The polarization of “positive” vs. “negative”

For most of us in society, we derive our world view from the teaching and inference of those around us instead of from our own research, experiments and experience.

And so, most of us think we understand what the terms “positive” and “negative” mean, and we use them in this context of our own understanding based on how we hear them used by others, but we are missing out on the larger application. And because of our limited understanding of these terms, many of us have come to equate “positive” with “good” and “negative” with “bad.” And if you ask anyone these days, you have to be positive, and if you are then you are good, but if you are negative that means you are bad, politically incorrect, and not someone who is fun to be around.

Define What You Mean By That

The actual definition of “positive” lists 32 possible uses.  The one most people associate it with is #12a, which comes from philosophy and says “constructive and sure, rather than skeptical.” The definition of “negative is a little bit clearer because it can mean “lacking positive attributes,” but the #1 recorded definition for it is “expressing or containing negation or denial.”  But most people equate “negative” with bad, like bad karma, bad vibrations, bad feelings, and every other kind of bad spiritual connotation you can think of.

In fact, it is so bad that in countries that observe the metric scale called “Celsius” for reporting air temperature, the media and general populace won’t even use a mathematical term for denoting numbers less than zero, which is the term “negative.”  When the temperature is 10 degrees below 0 Celsius, the media will report that it is “minus 10″ instead of “negative 10,” presumably because the word negative is, well, philosophically negative.  It is so politically correct to be “positive” that we can’t even use the term “negative” in its correct application, instead favouring terms that won’t be confused with “bad.”

…But Words Can Never Hurt You

Why all the fuss over the definition and use of a couple words?  A recent pastor publically posted this on twitter:

4 kinds of people in your life: those who
add,multiply, subtract or divide.

Value & cultivate the first two.

Do you notice inference of the terms here? That only adding and multiplying are good. The insinuation here is that if there are people in your life that subtract or divide you shouldn’t value them. This is the problem with pop psychology masquerading under the term “Christianity.”

And maybe this is the problem in general. Valuing cutesy little sayings instead of Scripture. In fact, this twitter post was reposted on twitter by more than 100 people – presumably Christian followers of this pastor, showing that people heap up before themselves teachers who tickle their ears, and in return they parrot their musings. These teachings come from Dear Abby and Dr. Phil more than from Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

When Positive Words Attack

I’ve seen this in the political realm as well. When a politician has set their sites on a building project nothing can stand in their way. Not facts, not history, not debt, nothing. When a political opponent challenges their position with numbers, history and facts the proponent of the project has nothing to respond with except “you are negative.” And you can see these kind of childish personal attacks daily, in politics and religion. If someone can challenge a position you hold by faith by presenting irrefutable facts and history what will you do? Well, the party line these days is to personally attack your opponent rather than explain your position. And the way to do that is paint them with the “negatve = bad” and “positive = building = progressive = good” brushes. I can only assume this is why we are told to stand ready to give an account to anyone who asks.

The Message Is Incomplete

As for our pastor friend who recently tweeted out this simplistic and incomplete message, I can only imagine that their church is also simplistic and incomplete.  I can only picture that in their theology, that false teachers are seen as negative and something we don’t talk about as a result.  You might have a wolf salivating in the face of the congregation but it is considered “negative” to mention the wolf, so the wolf is allowed to be present, devouring the congregation one by one because the pastor won’t make the wolf known.

In fact, hell itself is bad = negative therefore you won’t hear it mentioned in a message at this type of church because we need to cultivate and value only that which is positive and multiplies.

Misrepresentation Works Both Ways

Now we have to keep some perspective here.  Someone who enters a church with the sole intention of inducing false doctrine so that the church may be divided is certainly a different situation.  In fact, some will argue that the pastor who tweeted this message is doing exactly that – entering the church with the purpose to divide – and his books can certainly lead one to that conclusion with the way he deals with dissenters.  You might conclude that this very message polarizes these terms, and is nothing but an attempt to convince people that his attempt to remove dissenters should be seen as “positive” and “valued.”

A Thought Occurred To Me…

Not all applications of “divide,” “subtract” and “negative” are bad. An example of “divide” that counters the common definition:

Mark 6 39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

In this previous instance, divide supernaturally looks a lot like multiply, but it was accomplished by dividing the two fish among those in attendance.

In a similar example, the word “separate” is used.  Divide and separate are synonyms, and the first definition for separate is “to divide.”

Matthew 25 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Personally, Christ separates, or divides the true believers from the rest – the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. It doesn’t say that he separates them based on whether they add or multiply, whether they divide or subtract, or on any other mathematical operator, formula or function.  But he did say he will separate us based on our deeds for God and others.

Likewise, the first definition for “subtract” is “to take away.”  An example,

John 1 29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Jesus, the Lamb of God, subtracts from us our sin, takes away our sin from us.

I hope that those who hear this would highly value the one who divides you from the goats and subtracts your sin from you.  Stop paying attention to pop cultures pastors who communicate sermons based on psychology in 128 characters or less.  There is more to be said.  The Words of Jesus in the Bible communicate very effectively.

I personally value Jesus’ words more highly than any other, and his ability to take away our sin and separate us from eternal torment are far more prized than any human that can only add to us more burden and multiply our ignorance of God.

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2 Responses to The polarization of “positive” vs. “negative”

  1. Jim says:

    Dear LITC
    Thank you for your post…You make the excellent point regarding pop psychology.
    If only “the followers” could see the deception.


  2. Julie Helms says:

    Nice post. I never considered those words that way. I am a firm believer in the power of language and think these ideas or nuances are important. But we are so sloppy and lazy these days we just don’t seem to notice…
    Julie Helms recently posted..Meet the Flock- DuncanMy ComLuv Profile

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