Glossary of Manipulative Rhetorical Gambits and Code Words

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Introduction

We humans have a tendency to want to win others to our own opinions and points of view. Ideally, discussion and debate would always proceed in a dispassionate, reasoned manner, with every party being willing to follow wherever truth leads—even if it means abandoning one’s own cherished opinions and convictions. The reality, however, is that we tend to allow ourselves to be sidetracked by the conviction of our own rightness, and by our desire to win the day with our own views. The result is that we may be tempted to take rhetorical shortcuts—shortcuts designed, whether consciously or unconsciously, to enable us to win the debate without having to apply ourselves to the hard work of an honest, humble, willing-to-be-taught process of dispassionate, reasoned discourse. Probably we all take rhetorical shortcuts; probably none of us are exempt.

To the extent I have contributed to this so-called glossary, and there may be other contributors, it is my goal to identify ways we can attempt to win the debate in manipulative ways, without regard to the substance of the issues themselves. Methods (gambits, ploys, tactics, strategies, etc.) can be manipulative. The use of words can also be manipulative.

In what follows, where I am the author I am using the term “doctrinaire apologists” to refer to the worst offenders. Generally speaking, I intend this term to refer to those who are simply unwilling to try to see another person’s point of view. In extreme cases, they are not even able to see another person’s point of view. In all of my edginess, these doctrinaire apologists are the people I have in mind. Still, maybe we can all take warning lest we overmuch indulge the manipulative methods of the doctrinaire apologists. Oh, and just to be fair, doctrinaire apologists will tend to be found on every side of every hotly contested issue. I do not wish to discuss whether or to what extent I have ever been a doctrinaire apologist.

Thank you, and enjoy.

by Gary W.

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Glossary of Manipulative Rhetorical Gambits and Code Words

Biblical

Biblical: An adjective applied to elevate any given opinion to the status of infallibility, as though it were Scripture itself. Is useful for inoculating the said opinion from criticism, for cutting off discussion, and for discounting any attempt to subject the opinion to an objective testing against actual Scripture. Generally used in an attempt to force one’s personal opinions on others.

Positive self-esteem

Positive self-esteem: A condition which invariably masks a child’s understanding of the utter contempt with which God views the child in the child’s unregenerate, fallen condition; a condition of such grave concern as to necessitate the withholding of all love, the experience of which must inevitably lead to a child’s infection with the said unalterably damning condition of positive self-esteem.

Condescension

Condescension: An attitude and tone of moral and intellectual superiority adopted when announcing that one does not deign particular persons, questions, points or positions as being worthy of serious consideration, or even of receiving the courtesy of a response or answer. May be coupled with an actual insulting of the other person’s intelligence. Useful in avoiding discussions in which one’s own position is unlikely to prevail.

Verbal Subterfuge

Verbal Subterfuge: The art of manipulatively communicating a morally reprehensible idea or impression to a target audience, but in a manner that allows the speaker or writer to claim that something else of a morally neutral, or even laudable, nature was intended. Sometimes referred to as plausible deniability. Note the etymological similarity between “subterfuge” and “subtle,” as in “the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which Jehovah God had made.” Gen. 3:1, ASV 1901.

Taking Out of Context

Accusatory terminology typically deployed as a tactic to avoid responding substantively to legitimate questions and observations. Specifically, what a doctrinaire apologist, often a pastor, groundlessly accuses a fellow believer of committing when asking a question or making an observation, whether relating to Scripture or to some other source. Often involves the commission of an emotionally aggressive interpersonal putdown/shutdown, i.e. a demeaning, shaming, putting down (by implying the deficiency of a fellow believer’s intellectual and/or moral capacity), coupled with a disrespectful, alienating, shutting down (as in refusing to extend the courtesy of actually responding to the substance of a fellow believer’s concern). Is useful in camouflaging the apologist’s lack of knowledge and/or the error of their views.

Tactical Exaggeration

A form of deceit wherein some one or more factual circumstances are inflated, either quantitatively or qualitatively, in an attempt to discredit, demean, distract or otherwise gain an advantage by means other than an honest and forthright discussion of issues. Is a species of outright misrepresentation. May be deployed as one of several tactical gambits in an overarching strategy of avoiding a reasoned discussion of matters wherein one’s point of view is unlikely to prevail on the basis of dispassionate discourse.

Truth

A code word used in place of opinion. Specifically, a word used to refer to any opinion for which a doctrinaire apologist can find the flimsiest of Scriptural proof texts. May be used manipulatively in a manner similar to the manipulative use of the code word “Biblical.”

I Don’t Need to (hear, read, study, discuss, etc.)
Code words meaning, “I’m not listening! I’m not listening! I’m not listening!” (Picture both ears covered with hands.)  May be employed by doctrinaire apologists, often with an arrogant, high-minded, I’m-the-authority-here tone, for the purpose of deflecting and ignoring any and every suggestion that the apologist give serious consideration to the arguments for a point of view other than their own.

