This is the first part of a series on civility in online discussions. See this index.
By default, ideas should be separated from the person. Personal beliefs are—at best—tangential to arguments. Attacking ideas means that no one is required to be involved in a discussion, even if the idea originated with them. The dignity of each person as a child of God is thus fully maintained by only attacking ideas. However, most people do not do this, but instead prefer Ad Hominem attacks, leading to personal conflict.
Ad Hominem — (Attacking the person): This fallacy occurs when, instead of addressing someone’s argument or position, you irrelevantly attack the person or some aspect of the person who is making the argument.
In this post, I will explain why people don’t like me. Long ago I noticed that when I enter a discussion, I cause almost instantaneous rage. (Incidentally, this is why I tend to keep my thoughts to myself in meatspace social situations.) But I have never understood why that was, until now. But first some background.
I am rigorously logical. I have little patience for invalid arguments, including logical fallacies. I prefer deductive over inductive arguments, although I use both. Consequently, I utterly reject the Ad Hominem fallacy. It turns out that this explains a lot of the reason why people dislike me so much.
“Sam Harris on his worst day sounds more rational on the issue of faith than Derek Ramsey does. The kind of Christian I can’t stand more than anything else are the ones who engage in dronning on and confronting others on theological purity and then pretend they aren’t.”
— comment by The Eye of Sauron @ Sigma Frame “The Tennant Authority Structure”
It is true that I strive for pristine formal arguments based on the authority of scripture. But these arguments are almost universally ineffective. Very, very few people are convinced by a simple, straightforward presentation of the truth in logical form. Nor did Christ command his followers to go and spread logical proofs to all the world.
So while I choose to present truth claims—logical conclusions—up front, I’m not really trying to convince people. Moreover, as no argument can overturn an axiom, and most of my arguments run up against personal axioms of belief, it is often literally impossible for my argument to prevail.
And so I almost always confront ideas, not people. People cannot be convinced, but their ideas can be challenged without requiring their involvement. And so I challenge ideas with great fervor. But because people hold those ideas so closely, it is nearly impossible for challenges to their ideas not to be interpreted as a direct confrontation of their person. And, I suspect, most of them are unable to attack the ideas of others without also implicitly or explicitly attacking the person. They cannot comprehend that others are able to do this.
All people should attack the idea and not the person… but they don’t
The reason is simple: most people do not like to have their ideas challenged. They will resist this and attack you for trying, as will be seen below.
Only my close friends—of which have a great diversity of thought, behavior, and faith—understand this difference. Indeed, one of the marks of close friendship with me is their realization that even if I view them as heretics, this has precisely no impact at all on my love and care for them. Why should different beliefs matter?
By contrast strangers, like Eye of Sauron, GunnerQ, and Adam Piggott, just call me a liar. But not just any liar, but among the worst that exists. Eye of Sauron said:
Sam Harris on his worst day sounds more rational on the issue of faith than Derek Ramsey does.
Adam Piggot declared my comment to be…
“the slimiest thing that I have ever read on the internet”
…and said I was worse than Jordan Peterson’s handling of the truth. GunnerQ called me a…
“deceiving piece of witch s***”
Couldn’t you find a more efficient way to shut down the discussion? And to cap it all off, there’s nothing like a good old Jonathan Edwards sermon! Meanwhile, we do have some readers here who are going through literal hell at this exact moment. Do you have any good word for these men?
The very next day Ed Hurst coincidentally wrote “Evangelistic Arrogance” and said this:
Try going to a forum of mixed Christians trying to have a conversation without stepping on each other’s faith, and then one or more idiot barges in and starts castigating everyone who doesn’t agree with them. [..] Well, that kind of aggressive disputation in online forums is just a step or two from nailing someone to a cross. It’s a sin to harass someone for having different convictions. I realize there’s nothing we can do to help those people. When it’s up to me, I ban them from the forum. There’s no place for that crap. We have enough trouble helping each other find a better way without having to deal with that kind of arrogance. Sadly, there are still a few of them hanging around. They will destroy any community you might have built.
Although he wasn’t referring to me, his comments are surprisingly similar to comments that I have received from others. As you can plainly see, it is hard to criticize me more harshly than those men above (i.e. not Ed) have done. I suspect that many people online view me similarly. And so, this comment is the rare exception and counterpoint:
Maybe it is our shared cultural and intellectual Squarehead heritage, but, even though I’ve got a different perspective than Derek Ramsey on many things, it is refreshing to contend with a fellow man who isn’t proverbially trying to suck my d*** to win me over to his viewpoints. He seems to give people the benefit of the doubt that they will be able to realize the truth and accept it without getting an ego massage. And though he might sound stubbornly committed to his beliefs, he himself is quite open to changing his beliefs if you can expose the error in his thinking, and show a better fitting belief.
