Discussing topics such as politics or religion can often lead to arguments or heated debates. They usually become heated when one side of the discussion runs out of “ammunition.” When they can no longer defend a position with logic or reason, they turn to different tactics to shut down the debate.
Logical fallacies can keep people from coming to the correct conclusion in a debate. As with politics or religion, most people’s minds are about made up, and they do not care what kind of evidence or argument another person might bring. What starts out as quiet discussion can result in a fist fight.
Not being able to justify a position, one might bring up an ad hominem argument to end the debate. Ad hominem is a Latin phrase meaning “to the man.” It is a belief that the validity of the argument is based on the person making the argument. It is a type of smoke-screen to divert attention away from the merits of an argument.
In The Ultimate Proof of Creation (Master Books, 2010, pp. 119-120), author Dr, Jason Lisle points out two types of ad hominem arguments. One he calls the “circumstantial ad hominem.” A person simply holds a position because of circumstances. It would be like arguing over gasoline prices here in the Permian Basin. One side says that prices need to go down so people will not have to pay so much at the pump. The other side says that prices should go up so more people will have jobs. The other might argue, “You’re only for higher gas prices because you work in the oilfield.” That has nothing to do with the validity of a person arguing for higher gasoline prices. A similar argument would be like saying, “You’re only a Christian because you were raised in a Christian household. What if you had been raised in a Muslim household?” That does not have any effect on whether Christianity is true or not.
The second type of ad hominem is the abusive ad hominem argument. That is an attack against the character of the person making the argument, not against the argument itself. It is used many times to distract people from the issue at hand. This frequently occurs in political debates. Instead of focusing on the issues, candidates resort to mudslinging.
Rather than focusing on issues, you will see a word with –phobe or –phobic attached to it. If you disagree with someone on same-sex marriage, suddenly you become “homophobic.” If you are concerned about ISIS, you are “Islamophobic.” If you question Darwinism, others call you “flat-earther” rather than discuss the issues. These terms are not-so-slightly veiled insults used to stop the discussion of an issue. They are used to write you off and disallow your position without serious consideration.
The new ad hominem against Christianity is the word “judgmental.” Decades ago we would have said that anyone who stood their ground on an issue was a person of conviction or dedication. Now anyone who holds strongly to a religious belief such as one that says Jesus is the only way to God (His words, not mine. See John 14:6), is labeled as judgmental. Anyone who refuses to say that all religions teach the same things is judgmental. Anyone who compares religious teachings to the standards of the Bible is judgmental. Anyone who questions the doctrine of another preacher is judgmental.
People who do not believe in God or the Bible will usually rip Matthew 7:1 out of the Bible and misquote it. “Judge not!” they say. Then they follow that with: “Christians aren’t supposed to judge others.” They do not otherwise believe the Bible, but they will clobber others with it when it suits their purposes. Because most church-goers have no idea how to handle that fallacious argument, they keep their mouths closed and no longer stand up for what they believe in.
It may sting when unbelievers and non-church-going people use this type of argument to silence Christians. Where it really hurts is when church people use it against their pastor. When a person hears something from the pulpit they do not want to hear, rather than truly considering what the pastor said, they simply stop the argument by saying, “that’s judgmental.” (By the way, saying someone is judgmental is, in fact, being judgmental.) In effect, this new ad hominem “excuses” Christians from having to think critically. Even though they may never use the word “judgmental” out loud, they think it, thereby nullifying any debate on an issue they do not want to grapple with. It dismisses any unpleasantness from their minds.
As Christians we are called to stand up and “to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 3). While you are defending your faith, do not let others shut you down with personal attacks of Judgmentalism or labeling you with some kind of phobia. Remind them to stick to the facts that deal with the issue at hand. Remember Paul’s words to Timothy: “and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). Those times may become more frequent in the near future.