Premeditated Attempted Soul Destruction

An extreme form of poisoning the well wherein premeditated ad hominem attacks seek to destroy, not just a target’s credibility, but the totality of the target’s life. In addition to other forms of provocation, may involve inundation of a target’s friends, associates, contacts, and even the public at large, with false and malicious allegations which, if true, would indicate the target’s utmost moral turpitude, utter depravity, absolute worthlessness, &c. In extreme cases, may involve demonic activity. With or without demonic activity, a spiritual battle is joined, the issue of which is whether the target will be drawn into an obsessive, all consuming, bitter, angry, unforgiving and self-destructive longing for and/or pursuit of vengeance; the ultimate risk being that the target, however unwittingly, will secure for themselves consignment to the Lake of Fire. “[B]ut if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:15, ESV). An extreme instance calling for deployment of the defensive weapon of Spirit-enabled forgiveness, in the sense of leaving of all vengeance to God. “Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath `of God’: for it is written, Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense, saith the Lord.” (Romans 12:19, ASV 1901).

Comment:  This writer does not recall having seen a single instance of Premeditated Attempted Soul Destruction practiced on this blog. For fear of retaliation, he will not here identify any example of its practice. Readers are likewise urged not to publicly identify particular instances of the practice. We may effectively pray for those we know to be targets.

Vision

A code word for agenda, especially when used within the context of an ecclesiastical organization in which the focus is more on buildings, budgets, giving, membership/attendance and reputation than on Jesus and “the least of these.”

Vision Casting

Code Words for agenda salesmanship. Is useful in gaining excited approval and promotion of, and participation in, kingdoms-of-this-world-building, fleshly, human, agendas; whereas use of the more straightforward terminology, agenda salesmanship, would be met with resentment and resistance. Thus, ironically, use of the code word becomes a means of manipulation that is in and of itself effective to overcome manipulation resistance. Is useful in manipulating group participation without an actual supernatural moving of the Spirit.

Fear Mongering

A particularly destructive tool for manipulating the behavior of members of a target audience. Often wielded unconsciously. Where wielded consciously, a favorite tool of tyrants and abusers everywhere, from dictatorial political rulers, to leaders of cults and cult-like religious groups, to narcissistic and authoritarian husbands/fathers. Objectives innumerable. In ecclesiastical settings, objectives may include manipulation of giving, attendance, acts of service, doctrinal conformity, and unquestioning loyalty to leaders, their ideas, and their agendas. Where wielded by leaders of cults and cult-like religious groups, objectives typically include victims’ self-isolation from outside influences, often to the extent of engendering bitter suspicion and outright hatred of those marginalized as “outsiders.” Involves efforts to stampede target audience members into panicked, unthinking action promoting the fear monger’s objectives/agendas. Fear being a destroyer of faith, the fear monger succeeds, whether intentionally or unintentionally, in separating his victims from Jesus and, therefore, from His Father and theirs. In place of hope, there develops despair; in place of love, hatred; in place of contentment, anxiety; in place of peace, striving and conflict; and so on. In extreme cases, as victims turn more and more from Jesus, and as their felt circumstances, therefore, become more and more desperately dire, their attention will be increasingly focused on the fear monger for promised answers, until ultimately his victims are in utter thrall to The One, i.e. the fear monger—who comes to be in every significant respect their priest, their prophet, their king, their idol, their god.  (Example:  Learn to Discern: Persecution or Hype or Agenda?)

Coercive Contemptuous Disdain

A belittling, demeaning attitude aggressively exhibited toward another in an attempt to manipulate conformity to the aggressor’s opinions, agendas or other objectives. Cynically attempts to play on the victim’s need to be valued, affirmed, approved and loved; and especially on the victim’s consequent fear of being ridiculed and rejected. Is useful where an aggressor is primarily motivated to prevail—to have their way—as opposed to seeking the true, the good, the lovely. Being a coercive ploy, is viewed by some as being in the nature of witchcraft, though without recourse to supernatural means. May have consequences not intended by the aggressor, including: 1) a tendency to drive the victim away, thereby diminishing rather than increasing prospects for successful control of the victim by the aggressor, and 2) a tendency to come across as a face-saving device to camouflage the aggressor’s failure to otherwise have their way with the victim.

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By Gary W.

2 comments on “Glossary of Manipulative Rhetorical Gambits and Code Words

  1. The call to holiness: a means of instilling guilt and fear for not measuring up, either to God’s standards or those expected in the church. A failure to exhibit, or ostentatiously demonstrate a desire for holiness disqualifies one from having a voice. Since the human heart is deceitful above all things, no one is exempt from the disqualification. The call to holiness thus becomes an effective means of silencing the ‘opposition’. Effective examples include, “You are coming across with such anger”, and “Your heart is not right, why should I listen to you?”.

    Declaration, early in the conversation, that one is ‘the worst of sinners’ effectively prevents denial of any accusation by the opposition who, by contrast, will not want to appear self-righteous.

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  2. I’ve commented on the recurring theme of equivocation. For example, Piper in a recent post used happiness/enjoyment and joy in ways that were bewildering. So, if we didn’t “enjoy” our job, we should pray for “joy” because we are lacking in faith.

    But, “joy” is a spiritual attribute, and “happiness” is an emotion. God can grant us “joy” even through life’s worst moments where we are not emotionally happy. As I like to say, I don’t think God calls us to pray our emotions into a box.

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