Ad hominem ad nauseam

Monday Musings for August 05, 2019

Good morning, Musers,

The data is in: we humans are small and petty! Oops… let me narrow that down. We humans who have internet access are small and petty.

Small? … petty? — those are strong words! But I believe they are justified. After a recent review of my website's data, I’ve become convinced that we are more interested in the impressions we have of people than we are in the ideas those people have. So, we have it backward. We should allow people’s ideas to form our pictures of who they are… not the rumor-based presuppositions that fit hand-in-glove with the social media platforms.

Now, the Bible warns us not to worship vain images — yet we do… and this too is a bold statement about humans. But I see this as a problem too. More and more of us are choosing to address issues ad hominem rather than through rational discussion. In fact, we’ve taken to extremes: we’re either executing people without a hearing or we’re setting them up as idols!

The term “ad hominem” is a Latin phrase meaning “to the person.” It is a logical fallacy… but unfortunately, it’s an attractive strategy. People who make ad hominem appeals have decided to avoid the hard work of evaluating the opposition’s ideas… but this is because it is easier (and arguably more satisfying) to attack the opposition’s people instead.

I hate that strategy! … and I avoid doing it here! … but my website’s statistics show that I might be going ad hominem in spite of my best efforts — and in the face of my philosophical objections.

I see myself as one who writes about issues, not about people… and my regular readers know this. But you can’t discuss Christian ideas without at least referencing other people… and I frequently cite other people’s work and use their ideas. But I am scrupulous to avoid ad hominem engagements because, in a discussion of issues between reasonable people, people should never be the focus; their ideas should be.

Occasionally, however, a person becomes the focus because he becomes a phenomenon… and Joel Osteen is such a person. He is so successful that the mere mention of his name can draw a lot of people to a website — with both positive comments and ad hominem attacks.

Now, most of the people who read my articles are following a search engine to my site — not my reputation. So I doubt they are looking for a treatise on Osteen’s beliefs. What I suspect is that they are looking for some juicy tidbit — the kind served up in People magazine. I don’t have any because I don't "do" ad hominem.

I published my first article at Mainsail Ministries on January 01, 2012, and I’ve been adding one or two a week ever since. Now, my website is small, and I don’t promote it, but the first article we published has gathered 3,281 hits over seven years. (Keep that number in the back of your mind.)

In January of the following year, I received the question, “Why is Joel Osteen considered a false teacher?” I published an answer immediately… and the article started getting hits immediately… but at a greater rate than my other articles. As of today, it’s had almost 72,000 hits! This is my most popular article — and by a lot... but it is a facts-based article, not an ad hominem one.

The thing is, that Osteen article has accumulated nearly twice the hits of its nearest rival! … and I find that telling. Guess who Osteen beat out in that popularity contest? God! The next most popular article is, What happens to the indwelling Holy Spirit when we sin?

So, the data is in: people prefer reading about Joel Osteen more than they do the Holy Spirit by a margin of two to one. No wonder Osteen has more money than God! (… sorry…  that was a little ad hominem of me.)

But here’s the thing: whatever else he is, Osteen is a celebrity… and because I cover topics from the Christian culture, he’s a hard guy to avoid… but this is because “Joel Osteen” is one of the most popular phrases used by the search engines to find my site… so I’m trapped!

Why are people flocking to Osteen? Do you think it’s because of his reputation for preaching the Gospel? … because of his biblical scholarship? … or because of his deep theological insights? I’m thinking no — and here’s the problem.

We humans tend to be more interested in reading about people as people than we are in studying their ideas — and remember… I have the data. When people seek God only half as much as they do a “Christian” celebrity, then their focus is on things below, not on things above… and looking down is the defining characteristic of people who are small and petty in God’s eyes.

“For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war.” (2 Chronicles 16:9, NIV)

(Click here to read the article referenced above. For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, email us at mainsailep@gmail.com.)