— comment by Sharkly @ Sigma Frame, “Divided We Fall”
I hold to the Principle of Charity: I give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I also respect free will: you don’t need me to tell you whether or not my argument is right or wrong, because you are all adults who can decide for yourselves.
How is it a confrontation when I only challenge the ideas and not the legitimacy of the person holding the ideas? If you want to believe in the sacraments or abortion or gay marriage, that’s entirely on you. And so, Ed’s position…
Here’s the pitch behind that crap: “The best thing you can do for people is to tell them about Jesus, no matter how they react. Don’t fail, because you may be responsible for sending them to Hell if you pull back.” How many times were people on the fence pushed away from the gospel because of the insufferable arrogance behind that approach? [..] They don’t have the decency to say, “Well, I’m from this background, and we look at it like this…” No, they have to act as if a different conviction cannot be genuine. To them, it’s blasphemous to suggest God might not be leading us all on the same path. You would think it was an insult to God that He isn’t limited to whatever is in their heads.
…is utterly foreign to me. I may challenge your most deeply held beliefs, but unless I’m following the Matthew 18 Protocol on a matter of sin, I won’t challenge you. That’s the role of the Holy Spirit. For this reason, I tend to tentatively disagree somewhat with Ed Hurst: the presentation of scripture and the conviction of Holy Spirit have the best chance of success, even if alone. But, as seen above, this approach utterly infuriates people, because people cannot separate the idea from the believer. They embrace the Ad Hominem. Consider how viciously angry all those comments above are.
Interestingly, both Jack and Ed suggested the same “fix”: to clarify and qualify my views to include what I believe. Jack said…
To make yourself clear, you should begin each doctrinal statement with “I believe that…”, or “My denomination holds that…”, or “I understand the Catholic church teaches that…”, or at least provide some context.
…and Ed said…
They don’t have the decency to say, “Well, I’m from this background, and we look at it like this…” No, they have to act as if a different conviction cannot be genuine. To them, it’s blasphemous to suggest God might not be leading us all on the same path. You would think it was an insult to God that He isn’t limited to whatever is in their heads.
In other words, if I followed this advice, I would take my ideas and explicitly qualify them as nonbinding personal beliefs. If I dare state a viewpoint without making it personal and restricted, this will infuriate others. But an argument, especially a deductive one, is utterly impersonal. As I said in “Axioms of Faith“…
When making inductive arguments, it is [sometimes] important to clarify beliefs. But I was making deductive arguments from scripture. I explicitly cited scripture and tied each scripture together by logical deduction. Outside the known givens (in this case sola scriptura), a deductive argument is completely free of belief. It is either true or false, not a matter of belief or probability.
…it is incorrect and improper to bring personal beliefs into this type of reasoning. It doesn’t matter if my beliefs come from my background or yours come from your background. My arguments are valid or invalid, sound or unsound, independent of my beliefs. If I am wrong, then the error will be in my argument. All that is required is to point it out and then it will get corrected. Whatever each of our convictions are, whatever our backgrounds, whatever paths God might have for us… none of that has any bearing on the argument, which stands or falls on its own.
If I applied Jack’s and Ed’s suggestion to myself, I would be engaging in fallacious reasoning, that is, to lie. I will not do so. To qualify my arguments as personal beliefs is to encourage and suggest an Ad Hominem, addressing something other than the argument iself. Ideas should not be personalized. I won’t ever personalize your ideas and attack you for having them, even if you don’t reciprocate. I have no problem with the people above who criticize ideas or even people they disagree with, even if they themselves do not extend that same courtesy to me.
If you think I’m arrogant, it isn’t true and I wish you didn’t. But, I’ll defend your right to believe it. Now, if I wanted to prove your belief wrong, I’d show evidence that I’m not arrogant, even knowing that you’d call this an obvious proof of arrogance. Even then, I don’t need you to believe what I believe. I don’t need you to be right or agree with me. Believe what you want.
On the other hand, if you have a word of correction for me, please do share. The only thing better than me correcting someone else’s error is when they correct mine, like in the comment section below.
The vast majority of the fury leveled against me is based on misunderstanding me and not allowing me to have beliefs and methods that differ from their beliefs and methods. This is an especially ironic situation where people not only fail to see their own intolerance, but get angry about it.
One final note. Mental fortitude is just as masculine as physical fortitude. When men present ideas and debate online, they should be able to do so without having to play feminine-style social victim and blame games. Men shouldn’t get all emotional and upset when another man challenges their deeply held beliefs. If they can’t handle another man online challenging them in what is ultimately a meaningless squabble, how will they handle disagreement from their own wife?