Is The Church Too Negative?

It is easy to cast anything in the negative. Such a maneuver, however, does not change its meaning. The statement “All frogs are amphibians” is equivalent to “No frogs are non-amphibians.” This change in words, without affecting a change in meaning is called “obversion” and is taught to freshmen in first-year logic. “All trees are living things” is equivalent to “No trees are non-living thing.” Negating both the subject and the predicate maintains the meaning of the proposition. Two negatives maintain the positive. If “I am here,” I persist in being here even when “I am not elsewhere.”

Nonetheless, logical identities aside, some people believe they have exposed a flaw in the Church because they can express her teaching in the negative. Thus, the Church is “anti-contraception and “anti-abortion.” At the same time, they applaud the secular world for being “pro-contraception” and “pro-abortion.” But the logical obversion of a statement does not alter its essential meaning.

10The statements “Some are for abortion” is logically the same as “Some are not anti-abortion.” Similarly, the statements “Some are not for abortion” is logically the same as “Some are anti-abortion.” Logically, it is contradictory to be “anti” every statement that is expressed with the prefix “anti”. In this case, one would be opposed to his own position. If one is “anti” everything, he must be “anti” his own position.

Logic deals with relationships between propositions, but not with the relationship between a proposition and reality. The Commandment, “Thou shall not kill,” is expressed in the negative. But the New Testament, in commanding people to love each other, reveals the positive side of that Commandment. If people love each other, they will not kill each other. Killing is not a loving act. The command to love is based on the nature of the human being as one whose authentic relationship with others is one of love. The command to love is not merely the obverse of the Commandment not to kill. It is grounded in the relationship of love that human beings should have toward their neighbor that is fundamentally real.

“Every unicorn is a mythical creature” is logically identical with “No unicorn is a non-mythical creature.” But there are no real unicorns. Logic is not a mirror of reality. But the Church is profoundly connected to reality and wants her subjects to enjoy this same connection. The Church’s teaching against contraception is based on her recognition that a real conjugal intimacy in marriage binds the unity of the spouses to their openness to the transmission of life. The Church is for marital integrity. Likewise, since the Church teaches love as the most real relationship that people can have with each other, it is opposed to killing unborn innocent human beings. The Church is always positive realistically, although her teachings can be expressed negatively from a logical point of view.

Saint John Paul II has taken considerable pains in his Theology of the Body to explain that Church teaching, especially in the realm of human sexuality, is not negative and arbitrary, but positive and realistic. By repositioning the discussion on sexual morality within the positive context of an authentic humanism, the first moral question becomes not “What am I forbidden to do?” but “How do I live a life of sexual love that conforms to my dignity as a person?” Naturally, by living such a dignified and truly personal life, one becomes disinclined to do things that are contrary to it and forbidden. But he refrains from these actions not simply because of a negative command, but because he rejoices in living a life that accords with his dignity and brings him the satisfactions that derive from being a real person.

The newly canonized saint is telling us that the positive comes first, and that the positive is not merely a logical alternative, but is profoundly realistic. He is not being “rigidly conservative,” but vitally realistic. It is perhaps for this reason more than any other that George Weigel has characterized Saint John Paul’s Theology of the Body as “a kind of theological time bomb set to go off, with dramatic consequences, sometime in the third millennium of the Church.” We look forward to that illuminating moment.

Dr. Donald DeMarco is a Senior Fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College in Cromwell, CT, and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. His latest works, How to Remain Sane in a World That is Going Mad and Poetry That Enters the Mind and Warms the Heart are available through Articles by Don:

  • Pingback: Many Parents Drawn to Faith Thru Their Children - Big Pulpit

  • William E Bauer

    Negativism begins with the familiar words “non-Catholic.” Thus separating Catholics from other Christians. While Christians who are not in communion with Rome, they still be Christians.

  • S. Quinn

    William Bauer: there is nothing at all negative about the phrase non-Catholic. It is purely descriptive, ESPECIALLY when discussing the teachings of the Catholic Church and its positions vis-a-vis the surrounding culture and media. Nowhere in the documents (see Vatican II, writings of the Popes, etc.) do Catholics say that non-Catholic Christians are somehow not Christian.