Nov
11
2013

The Myth of Neutrality

No one comes into this world in a mode of neutrality. From the zygote stage on, there is a pulse that presses and propels us toward a more complete form of life. Embedded in the very being of all us is a charge, an inclination, an appetite for an end. The Greeks called it an “entelechy,” a force within us that impels us to something higher, to seek a fulfilling finality. Aristotelian/Thomistic philosophy is “teleological,” built on the notion that all living things are naturally ordered to an end that is consonant with the needs of their being. In this sense, as T. S. Eliot has remarked, “Our end is in our beginning”.

There is a marvelous French adage: “L’épreuve le plus croyable pour l’existence de l’eau, c’est le soif” (The best proof for the existence of water is the presence of thirst). “I do not doubt”, Johann Wolgang von Goethe wrote in 1829, “that there is life in the hereafter because it is in the order of nature that an entelechy cannot disappear”. The lungs need air, and air surrounds us; the body needs food, and food is present in abundance. The eye responds to light, the ear to sound. The mind is ordered to truth, the will to what is good. Intimations of the end are grafted in our being and the various facets of our being cannot be neutral towards their respective ends. The best proof for the existence of immortality is our desire for it that is present in our souls.

Neutrality is a myth. We are positively inclined to life just as we are negatively disposed toward death. The English poet and playwright, Joseph Addison (1672-1719) encapsulated the former in the opening of his poem, Cato’s Soliloquy:

It must be so—Plato thou reason’st well—
Else whence this pleasing hope, this fond desire,
This longing for immortality?

The desire for immortal life is not based on a choice. It is ineradicably present in us long before we ever make a choice. Likewise, happiness is not an object of choice. It is truer to say that happiness chooses us than to say that we choose to be happy. We cannot be neutral about being happy. A pitcher may choose to throw a fastball or a curve, but he is not indifferent to whether his team wins or loses. His choices are within the context of an agreed upon outcome. Our “longing” is an entelechy; immortality is its fulfillment.

Concerning death and oblivion, Addison continues:

Or whence the secret dread, and inward horror
Of falling into nought? Why shrinks the Soul
Back on herself, and startles at destruction
‘Tis the Divinity, that stirs within us;

We are made for life. Neutrality is an existential heresy. Therefore, a Culture of Life is not something that a person simply chooses, but is the natural consequence of living in accordance with one’s nature. One lives life rather than chooses it. We should be ourselves and in so being, we embrace life. Morality does not begin with a choice in the sense of choosing between two or more options; it begins with an acceptance, the acceptance of who we are. Our identity is not something that we can choose. It is who we are and we cannot choose to be anything other than who we are.

The Jewish scholar Leon R. Kass makes the comment that “You don’t have to be Jewish to drink L’Chaim, to lift a glass ‘To Life’”. Everyone in his right mind believes that life if good and that death is bad.” Being pro-life is to be in one’s “right mind”. To be or not to be in one’s right mind is not a valid choice. Once one is in his right mind, then he can go about choosing the particular things that he needs in order to fulfill his life.

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Can we be neutral about abortion? I know of a philosophy teacher at a secular institution who tried as much as he could to be fair to both sides in presenting the abortion issue to his class. Yet, one student complained that he was making the pro-life side seem more attractive. It did not occur to this student that the pro-life side is inherently more attractive inasmuch as it is congruent with her being. The pro-life view casts a light that illumines the soul’s entelechy. It is what water does for the thirsty.

Choice is not a primary operation, but secondary. It is selective and decides between options. What is primary is who we are as unique individual persons. It is a given, not something to be selected. Being pro-life is being in touch with oneself and on the way to richer and more gratifying experiences of life. To begin with a disposition of neutrality is to begin in a moral vacuum and get nowhere. We lift our glass “to life” because life embraces us, not as a choice, but as a gift. Authentic living, then, begins in a mood of gratitude.

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 Amazon.com. Articles by Don:

  • Mitchell Kalpakgian

    Outstanding article; Most luminous, succinct, and cogent. As Beatrice said to Dante, why are you so surprised that we are traveling so fast in Paradise? It is man’s nature to ascend to truth, love, heaven, and God just as it is the nature of water to flow downward. How easily we forget and need to be reminded that everything created has a nature: a plant, a dog, a child, wood, gold, a child, a woman, and man. If this common sense were recovered, so much of the madness of modern ideologies would be exposed for the pure nonsense it is. Instead of this sanity, modernity asserts man is woman and woman is man, good is evil, and evil is good, father is mother and mother is father–the utter abdication of all reason that governs political thought and academe these days.