The Naysayer

Of the many attributes of human beings formalized in Latin—the man who knows (homo sapiens), the man who smiles or plays (homo ludens), the upright man who stands (homo erectus), and economic man (homo economicus)—another mark of man’s nature is his ability to say no (homo negans). This term indicates that human beings have the power to resist, confront and defy unjust laws, inhuman practices and grave evils that attack human dignity and violate human decency. Man the Naysayer utters words like “No!”; “Stop!”; “Enough!”; “No more!” Man by nature is not a Yes Man who merely acquiesces, submits or tolerates because of fear of punishment. Because of the natural law inscribed on the human heart and the voice of conscience written on the mind, man refuses, defies and fights when he suffers or witnesses great injustices or cruelties. Human self respect and a civilized society depend on this capacity to say nay to laws, practices, and techniques that dehumanize the person.

In Sophocles’ Antigone, a devoted sister proves the greatness of the Naysayer. Antigone, the sister who mourns the death of her brother Polyneices in battle, does not obey the decree of the tyrant Creon who forbids a burial because Antigone’s brother fought against the king in a civil war. As revenge, Creon leaves the dead body to be devoured by vultures rather than honored in a funeral ceremony. Knowing the punishment and the consequences of defying the law of the king, Antigone appeals to eternal law and natural law as higher authorities than arbitrary man-made rules with no basis in reason: “Nor did I think your edict had such force that you, a mere mortal, could override the gods, the great unwritten, unshakable traditions.” Even though Antigone suffers imprisonment and dies for the ideals of justice and familial love, her cause ultimately prevails as the king, albeit too late, recants of his cruel decree. Antigone’s example proves that might does not make right and that bad human laws invite disobedience for failure to conform to divine laws: “They[eternal and natural law] are alive, not just today or yesterday: they live forever, from the first of time, and no one knows when they first saw the light.” Great moral causes depend on man’s capacity for nay saying to evil policies.

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin also exhibited man’s Nay saying power to the utmost. A novel that played a powerful role in exposing the vicious cruelty of the slave trade—buying and selling slaves at auctions, breeding slave children to sell them at the market, separating black families sold to different owners, viewing the black slave as “an intermediate link between man and animals”—the book resonates with the nay saying of a moral voice that views this business as sordid degradation for both master and slave. When Mrs. Shelby criticizes her husband for selling Uncle Tom to pay business debts, she asks “how can I bear to have this open acknowledgement that we care for no tie, no duty, no relation, however sacred, compared with money?” All the characters in that novel who protest the evil of slavery resemble the chorus in Antigone who condemn Creon’s inhuman treatment of brother and sister. The son of a slave owner vows, “I resolved, before God, that I would never own another slave, while it was possible to free him.” Creon renounced his condemnation of Antigone, and legalized slavery under Dred Scott v. Sandford ended because of the many voices decrying the barbarism of legalized evil perpetrated by brute force and justified by economic necessity.

In Dickens’ David Copperfield, a ten year orphan removed from school and subjected to child labor in a factory pasting labels on bottles reaches a point of disgust and misery that makes him rebel. His young life a constant burden and struggle for survival, David commiserates, “I know that I worked, from morning until night, with common men and boys, a shabby sight.” Destitute, he forms a great resolution: “No. I had resolved to run away.—To go, by some means or another . . . to the only relation I had in the world, and tell my story to my aunt, Miss Betsey.” David has reached the limit of moral revulsion. He walks six days from London to Dover to plead with his aunt to rescue him from his wretched existence. David’s protest of “No” to dehumanization marks the turning point in his life that delivers him from the exploitation and abuse of child labor.

In the famous words of Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” If men remain passive, tolerant, indifferent, and neutral, they function as Yes Men in the face of evil. Man’s choice to be a naysayer who combats heartlessness and brutality in its many forms changes the course of events and restores human dignity. Christian martyrs who said no to the worship of Caesar and pagan gods changed the outcome of history and spread Christianity by the shedding of their blood. Christians who said no to Islam fought in the Crusades and in the Battle of Lepanto to preserve Western civilization and Catholic culture. The Polish pope who said no to Communism inspired a whole nation to unite against Soviet militarism and undermine its empire. The word “No” carries great authority, reveals moral courage, and sharpens the distinction between the ways things are and the way things ought to be. Man does not merely adapt and adjust to all situations. When human beings lose popularity, suffer punishment, sacrifice comfort, and even risk life to protest immorality with by saying No, they release a dynamic moral force into the world that does not let evil have its way or run roughshod over human values. To be a Naysayer is to refuse to be tamed or domesticated in the battle of good and evil.

Pope Paul VI’s “No” in Humane Vitae to contraception and the sexual revolution warned of all the dire consequences to follow as the bitter fruits of deconstructing God’s design for marriage and procreation, one of them widespread divorce: “It is to be feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anti-conceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman . . . and may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.” Paul VI also foresaw that “a dangerous weapon would thus be placed in the hands of those public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies,” a weapon employed in the Affordable Care Act that coerces funding for objectionable moral practices that violate conscience.

St. Pope John Paul II said no to the culture of death in Evangelium Vitae to uphold the sacredness of life, the dignity of the person, and the inestimable worth of every human being: “How precious man is in God’s eyes and how priceless the value of his life.” The Catholic Church says “No!” to divorce, birth control pills, implants, sterilizations, in vitro fertilization, and same-sex unions. While secular thought and progressive, liberal ideology attempt to make the Church compliant, tolerant, and accommodating to the spirit of the age, Christ’s church always remains countercultural, a sign of contradiction, because of its fearless stance of “No” to any development, practice, law, or technology that lowers man’s image as a reflection of God.

Political and economic forces and cultural influences like schools exert all the power of ideological propaganda to indoctrinate an unwilling Christian culture to say “Yes” to sex education, to accept same-sex marriage, to permit same-sex unions to adopt children, to assume that legalized abortion is fixed law, to condone cohabitation, to allow government to control population, and to approve of government healthcare plans that require funding for contraception and abortion. Organs of communication, the media, schools, and even some churches all engage the power of their rhetoric to make Naysayers into Yes Men. But the God who made man in His image with the gift of right reason, free will, and an informed conscience taught him also to say No to the forbidden fruit, no to false gods, no to the temptations of Satan, and no to worldly powers. A naysayer does not just say no to intrinsic evil but also never, no exceptions, under no circumstances, not in a million years! On this word “No” stands the future of civilization.

Mitchell Kalpakgian, Ph.D. has completed fifty years of teaching beginning as a teaching assistant at the University of Kansas, continuing as a professor of English at Simpson College in Iowa for thirty-one years, and recently teaching part-time at various schools and college in New Hampshire. As well as contributing to a number of publications, he has published seven books: The Marvelous in Fielding’s Novels, The Mysteries of Life in Children’s Literature, The Lost Arts of Modern Civilization, An Armenian Family Reunion (a collection of short stories), Modern Manners: The Poetry of Conduct and The Virtue of Civility, and The Virtues We Need Again. He has designed homeschooling literature courses for Seton Home School, and he also teaches online courses for Queen of Heaven Academy and part-time for Northeast Catholic College.
Articles by Mitchell:

  • scragsma

    “Dred v Scott” — ???

    Do you mean Dred Scott v Sandford, maybe?

  • Mitchell Kalpakgian

    Yes, thank you for the correction. I meant the Dred Scott decision (Dred Scott v. Sandford). I appreciate your noticing the error.

    • editor

      I’ll make the change – thank you!