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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

All Beliefs Cannot Be Equal

All Beliefs Cannot Be Equal:
The Principle of Non-Contradiction
By Jim J. McCrea

No one can ever conceive that one and the same thing can both be and not be.   - Aristotle

At first glance, it may seem arrogant and intolerant to claim that Catholicism is the one true faith, and therefore better than its rivals and its imitators. Such an objection draws its plausibility from a false ideal of equality prevalent in contemporary society. Fortunately, there is a logical and straightforward way to demonstrate that religions cannot be equal: for it can be shown that they contradict one another on many points. For example, if Islam denies the Trinity and Christianity affirms the Trinity, they cannot both be right. If Hinduism and Buddhism maintain that we are repeatedly reborn and live successive lives on earth, but Christianity teaches that we live only once, at least one of the beliefs must be false. Protestantism holds that the Bible is the sole source of divine Revelation and requires no magisterial interpretation, but only private or personal interpretation. Catholicism, on the other hand, holds that divine truth is revealed both by Scripture and by sacred Tradition, and that the Magisterium (from the Latin magister [teacher], i.e., the teaching authority of the Pope together with the bishops in union with him, guided and protected by the Holy Spirit) is the authentic interpreter of divine Revelation. The Catholic view of Biblical Revelation contradicts the Protestant view, so at least one must be wrong. The inequality of religions comes from the fact that with pairs of such contraries, both cannot be right. If a religion is objectively right on a given point, it is superior on that point. If both views are wrong, a third view asserting the truth is superior.

This fundamental inequality of beliefs is based on a first principle of reality and thought called the principle of non-contradiction: nothing can both be and not be under the same aspect at the same time. Because of the principle of non-contradiction, it is simply impossible for all beliefs to be right, and therefore equal, at the same time. It is, of course, axiomatic that truth is superior to falsehood.

Some, however, have denied the principle of non-contradiction in theory. They maintain that it is "narrow" to state something is false because it contradicts something else known to be true. They say that reality and thought are richer if we embrace "opposites"- that is contraries - as equally true. Such a thing, however, is not possible. Such impossibility is apparent in the very nature of the notions that contradict one another. With contradictory notions, exactly one must be true and one must be false. When we assert as truth that "there is a Trinity," we are necessarily asserting that the contrary "there is not a Trinity" is false.

In paradoxes opposites can be asserted, however, in a manner that does not violate the principle of non-contradiction. It is precisely these non-contradictory opposites that give us richness in reality and thought. It does not involve the direct opposition of being to non-being for a given thing at a given time. For example, let us consider the concept of the fully mature and realized man, who is both tough and docile. He shows toughness in that he is immovable in defending absolute principles, but is docile in that he is totally receptive to accepting a truth that he does not already know. He is tough and docile under different aspects, so that even though he embraces opposites, there is no contradiction. Reality readily encompasses innumerable such divergences.

Let us return to the principle of non-contradiction. Even those who deny it in theory appeal to it in practice. To advance any argument- whether true or false - the principle of non-contradiction must be used. To provide information in a given thesis, statements must be made in that thesis that exclude those which contradict them. The ideal of complete tolerance, where all beliefs are equally accepted, is impossible in practice. Even extreme liberalism, which attempts to preach such tolerance, is rabidly intolerant toward those systems which do not agree with their liberalism. Christianity is the prime example. It is precisely Christianity's claims of exclusive truth that caused Christians to be persecuted during the Roman Empire, an empire that prided itself upon being "tolerant" and "open to all beliefs." The effect of the underlying principle of non-contradiction working in the minds of the Roman officials was to outlaw Christianity on the basis that it did not accept the Empire's multitudinous gods.

Catholicism, then, is not narrow, but infinitely broad. It is capable of incorporating all that is true, good, and beautiful. The very term "catholic" means "universal." Catholicism is the only religion that is capable of this incorporation. The Catholic Church accepts all that is true about other religions and other systems. Any perception of narrowness arises because Catholicism must of necessity reject what contradicts truth, goodness, and beauty. Following upon the principle of non-contradiction, it must reject the not-true, the not-good, and the not-beautiful-that is, the false, the evil, and the ugly. This is precisely where the Church's condemnations and "thou-shalt-nots" are directed.