Here is a crash course in two Latin phrases from someone who has never taken one course in Latin. How you like them apples? Actually there is nothing difficult about these two phrases, as anyone with a computer and an internet connection can look this stuff up.
The Latin phrase ad hominem means “to the man, individual, person” referring to a form of argumentation in which an attempt is made to critique the character of an opponent rather than criticize the claims of the actual argument itself. In others words, if a person says something you disagree with, rather than rebutting the argument you instead attempt to discredit by taking personal shots at that person. If you have ever been the recipient of such argumentation, you understand why it is more like a passive-aggressive attack than argument.
A great example of an ad hominem attack is when the teachers of the law accuse Jesus of driving out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons (Mark 3:20-22). These religious experts were frustrated by Jesus because he just would not conform to their expectations. Yet they could not deny the reality of his miracles to bolster his claim of authority (see the previous conflicts in Mark 2:1-3:6). The only thing left to do was attempt a character assassination by accusing him of acting as an agent of the devil rather than of God.
In my experience, when people resort to ad hominem it means they would rather not concede (sometimes because this would even involve making a few apologies). So instead, they refuse to address what is being said or done and instead… Well, you know.
Unfortunately, while this is a common tactic in secular discourse such as politics, it also appears to be an acceptable practice for some Christians too. I’ve encountered some of this lately as I have tried to address the issue of racism and Christianity (see these two recent posts here and here). That is why I am thinking of ad nauseam too. This Latin phrase technically refers to the belaboring of any argument to the point of nausea. But I am using the phrase to say that whenever I encounter ad hominem attacks from Christians, it become nauseating…hence, ad nauseam.
In case you are wondering, in my opinion the best response to any ad hominem attack is no response at all. That is because when someone is using this tactic, they expose their own weakness and insecurity. That is, the gig is up and everyone else knows it. In the case of another Christian resorting to this tactic, I just pray for them instead.
So here is the deal. There are a myriad of issues that Christians need to discuss and engage each other with. Iron sharpens iron, says the sage (Prov 27:17) and that involves dialogue. But when we stop responding to what is actually said and start criticizing the character of each other, it ceases to be constructive dialogue and instead becomes a nauseating experience. So let’s avoid ad hominem and then we can also avoid ad nauseam.