty, yes, people who disagree of course should air their disagreements, but coaching their disagreement in this manner of attack (that they are doing something "unchristian" or "unamerican") often seems pointless at best. What I am confused about, what Liberty is confused about, is why people use attacks against someone's religious beliefs (or fealty to any other philosophical code, or to a country) as a method of debate.

I do wholly agree that listening tends to be a more productive approach or response to it, to allow someone their rants or to express and expound upon their opinion where they disagree so that we might understand it. But I don't agree that removing your own opinions from the room is generally a good idea. They might benefit from them, or you yourself might, by having to confront them. Ideas that are untested and unchallenged cannot grow stronger. Faith, I'm told, often benefits greatly from the same method.

The point is that making the sidetrack on to "what a true Christian" should believe regarding any random specific policy issue is usually a pointless distraction. In fact, as you indicated here, it says more about the other person and their lack of seriousness thought or conviction to the argument that they should default to this approach that they do not have to listen to someone because that person does not agree with everything they want them to agree with. Other people, even the closest of them, do and will not ever agree 100% on what constitutes the truth with you or with any of us. Nor what constitutes the one true character of a particular type of person, be that an "American" or a "Christian" or anything else. It follows from this that they will disagree over the particulars, over the politics, and must have a means of resolving that disagreement between themselves (preferably without violence).

One may certainly argue, perhaps not always implausibly, that they have erred or strayed from a true faith by behaving in a particular way or holding a particular view, that it is inconsistent with the basic principles of what makes up a "American-ness" or Christianity. But the ultimate question that must be asked is how does one know they are the one with this true faith when they meet with disagreement. If there is not a moment of doubt and no room or capacity for examining the other person's perspective, then there will not be much to be gained by telling them what you think or believe. They can learn nothing and will instead be disappointed that you have attempted to insult their character. If this is the only means one has of attempting to change someone's mind, then I don't see how it persists, given that it would likely be very ineffectual and lead mostly to hurt feelings rather than resolved disputes or "agreeing to disagree".

Since you seem to be indicating that it is an ineffective method of persuasion as well then the question becomes how to respond to it. I think chiefly their object is not for us to be concerned with their pain and internal torment or a need to rant but rather that they seek to persuade us of the validity of their own claims and opinions. If that is their object, then they will persist in it long after we have listened to their concerns passively without injecting our own thoughts on the matter. This teaches them only to continue using the same approach, as they are not given a reason to pause and reflect on their thoughts and consider whether or not it is that they are the party in error over some issue. I therefore think it best to listen actively and exchange ideas to be sure the source of disagreement is clear rather than reserve that disagreement to yourself.

Tragedy101 said...

Miss Liberty:

That was the point of your post?

It completely escaped me. I got hung up on the fact that these people love you and question certain beliefs that they believe to be mutually exclusive, obviously.

That you would insist that this makes their argument more invalid is untrue. They have essentially accepted your logic to be sound, and are seeking explanation of what they perceive to be a paradox of beliefs on your part. This is where one explains how these beliefs are not mutually exclusive. It is the last step in an argument among a set of people with a common bond. [family, church, work, etc.] Anyways it is not necessary except when dealing with beliefs that your opponent believes are mutually exclusive and your opponent believes you and they are on the same "team".