Ad Hominem and the Execution of Hope

This weekend I was reading through the book of Acts and came upon the story of Stephen, who had the shortest lived ministry of the early Church. Voted to be one of the first deacons of the Church at the beginning of Acts chapter 6, by the end of chapter 7 he was stoned to death. Yet, what caught my eye in this story was not the typical plot line you might hear from the pulpit on Sunday morning. It wasn’t about the establishment of Church polity, the dedication of preaching under persecution, or the introduction to Saul. No, the interesting detail which caught my attention, and caused my mind to wander, was the effort of the Pharisees to damage his character.

And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue… rose up and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel. Acts 6:8-15 esv

This little detail is not unusual. It was the same tactic used to incite the mob which called for Jesus’ crucifiction just a week after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The reason it struck me was because these same tactics are being used today to silence those who would say something powerful people don’t like.

It is important to note that Stephen was not an educated individual, but when he spoke about Jesus Christ, he got a few religious intellectuals riled up. When these religious elite tried to debate with Stephen, they found that they couldn’t respond to his wisdom or the evidence of the Spirit within him. So, instead of looking foolish and allowing others to recognizing the errors of their way, they instigated, stirred up, and lied to get the people to reject him.

Sound familiar? To anyone who knows me, it will be no surprise that I am a supporter of Ron Paul. I don’t mean to exalt Dr. Paul to a spiritual status or make him out to be a political messianic figure, but I do think there are notable similarities. I support Ron Paul because I believe in his message. However, when I talk about him with people who don’t like him, I can’t seem to get any reason other than ad hominem. The two most pointed attacks are to his ‘racist letters’ and ‘earmarking’ of bills. But even those attacks are only used to point out, “he’s just like all the other politicians.” Okay. So even if those attacks are valid, if the only thing they point out is that he is a politician, how does that make him worse than the other nominees? I would wager that the real reason people do not like Ron Paul is because he offers something radically different than what they are used to, and the political elite have painted him out the be a fool. Honestly, he is the only candidate that measures up to my spiritual convictions: just war, limited power, upholding the constitution.

Why is it that we are so quick to attack radical thinkers? Apart from the establishment protecting it’s interests, and the media protecting their sponsors, it seems that anyone with a voice outside of the mainstream is attacked. We as Christians should recognize this sort of treatment and stand in opposition to it, but we don’t. Most of us are swept away with the self-interest laden rhetoric which never seems to lead us toward progress.

I used to wonder how the people in Jesus’ day could have called for His execution. How many of them had seen Him heal the sick, cast out demons, and feed the hungry? How many had heard Him preach and marveled at His wisdom? It didn’t matter though. A dash of lies with a large helping of group-think turned the masses against their Messiah. I said I used to wonder because I no longer do. I know now what it takes to bring a man down.

The point I want to make is that we, as a society, are very quick to judge a man based on what we are told about him. Those who jumped on board with the Kony 2012 campaign needed nothing more than a propoganda driven 30 minute video to get them riled up. Likewise, those who responded harshly to the Kony 2012 video were quick to jump on the producer of the video once his atrocious actions came to light. With TMZ and all the other celebrity news shows, our culture is captivated and entertained at the nefarious and inscrutable actions of the famous.

We don’t need much to despise someone. We don’t need facts, just rhetoric. We don’t need research, just someone to whisper in our ear. We don’t need evidence, just a charged up emotion. And in the end, we’ve quickly revealed how we are the culprits who call for the execution of those who could help us, while the instigators remain in power. Every election, I’m reminded where all the people are who would have called for Christ’s crucifiction. They’re not the massive majority of Americans who don’t care about God and likewise don’t vote. They’re the religious right who are so quickly riled up by those who would wish to retain power partnered with those who despise all that is good.

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