In science class, we learned hydrophobic substances repel water. It’s easy to teach students that some substances “hate” water or that a plant “wants” to lean toward the sun as it grows, but this personification is only an analogy to teach an organism’s tendency to do something, not a result of its will.
Those who label others “homophobic” or “xenophobic” apply that personifying definition of ‘ – phobic’ to mean a hateful revulsion of gays or foreigners.
In an episode of the podcast Thinking Out Loud with Alan Shlemon, the host said the use of ‘- phobic’ is intended to make you “so afraid of being labeled ‘- phobic,’ that you’ll change your position or, at least, you’ll never express that position in public.” So, when someone is branded a homophobe, transphobe, or xenophobe, the attempt is to taint anything else that person says.
It works, at least on those who don’t think critically.
The potency of ‘- phobic’ is persuasive — it’s inciting — but its potency relies on several logical fallacies, chief of which is the ad hominem. This is when the subject is discredited without addressing the points being made. Basically, it’s name-calling.
Someone will say something biblically sound like, “Homosexuality is a sin” and the response will be: “You’re a homophobe.” This response reveals the name-caller to be someone who has no interest in learning from the person who doesn’t think like they do. We must try to understand the other side, not necessarily to come around to their way of thinking, but to arrive at the truth.
While there will be times we can’t, don’t want, and even don’t need to hear the other side out, we can recognize name-calling for what it is – obfuscation and an immature response to ideas we don’t like.
That’s a lesson we learned in school years before we learned about hydrophobic organisms.
The above was adapted from a chapter of my book ‘The Christian’s Dictionary.’ Click here to download the entirety for free.
– Scot Bellavia