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Notre Dame, False Dichotomies, and Societal Values

Why Believing in One Concept is not Necessarily Contrary to Another

“Speaking as a Catholic here…please don’t donate money to help Notre Dame. The church is worth $300 billion. Donate to help Puerto Rico recover. Donate to get the people of Flint clean water. Donate to get kids out of cages. Jesus didn’t care about stained glass. He cared about humans.” (1)

As a citizen of the world, I am absolutely appalled by this misguided statement made by author Kristan Higgins. Why am I appalled? I am appalled because Notre Dame is a symbol of not only the Catholic Church but of a millennium of culture. It is essentially a living, breathing historical monument that gives its own unique perspective on the French Revolution. It holds countless forms of priceless art, not to mention a plethora of religious relics including the purported crown of thorns that sat on the head of Jesus Christ during his crucifixion. This monument to French history is appreciated by millions of individuals around the world, of different faiths and different values. It is a timeless gem, and the loss of Notre Dame, or the lack of its restoration, is arguably truly devastating for all of humanity.

This leads to the next question. Why would someone make such a careless statement? In essence, Ms. Higgins has fallen prey to the misunderstanding brought upon us by false dichotomies. False dichotomies advocate, what some call, “the either-or fallacy,” also referred to as “black-and-white thinking.” (2) For example, individuals offended by the “Black Lives Matter Movement,” argue that “All lives matter.” However, simply because a movement advocates that the lives of African Americans in the United States matter, does not mean, or in any way advocate, that the lives of white, Asian, or other ethnic groups do not matter. Advocating for one group does not mean advocating against others. Similarly, simply because a person is pro-choice, does not mean they are against, or in any way opposed, to women choosing to continue with their pregnancies. On the whole, the pro-choice movement advocates the introduction of choices to young women, and the provision of assistance to them, regardless of what personal choice they make.

The false dichotomy advocated by Ms. Higgins argues that if you give money to a cause such as Notre Dame, you inherently do not care about people suffering around the world. This is not the case. One can care about restoring Notre Dame, and allocate money toward this cause, while still caring about “kids in cages” or people having clean water in Michigan. One must not care about one cause, to the exclusion of the other. Perhaps Ms. Higgins made her statement simply to be inflammatory and to start a dialogue on this matter. However, it is also very possible that Ms. Higgins believes what she stated, and in the process of taking her stance, ultimately misdirected funds that could have gone to help restore this timeless symbol of our humanity. Either way, it is important for individuals to understand the fallacy of false dichotomies, and not to fall prey to individuals making “either-or” arguments.

I am honored to have had the privilege of seeing Notre Dame twice before it burned. I am also thankful that my nine-year-old niece, who is well on her way to being a citizen of the world, also experienced the privilege of seeing and learning about this glorious cathedral. Contributing to its restoration, in any way one can, is a worthwhile endeavor, and it is not to the exclusion of other worthwhile causes around the world. In essence, one can care about the poor, and the restoration of Notre Dame, at the very same time, without degrading the value of the other. I implore you to give, to whatever cause moves you, without hesitation. Quite simply, in doing so, one can never go wrong, and, in the end, all of humanity ultimately benefits.

  1. https://amarketnews.com/2019/04/17/please-dont-donate-to-help-notre-dame-said-author-kristan-higgins/
  2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dilemma
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