Michaelangelo Antonioni’s famous movie’s title is a word with multiple meanings, entirely appropriate for the centerpiece of his story – the enlargement of a photo which revealed a murder-in-progress.
The word literally means “in-flation”, the injection of air into, say, a balloon or an automobile or bike tire. It can also mean an explosion, where something – a coal-face, a building, an automobile – is blown up into the air. Terrorists employ IEDs, “Improvised Explosive Devices”, to blow up, with disastrous effects, people and property. In economic parlance, “inflation” means the abnormal increase in prices and interest-rates, but it is also used to describle exaggerated claims and expectations of all sorts (“Readership of this Blog will soon top the million mark”).
I once needed someone to replace my teenaged part-time gardener (whose task was essentially to cut the grass) – a whipper-snapper with a whipper-snipper – and was shocked to see the tariffs proposed by professionals who blatantly tripled the price I had been paying a kid to do a simple job requiring no particular qualification. I finally found an adult happy to work for just 50% more than the lad I had, far less than the 300% expected by the “pro’s”. I paid him the same hourly rate which I charged for my individualized coaching sessions in English.
Inflation affects more than the sale of goods and services. In the realm of religion, the astronomical, ruinous fees practised by the cash-cow scam pretending to be a “church”, Scientology, for its “dianetic” “clearing of the soul”, comes to mind. This gobbledegook, of course, is fraud, not inflation. But mainstream Christian religion continues to practise a kind of inflation in repeating the bloated injunctions of Jesus, which, on the surface, are taken as expressions of the noble, lofty, Great Expectations He formulated for His followers. Three examples are worth analysing : “Turn the other cheek”; “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”; and “Worry not about tomorrow”. Taken literally, all these injunctions are absurd and potentially destructive of human society.
“ Turn the other cheek “
In a cover-article of this week’s TIME, July 23, 2018, which suggests that in spite of the current hardening of realpolitik and national self-interest around the world, certain countries offer surprising evidence that democracy is alive and well and destined to prevail. In this context, Armenia’s new leader, Nikol Pashinyan, is quoted as saying : “From the very first day, we kept saying we would not resort to violence against anyone, even if we were met with brutality. From the podium, I said we would be guided by a biblical verse : if someone slaps you on the right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too.”
Pacificism is a noble ideal. But if Churchill had not refused to submit to the threats of Hitler, he would have been guilty of an abdication that no doubt would have resulted in the Nazi domination of Great Britain. Instead of turning the other cheek, he inspired his people to “fight them on the beaches . . .”. There is such a thing as a just war. We have the right – and the obligation – to defend ourselves, our families and our country against unjust aggression. Jesus’ inflated ideal is that of a suicidal maniac.
” Let him who is without sin cast the first stone ”
Stephen Fry put this nonsense to rest in a fierce attack on the Gospel story of Jesus defending the adulterous woman against the hypocritical Scribes and Pharisees. Jesus’ brilliant rhetorical gambit reduced them to silence and to withdrawing, their tails between their legs. But as Fry wryly pointed out, taken to its logical conclusion, application of Jesus’ apparently exemplary act of tolerance and mercy would mean the end of any judicial system. “Let the punishment fit the crime” is itself a challenge. But to suggest that punishment should be eschewed entirely, in favor of blanket forgiveness, would seed anarchy. Fry, however, perhaps missed a deeper point : is adultery a crime punishable by law ? Under Islamic charia today and under Jewish law at the time, yes. But more enlightened societies have long since excluded sexual intercourse between consenting adults, whether married to another or not, as outside the pale of civil law. Jesus was ahead of His time here. But to infer from His action that genuine crimes should not be punished, would indeed be an inadmissable inflation of the concept of mercy, and the introduction of chaos into society.
” Worry not about tomorrow “
This time it was Christopher Hitchens who demolished this absurd “ideal”. Not to provide in advance for one’s future needs and those of one’s family, would be as insane as what fanatics are reported to have done at the change of millennium a thousand years ago. Individuals, families and societies are obliged to assure their own survival, to “worry about tomorrow”. The contrary would mean the end of education, agriculture, manufacturing including the building of shelters, acquiring warm clothes for Winter, storing for later consumption and saving for future needs. Not only did Jesus get carried away by His own lofty, thoughtless, irresponsible rhetoric, but His followers were invited to make “In God we trust” a substitute for personal effort. Luckily few Christians ever took Him seriously, save a few fanatics like Francis of Assisi . . .
Some have said that Christian scientists (not the sect but scientists who believe in God) leave their faith at the door of their laboratory. The insane inflation of ideals as preached by Jesus implies that Christians leave their brains at the door of their church.