Attack of the Online “Prophets”


Ad hominem abusive.

If you don’t know what that means, here’s the ever-convenient Wikipedia with the answer:

An ad hominem (Latin for “to the man” or “to the person”), short for argumentum ad hominem, is a general category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument. Fallacious ad hominem reasoning is normally categorized as an informal fallacy, more precisely as a genetic fallacy,  a subcategory of fallacies of irrelevance. Ad hominem reasoning is not always fallacious, for example, when it relates to the credibility of statements of fact.
Wikipedia entry for ad hominem

I’ve been on the Internet from before it was the Internet. Back in my earlier days at Carnegie Mellon University, I would send emails to a friend at MIT using the old ARPANET defense network, which evolved into the modern Internet. How long ago was this? Well, the smiley emoticon was “invented” at CMU during my tenure as a student.

So, I’ve watched the Internet grow up.

Sad to say, but I think that as the Internet grew up, the people who used it didn’t. And this brings us back to that Latin phrase above and its definition.

I don’t know what has happened in recent years, but I’m seeing an increase in ad hominem attacks online. The worst part of this is the attacks often come from Christians.

A fictional, but true to form, example:

ScourgePerson A : “Yes, you need to love people in Jesus’ name, but you can’t excuse their sin. Love them, but call them to repentance too.”

Person B : “Clearly, you are a legalistic fool who doesn’t know the Lord. Jesus is love. Love is all that matters—and you would know that if you truly know Him. But you don’t. I bet a Pharisee like you has never loved anyone except yourself.”

That’s what passes for discourse and an engagement of ideas, and I’m seeing it more and more on Christian websites.

Beyond the fact of ad hominem‘s status as a logical fallacy unworthy of use in debates and discussions, it’s the faux prophetic attitude of people that bothers me greatly. Too many Christians are presuming to know the spiritual condition of another person with whom they converse online, but without having met that person or read anything else that person may have written. Instead, ad hominem attacks often come out at the first interaction.

At the risk of being accused of an ad hominem attack myself, I must say that this borders on divination. Really. Because the ad hominem user is not only NOT being loving toward a fellow believer, he or she is claiming to scry out the spiritual condition of the other person, as if doing a fortune teller’s “cold reading.”

Folks, we can’t do this. Ever.

Online discourse is in a race to the lowest common denominator. When people who claim to be Christians drop words like unbeliever or heretic almost as a reflex in reference to others online, they run a great risk of sin—and in a public space for lost people to note. We’re the light of the world. If our discourse is filled with negative “prophetic” statements about other people we engage in cyberspace, then that light becomes darkness. Then we scratch our heads when other people say, “No, I don’t want anything to do with your Jesus or your Christian religion.”

If we’re going to be online and discussing difficult topics, engage ideas. Challenge concepts. Dismantle erroneous thinking.

But don’t dismantle people. And for the sake of your own soul, don’t attempt to play diviner into someone else’s spiritual state, especially when that perceived foe states nothing online that would serve as fodder for such pronouncements.

How All of Your Christian Life Can Come to Nothing


We got a catalog from Oriental Trading Company this week, and my son noted that most of it contained kitschy Easter stuff, some marketed to Christians. He was put off by how the message of resurrection can be co-opted and turned into plastic baubles meant to be “inspirational” yet bought wholesale for pennies on the dollar. Good for him.

We Christians can fall into clichés and kitsch easily, and no passage of the Scriptures has suffered the Chinese-made “inspirational” bauble treatment more than this one:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
—1 Corinthians 13:1-13 ESV

The problem for us is, like the plastic bauble, we have turned this chapter in the Bible into a sentimental saying that we don’t entirely believe. Whatever it may contain, that something meant to change us instead bounces off our Teflon hides, and we go about being whomever we were before we encountered 1 Corinthians 13.

Here’s the upshot. That passage states that we can live out an entire Christian life and have it come to nothing for one reason: We didn’t love people.

The thing about love is that it asks something of us. If you say you love someone, you need to do something about it for it to be real. It’s not enough to speak words. Some kind of action is demanded.

How did God the Father show love? He sent Jesus. How did Jesus, God the Son, show love? By dying on the cross on our behalf and rising again. How does the Holy Spirit of God show love? By coming to dwell within believers in Jesus, guiding them into all truth and changing them into the likeness of Jesus.

Too much of the Christian life has become little more than words. But if we claim to love other people, there must be some action associated with that love.

If Facebook postings are any indication, Christians have a lot of people in this world they hate. Love, HateThe funny thing about hate is that all you have to do to make it effective is to express it. To be a lover requires more than words, but just give voice to hate and you’re a hater. That’s all hate requires.

If Christians are to change the world, it’s time we stopped kidding ourselves about hate and love. Jesus calls us to love our enemies and pray for them, not hate them. And loving an enemy demands some sort of action from us on behalf of those enemies. All hate requires is our brutal opinion.

One of the most notable questions in the Bible is “Who is my neighbor?” A man thought he’d stump Jesus with that question after Jesus said we should love our neighbors as ourselves.

Perhaps the better question for Christians today is “Who is my enemy?” If there is any question of enemies, again, a random sampling from Christians posting on Facebook would be enough to generate a long list of foes.

“Who is my enemy?” Ask the question. Now, as a Christian, find a practical way to show love toward that person or group.

Because nothing under the sun is more stupid than to fool yourself into thinking you’re a Christian when your lack of love in action—to both friends and enemies—proves otherwise.