On Bad Rhetoric

Posted by frmichaelnz on  April 12, 2021

Polemics and slogans are woven into bad rhetoric. Group identity (ethnos) underpins ideology in bad rhetoric because someone, or some group, is struggling for worldly power.

Bad rhetoric pretends to be good rhetoric by pretending to use reason and logic (logos) when engaging in dialectics, in a conversational exchange, which outcome supposedly depends on the course of the conversation. But don’t be fooled by the pretence. Bad rhetoricians offer a statement, a proposition, that they pretend is open for debate, but really it isn’t. Such ‘statements’ or ‘propositions’ are simply gambits in order to enter into an exchange. Bad rhetoricians enter into an exchange with a whole set of ‘statements and propositions’ that they continually recycle, shifting ground, whenever you counter them with a logical reply. Such “statements and propositions’ are effectively no more than slogans. These slogans are markers of their group identification. Your counter arguments to these slogans, no matter how reasonable your statements are, are taken by them to be markers of your supposed, alternative group identity. That’s all.

Bad rhetoric pretends to be good rhetoric by pretending to use ethics (ethos). Their slogans might sound like they are based in issues of justice, fairness, social values, etc. However, the riddle in this tactic lies in its frame, which is an absolutely worldly frame. Their specific vision of social organisation and order hides behind their ethical statements. They are trying to assert their own vision of social order and to privelege their own group in that social order. Don’t be fooled by this tactic.

Bad rhetoric pretends to be good rhetoric by resorting to emotion (pathos). Fear is a powerful emotion because it suspends one’s ability to use abstract reason and reflection. People may fear not just violence, or the loss of freedom, but also the loss of access to food, housing, etc. Fear becomes 1000 times more powerful in the imagination that it could ever be in reality. Empathy is another powerful, weaponised emotion (especially when used against women). If you can instigate fear or empathy in someone’s imagination, it will be extremely debilitating for their normal functioning.

I am surprised how many Christians with faith are immune to bad rhetoric. It seems that a life led in the Church teaches the soul to know instinctively what is true. Many such Christians spontaneously tell me in their own words how they are dealing with what they hear, what they see, and what they deal with in their lives right now. Each soul finds a slightly different way to describe it. But each Christian soul cleaves unto the Lord, each Christian soul knows what is right and what is wrong, and each Christian soul bypasses the traps of bad rhetoricians. Such Christian souls avoid dialectical exchanges based in logical arguments, they disengage from debates regarding socially fluid, moral values, and they are not easily scared nor manipulated by sentimental feelings. Life in the Church provides immunity to the poisons and evil of bad rhetoric.

Vanity is self-idolatry. Vanity is a self-reflection. Vanity esteems itself as beautiful and worthy of display. This reflection of self is an empty thing. However, the naricissist cannot see his own emptiness. The vain man can only see his own surface. For him, his surface appeal is compelling. This is a passionate delusion.

Vainglory is empty glory. The vainglorious man doxologises himself. His thoughts, words and deeds are an ongoing eulogy of self-praise based on false appearances. There is no substance to his appeal. He has only enchantment. He enchants himself and tries to bewitch those around him. He is diabolically captivated, for the demons do not want him to realise his own substance.

Futile activity cannot last. A man will come to his senses. He will cease working in vain because he will see a problem with his aims and goals. Then, perhaps, he will begin to work for the Lord. When a man works for the Lord, he loses his vanity and vainglory. He achieves everything by the providence and grace of the Lord. Then he knows himself in his own substance.

Righteous anger is an energetic and focussed opposition to sin. It involves a hatred for the evil one and all his ways. When the evil one suggests a sin, the righteous mind immediately reacts against it with dynamic strength. As one holy father said somewhere, such an incensed reaction shocks the demons, stopping them momentarily in their tracks. It buys the righteous mind a little time, so that a Christian man might prepare himself for the next temptation that will surely come.

Righteous anger is the sudden expression of a man’s will. When a man desires to live righteously, he desires to rely on his Lord in all things. Usually, the temptation away from the Lord is presented to his mind as a picture, a sentiment, or a word-phrase. The righteous mind immediately recognises the blasphemy inherent in such things. The righteous mind loathes blasphemy, and repels these temptations in an habitually reflexive way.

Righteous anger is a two-step process. Having projected himself outwardly – “Get behind me, satan!” – a righteous man returns to himself in prayer, seeking the rest and peace of the Lord: “Maranatha! Come, Lord!” and “Lord, have mercy!”. The peace and rest of the Lord is infused with a man’s fervent love for the Lord. This fervent love is the source of a man’s strength, of his incensive power. Such love is dynamic. Why? Having returned to himself, a righteous man prepares himself for the next temptation that will surely come. He prepares himself by renewing his repentance, and his repentance is always an active process.

Righteous anger is grounded in a man’s dynamic love for his Lord. He does not want to lose this love, nor his connection to his Lord. He will bear with no blasphemy against his Beloved. He knows that the assault against himself is an assault against the image and likeness of his Lord that forms him. This blasphemy shocks and disgusts him. It offends his dignity, the nobility of his creation, as the work of God’s hands. If he is a repentant man, his indignation will then give way to sorrow, the memory of his own death, for he knows that he deserves his temptations and he deserves his death. But he knows that these temptations are permitted by the mercy of the Lord for the correction of his own soul, so that he may not die, but find life in the peace and rest of the Lord. His sorrow then gives way to gratitude to the Lord. Other graces, gifts of the Holy Spirit, may then quickly follow. He reforms in himself the image and likeness of his Lord. He restores unto himself the dignity and nobility of his own created nature, a work of God’s hands.

Without repentance, anger against the evil one is not righteous, but merely human. Such human anger will not repel demons nor shield one from their temptations. But when anger is righteous, and a man’s repentance has been rewarded by fervent love, sorrow, gratitude, and the memory of death, then a righteous man returns to himself in the life, peace and rest of the Lord.