” – not just crazy, but dishonest, hypocritical and dangerous”. Generalizations are bad enough : “All Frenchmen are oversexed.” “Germans have no sense of humor.” “You can’t trust blacks, Arabs, or – why not ? – Australians (especially Australians who are bloggers)”. But the statement in the title is even worse. It dismisses people who believe, without examining the arguments which support their belief. It is an “argumentum ad hominem”. The definition is the following : ” ‘Argumentum ad hominem’ means responding to arguments by attacking a person’s character, rather than the content of his arguments … It is a 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 … Abusive ‘ad hominem’ usually involves attacking the traits of opponents as a means to invalidate their arguments.” (Dr Michael C. Labossière, “42 Fallacies : ‘Ad Hominem’ ” – Wikipedia.)
Trying to score points by reference to an opponent’s social or professional status, his/her personal defects or those of his/her family, their lack of academic qualifications or embarrassing features of their personal history, are not only blows below the belt but irrelevant and unworthy in rational discussion. But in oratorical combat it is as frequent as it is hard to resist. Aggressivity begets aggressivity. In religious and political debates, crowds love heated arguments and find entertaining and worthy of applause the particularly incisive ‘argumentum ad hominem’. People prefer picadors, the charismatic crowd-pleasers whose arms are insults rather than insights, contempt rather than content.
This Blog is not immune to this temptation. When one is ridiculing Religion, it is difficult sometimes to avoid confusion between disrespecting beliefs and disrespecting believers. But believers should also recognize that they too can descend to using an ‘argumentum ad hominem’. Atheists are not necessarily “lunatics” any more than believers are.