Today’s Bunker Logic and Reason lesson is on a offensive tactic I call SIMPLE PLATITUDE or TICKLING THE TIGER. This can also be seen as a HIGH ROAD tactic. This one has always been prevalent in nominal “christian” circles, but it has become more and more common in social media discourse.
Here we go!
This rhetorical tactic is an offensive blow without any content or definition that allows the one who uses it to pretend to take the high-ground after a devastating truth or fact has weakened or destroyed his/her argument.
(In religious circles)
Me: *Scriptural Fact*
Other: “That may or may not be true, but as Christians we are told to ‘tell the truth in LOVE!’ What you said (or how you said it) is definitely NOT loving!” (Note that ‘love’ is never defined by them. They are the ruler and they decide. They have taken the discussion from one of reason and scripture to one of how THEY feel about what you said. And also note: they will NEVER consider your fact ‘loving’ until it is bent into what they believe.) How they characterize what you said is based on how they feel about what you said: If they hate what you said, they will accuse you of hatred. If what you said hurts them, they will accuse you of being intentionally hurtful. If what you said makes them angry, they will accuse you of being angry. Even if none of those things are true. Remember, the central theme of this tactic is that they don’t have to prove anything. It is all about their feelings.
As the discussion devolves, the one using this tactic will resolve to use scriptures out of context (If they use any at all) to ‘prove’ that it isn’t about truth anymore, but about the truth-teller’s manner and personality.
Truth-teller: “The bible calls that ‘heresy’ Here is the proof of it.”
Other: “You are calling me a heretic, and that’s just name-calling. Jesus NEVER called names!”
Truth-teller: *lists scriptures where Jesus and the apostles called heretics names”
Other: “Well… you’re not Jesus or Paul! Get over yourself! We’re called to be loving!”
Truth-teller: “You are the one that said Jesus never did it.”
Other: “So now you’re comparing yourself to Jesus? You have a serious humility problem, sir. Faith, Hope, and LOVE! And the greatest of these is LOVE!”
A trump card for those using this tactic in religious circles is to challenge someone’s humility. And of course, the humble thing to do is EXACTLY what they want you to do the way they want you to do it. I’ll come back to the religious sense of this tactic in a bit.
(In secular circles)
Me: truthful statement
Other: “How dare you. Have you stopped to consider how that makes people feel? Have you put yourself in their shoes?”
An associated tactic is to grant the fact or the fact-teller’s superior qualities, then use those against him/her:
Me: “I think the world is spherical and not flat.”
Other: “Well, apparently you are very intelligent and well-read. Nobody can argue against you. The one thing you lack is love. You are obviously bitter and angry and turn people off with your superior attitude. A little kindness goes a long way.”
Again, the discussion departs from one of facts and reason to one of ambiguous feelings and emotions that are ALWAYS defined by the person wanting to win by decontextualizing the discussion and making it about something ambiguous and unprovable. And this tactic almost always crosses over with PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE and MARTYR behavior.
Now, one thing you’ll often notice is the hypocrisy of those who rush to use this tactic. They are the canon – meaning they are the measuring stick. What they say or do is NEVER unkind or mean or unloving. NEVER. I called this out constantly for over 20 years in ministry. People who otherwise spent all their time online calling their opponents names, belittling others, making crude jokes at the expense of others, and condemning their opponents, will immediately start crying when their own feelings are hurt.
You can compare this to the soccer or basketball players (or any other bullies) who are very aggressive and doing sketchy stuff, then when it gets returned to them. Rolling on the ground and crying to the referees.
These people will rarely use mature methods to try to change your opinion. They wouldn’t come to you privately and ask you questions and try to understand, or try to correct you in a ‘loving’ way. Usually, because they want to be seen by others as martyrs, defenders, and victims, they TICKLE THE TIGER publicly – which is to say – they provoke a response in front of others so that the discussion is diverted from fact and reason and truth. They will come at you publicly and make their SIMPLE PLATITUDE argument knowing they don’t have to provide any proof, data, facts, or reason. In a very Joe McCarthy way, they know that they can feel like they’ve won just by stating useless platitudes. No matter how you respond, if you respond, unless it is total capitulation and repentance (to them) they will declare victory because they took the high road and you proved their point by not letting them bully you.
Remember, there is no winning these people over. Their own opinions are their law and scripture, so you have no grounds to appeal to a higher authority. They cannot be swayed.
How to deal with it. First response, I just ignore them. Depending on how public they try to make it. If they are trying the public route, I will usually dismiss them with a joke (contentless accusations do not deserve a response with content.) If they try to amplify it, as a last resort, I will take out the flamethrower – which is actually what they want. They want you to prove their point. It’s like saying “all pit bulls are killers,” and then publicly beating a pit bull until it attacks to make you stop it. The best thing you can do if they insist on making a big deal out of it is to expose what they are doing. Put a name to the tactic and expose it.
My favorite response to this tactic, AFTER ignoring it, is saying “What you see as aggression, is actually restraint.” I believe in restraint, and I’ll use it as long as it is called for.
Back to the religious aspect.
This is the most common tactic used by biblically ignorant, self-indulgent, religious worldlings. The Pharisees constantly sought ways to attack Jesus and his disciples, seeking ways to turn their words against them. They had no legitimate grounds, could not rely on the scriptures, so they just made fiat declarations “have we need of more witnesses? He condemns himself!” In my experience, this type of false high-road tactic is easily spotted, but in a theological context it is difficult to counter because the ones who use it make their camp in faux “love” and “humility.” If you constantly refer to the scriptures, you are proving their point. They admit that you are scripturally adept, but lacking love. Appealing to scripture proves their point to them. This is why Jesus called them “whited sepulchres,” and told them they erred, “knowing not the scriptures.” They wanted the final arbiter and judge to be their feelings of authority and their sway with the people. Unhappily for them, that is never the case. There is always a higher judge.