As I returned to blogging this past August, I also signed on for the Twitter experience. I love it. That is, as a person whose brain produces one liners (even in my dream life), the world of word limits is a limitless world for wordplay & witticism. If only everyone could be a Steven Wright . . . So, in what follows, do not think that I oppose witty repartee or sarcasm. For instance, if anyone follows me on Twitter or reads my blog posts, you will see that I regularly poke fun at Ken Ham and the folks at Answers in Genesis.
At present, I am concerned about the growing influence of Ken Ham and AiG. So, I do follow Ham and his organization on Twitter. Using irony, I like to highlight the irony of their own positions. Using sarcasm, I like to draw attention to their inconsistencies both in argument and in practice. I enjoy reading comments written in a similar style — even when they come from someone like Bill Maher. So, in what follows, that is not what I am addressing. Moreover, I am specifically addressing Christians, my brothers and sisters (but it seems mostly my brothers) in Christ.
And in all honesty, I have likely crossed a line now and again in my own tweetings. Most parents know that they shouldn’t shout at their children but sometimes we do.
Here are some examples of “my kind of Tweet” including one of my favo(u)rites a modern proverb by www.joeledmundanderson.com:
Now, during my short time on Twitter, it has come to my attention that many Christians are twits when it comes to Twitter. Given how I see my fellow Christians attacking, mocking, and berating, non-Christians (or anyone they assume is a non-Christian like me), I am not surprised that when I “come out” as a Christian on Twitter many simply assume that I am a jerk. Again, given what I see many other Christians doing in this public forum, I don’t blame atheists, neo-pagans, and, apparently, pandeists, etc. for assuming that I am an ass. (Of course, I assume I am not one.) I can only be patient and hope that their opinion of me changes through continued exposure and the occasional twitter interaction. I am hesitant to call this interaction dialogue although sometimes it comes close.
Anyway, I understand why non-Christians themselves go on the defensive and turn to mockery and attack.
What am I talking about?
For example: In reply to the following recent tweet by @aigkenham, the first reply is from a non-Christian. @aigkenham tweets,
How do secularists get so many people to falsely believe in an impossible process like molecules-to-man evolution? https://t.co/bmkMup2lek
in reply, @non-Christian tweets,
@aigkenham Accepting evolution is a product of a decent science education and intellectual honesty. It’s not the preserve of secularists.
@Christian responds to @non-Christian but addresses Ham (who likely never reads these things, anyway),
@non-Christian Whatever they do, it generally involves profanity & personal ad hom attacks. It’s very logical & scientific.
So, let’s take a moment here and see a “Great White Apologetic Shark” at work.* In Ham’s usual style, Ham suggests that their is some kind of conspiratorial manipulation by “the secularists” to get people to believe in an old earth and what he calls “molecules-to-man” evolution. (Oddly, Ham actually does believe evolution of a “kind”. See my post Ken Ham’s Supra-Natural Selection .)
@non-Christian responds in a very straightforward way with a plausible alternative to Ham’s theory. He suggests that people in general and not secularists alone are convinced by the evidence. He also seems to be calling Ham on his intellectual dishonesty. Which, in my opinion, is also a fair challenge to raise. Of course, we tend to read tones of voice into tweets and e-mails but here there is nothing explicitly aggressive or provocative about this tweet. And yet . . .
@Christian drives up from the deep like a South African Porker after a seal. He grabs hold of @non-Christian by deliberately including him in his reply to Ham. Then he tosses his head to get his pound of flesh by accusing most secularists (which likely includes @nonChristian) of relying on profanity and ad hominem attacks. In this context, the second sentence seems to be intended sarcastically.Now, even this Tweet is relatively tame compared to other Christian tweets of this sort. Moreover, it sparks one of those caustic interchanges that frequently occur on the www.
@nonChristian did not use profanity. His reference to “intellectual honesty” may indeed be read as a backhanded reference to Ken Ham and the practices of Answers in Genesis. So, in all likelihood, we do have an ad hominem argument here.
An ad hominem (Latin for “to the man” or “to the person”), short for argumentum ad hominem, is an attack on an argument made by attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, rather than attacking the argument directly. When used inappropriately, it is a logical fallacy in which a claim or argument is dismissed on the basis of some irrelevant fact or supposition about the author or the person being criticized.Ad hominem reasoning is not always fallacious, for example, when it relates to the credibility of statements of fact or when used in certain kinds of moral and practical reasoning. (from Wikipedia)
Ironically, rather than asking for examples of Ham’s “intellectual dishonesty” (which, I think, can be readily provided see www.joeledmundanderson.com or my own posts such as Ham-Handed Hermeneutics or What AiG gets Wrong about N.T. Wright!) or asking him something about his own beliefs @Christian responds to @non-Christian with his own ad hominem attack against the nebulous “they” — in this case, the dreaded secularists. The shark is calling the seal wet.
Yet, as the above definition helpfully states, not all ad hominem reasoning is fallacious. That is, when one is raising questions about the source of information, then it is relevant and valid.
For example, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Professor asks the elder Pevensies who is generally more honest Edmund or Lucy. Even my choice to use C.S. Lewis is somewhat ad hominem, as Evangelicals tend to trust what he says. If I cited Christopher Hitchens saying something similar, it wouldn’t hold as much weight. C.S. Lewis has more authority for many Christians because we trust his character and his rigor as a Christian thinker.
Ken Ham claims to derive his authority directly from the Christian Scriptures and therefore from God but that already raises the question of intellectual integrity because he seems to ignore even basic questions of interpretation. David Koresh also claimed to derive his authority directly from Scripture. We called his organization a cult. But I digress.
It does not surprise me that in a later tweet this same @non-Christian describes the Christian God as a “bully.” Whether we like it or not, people shape their understanding of the God we proclaim less by what we say in our doctrines and creeds but by how we act toward them and other people, especially non-Christians.
What Would Jesus Tweet
Perhaps, this would be better phrased, How Would Jesus Tweet? Even more than what we say, I think how we say it communicates much more than some of us realize about the God we supposedly serve. If we want people to perceive the Spirit of Christ, then, perhaps, even on Twitter we ought to keep in step with the Spirit.
Galatians 5:16-26 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
From what I have seen Christians who engage in conversation with non-Christians on the internet tend to exhibit what Paul calls “the works of the flesh” (especially, those bolded above) rather than “the fruit of the Spirit” (underlined).
Of course, we are all works in progress but let us help one another to keep in step with the Spirit.
*Thanks to Rikk Watts for this fabulous metaphor which he used to describe himself as a young Christian on the college campus. While Rikk has certainly not lost his passion (understatement), the man I know is so far from this image now that it is difficult to imagine.