Author Ava Pennington
Author Ava Pennington
ad hominem arguments

Do You Use Ad Hominem Arguments?

 

Unless you recently landed on earth from Mars, you know we’re at the height (depth?) of a presidential election season. The United States is a divided nation and the situation will not improve in the next five weeks. Half of the U.S. population is angry at the other half. And the recent debate (I use the term loosely) has only exacerbated the situation. Ad hominem arguments dominate our public discourse . . . if we can even call it discourse anymore.

Have you ever engaged in an ad hominem argument? You probably have and didn’t realize it. And I can almost guarantee you’ve been on the receiving end of one.

Ad hominem refers to attacking a person’s character or motives rather than discussing the merits of a specific position. In our divided country this type of argument has become the norm rather than the exception.

For example, recently a friend participated in a social media “discussion” with several people, all commenting on a political post. Without identifying who said what, this actual exchange stood out to me:

Person #1: “President Trump is wonderful. You Democrats who hate him are unpatriotic and hate America.”

Person #2: “So you have no problem with what the Liar-in-Chief says? Stop name-calling and use facts!”

Did you catch the irony in this exchange? One person makes a personal attack and the other person does the same thing before she complains about it!

Regardless of our personal or political positions, can we please stop the name-calling and start addressing the issues on their own merits?

Let’s get personal

Ad hominem arguments are not limited to the political realm. Let’s get personal. How often do we make assumptions in our personal relationships about others’ motives, judging them for what we think they’re thinking?

  • She’s just jealous.
  • He doesn’t care about her feelings.
  • She’s taking over the committee because she wants to ruin it for everyone.
  • He thinks he’s smarter than the rest of us.

Really?

  • Could it be she’s not jealous, she’s insecure?
  • Might it be that his parents never told him “I love you,” so he doesn’t know how to communicate his emotions?
  • Perhaps she’s asserting herself on the committee because she’s desperately trying to be viewed as valuable.
  • And maybe, just maybe, he really is smarter than the rest of us!

Only God knows our hearts. Only God knows our motives. And only God knows the innermost thoughts we hide from everyone else. Consider these verses:

  • “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart” (Proverbs 21:2 ESV).
  • “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds” (Jeremiah 17:10 ESV).
  • “But the Lord said to Samuel, “‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’” (I Samuel 16:7 ESV).

What if we began each day with a commitment to not make assumptions about others?

What if we were more concerned about the state of our own heart and motives than the heart and motives of the next person?

And what if we applied this commitment to our political discussions? Of course, we can have uncompromising political and moral views. I certainly do. But let’s discuss those views rather than lob vicious attacks at the view-holders.

With only a month to go before the next election, it might be too late to rescue this political season. Still, we have to start somewhere. And today is as good a day as any other. Because if we continue to slice each other to ribbons, there’ll be no one left to pick up the pieces.

 

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11 Comments

  1. Anne Holz

    A very timely word! Certainly during this election season, but just as valid for our daily life.

  2. Suzann Zoltner

    Well said! Guilty as charged. Respect is rarely seen on so many levels today. Thank you especially for the Samuel verse.

  3. John Williamson

    Ava, your words both convict and encourage me. Convict me how easily I fall into frustration and anger with those with different points of view. Encouragement that Jesus Christ controls history and will achieve His purpose. You encourage me to cooperate with His will.

  4. Melissa Henderson

    The world would be a different place if we all paused and prayed before speaking. There are times when my words rush out. Then, I am sad that I spoke before praying. Words can hurt. Words can help. I pray we all use our words to encourage, uplift and inspire others.

  5. Karen Friday

    Ava, so well said! My counselor friend always says there’s a root (another cause) for exchanges like this. I liked how you make the point perhaps it’s not jealousy but insecurity, and so on.

    I have an extended family member who always defensively attacks back and reverses the discussion away from what the discussion is about to what’s wrong with the person who brought it up. Even what said person has done in the past. A perfect example of this! Thank you!

  6. Jessica Brodie

    Yes! I love what you said here: “Can we please stop the name-calling and start addressing the issues on their own merits?” I agree wholeheartedly. Nothing is accomplished, no olive branch extended, when we name-call or attack.

  7. Nancy E. Head

    I wish schools still taught the Golden Rule and the logical fallacies. Ad hominem is one of them. Then we could recognize when we and others misuse argument. Maybe then we could engage in real discussion. That would be nice.

  8. Yvonne Morgan

    Great blog Ava. I hope all of America reads it and take it to heart. I am shocked by the amount of name calling I see on every side. May God help us all.

  9. June Foster

    I love the point you’ve made here. Opinions vs. facts. I pray I can stick to the facts when having political discussions.

  10. Melinda Viergever Inman

    Well said, Ava! I loved your opener and chuckled ironically throughout my reading of it, for you hit the nail on the head with your description of our current situation. Ad hominem arguments require no intellectual thought. They are knee jerk responses of a personal nature, going right for the jugular. I actually had to remove two people from a discussion on Facebook in these past weeks, because of their combative ad hominem attacks to others in the discussion. People seem to think that if someone disagrees with them, the other person must be an idiot, not considering that they might be facing any of the challenges that you listed above. It’s easy for me to get extremely frustrated by all of this and to jump to similar conclusions, but not to vocalize them. These frustrating times call upon us to guard not only our mouths/typed words, but also our hearts, lest we judge the other, rather than extend mercy and grace. There is a wounded human being behind the ad hominem attack.

  11. Marcie Cramsey

    Well written, Ava. This is a toxic time in our country. The availability of social media has only heightened the opportunity for people to let loose their tongues. Anger rages and sin abounds. It’s not the way Christ calls us to argue or disagree. Those of us trying to love God with our heart and words, need to persevere in love. A good debate is not void of disagreement but it is also not void of grace and understanding.

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