The Self-Inflation of the Negative
The theologian/philosopher Miroslav Volf, in his book A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, talks about “the self-inflation” of the negative. This is when the tendency of evil looms larger than the comparatively much more prevalent good. Volf quotes Avishai Margalit, who writes, “It takes one cockroach found in your food to turn the most otherwise delicious meal into a bad experience. … It takes 30 or 40 ethnic groups who are fighting one another to make the more 1,500 or more significant ethnic groups in the world who live more or less peacefully to look bad.”
So does the self-inflation of the negative perpetuate itself. And it pervades all of life, from the spoiled dinner, to racial conflict to political elections to nagging negative thoughts about our neighbors.
Volf feels this tendency is strengthened in a world pervasively dominated by mass media. For instance, in a week shaken by news of the Brussels terrorist bombings, we in the States were actually subjected to constant reports of the inane rants between two politicians discrediting each other’s wives. (Did we actually descend to that level of dialogue, i.e., “My wife looks better than your wife”?)
In fact, Cruz’s wife, Heidi, who is attractive enough when unflattering photos are not being tweeted of her, is an American investment manager at Goldman Sachs in the Houston office, managing high-end clients whose accumulated wealth is not beneath the $40-million line. She served in the Bush White House as the economic director of Latin America for the Western Hemisphere at the National Security Council. She received a Masters of European Business degree from Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management in Brussels and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. Much of her childhood was spent in Africa as the daughter of missionary parents. Now this is an interesting woman.
In the self-inflation of the negative in this recent political instance, did any reportage on CNN, MSNBC, or in opinion pieces on the Internet, lift itself above the “my wife/your wife” inanity—driven by a gossip-mongering media and an ever-voracious public interest in the salacious—to give us a true picture of the two women at the center of this silly political controversy?
The self-inflation of evil. The self-grandiosity of inanity. What would happen if no one paid any attention to the howlings of the popular press and instead demanded a national conversation on what America’s NATO obligation is to the Euro Zone now under such duress from the overwhelming need of sheltering hundreds of thousands of distressed and fleeing refugees that many informed observers wonder if the European Center can even hold?
What would happen if we as a people began to search corporately for the comparatively much more prevalent good? What would happen if we began to insist on it?
Do any of us realize that in the middle of the very real rise of evil in the world, which makes headlines and causes leaders to panic and citizens to be afraid, that there is a commensurate rise in the much more prevalent good? Miroslov Volf mentions Katarina Kruhonja, a medical doctor from Osijek, Croatia and a recipient of the “Right Livelihood Award” (an alternate to the Nobel Prize). Her peace initiatives remain relatively unknown in the world and among other Christians. She writes that she became an activist during the Serbian shelling of Osijek, which forced her to center herself on the crucifixion of Christ. This “freed her will” and enabled her to “to resist the power of exclusion and the logic of war.”
Volf writes, “We know little about people like Ms. Kruhonja partly because the success of their work demands low visibility. But our unawareness of them also stems from the character of mass-media communication in a market-driven world. Violence sells so people get to see violence, without media outlets being much bothered about a disproportion between represented and actual violence.”
The self-inflation of evil is fed by the public’s all-too-eager interest in the salacious or the banal or the grotesque or the terrible. As Christians—corporately, as a people of God, not just individuals—we need to resist this purely human tendency to focus on the negation of life and demand, at least of ourselves, a focus on what is good.
For instance, the headline of a Christian Science Monitor Weekly front page for February 8, 2016 read, “Up From Poverty.” The tagline on the cover was, “Almost unnoticed, the world has made more progress on reducing poverty, increasing incomes, and improving health than at any time in history.” What is happening worldwide while our attention has been focused on what is going wrong?
Just a few statistics: In 1993 almost 2 billion people lived on the paltry sum of less than $1.90 a day (the World Bank’s definition of “extreme” poverty) or less than $10 a day for a family of five. By best estimates, the number was down to around 700 million in 2015, and falling. In addition, the change is widespread, stretching from China and India through Indonesia, to Mozambique, Ghana, Brazil, El Salvador and Mongolia. According to the article, more than 60 developing countries around the world have seen a decline in the number of extreme poor, despite population growth.
Today, millions more poor people have access to clean water and basic sanitation facilities. The share of people living in chronic hunger has been cut nearly in half, with better nutrition and lower rates of stunted growth in children.
to 1980, just half of girls in developing countries completed primary
school; now 85 percent do. Less than 50 percent of adult females could
read and write, but today global female literacy has passed 93 percent.
Fertility rates have decreased from 5 children per adult woman in the 1960s to 2.5 today, and global population growth has slowed from 2 percent to 1.2 percent per year—still high but headed in the right direction.
The statistics are incredible, and if you want to feel better about the direction of the future of mankind, spend some time researching “the comparatively much more prevalent good.” This is not a world, despite the headlines, ruled by the Enemy of this fragile planet, our island home. There is goodness to be found and acclaimed. It is my personal belief that this is what Christians and the Church are called to do—to work, empowered by the Holy Spirit, for the common good.
And yet, in my church—and I’m afraid in most churches—not a mention was made about the bombing in Brussels, and worse yet, no one will pay attention from the pulpit of most American worship centers about the Easter bombing by a Taliban splinter group. “Members of the Christian community who were celebrating Easter today were our prime target,” said a spokesman. A major explosion occurred as Pakistani Christians were leaving church. Some 72 were killed and over 320 wounded by a suicide bomber.
The silence of the Western church and our lack of prayerful co-unity with our suffering brothers and sisters around the world contributes to the self-inflation of evil. Our neglect, pure and simple, is a kind of collusion.
Here is one more fact about the more prevalent good among hundreds of others I could choose. The Monitor reports: “As incomes have risen and democracy has spread, conflict, war, and violence have fallen sharply. This fact surprises anyone reading the daily news about Syria, Yemen, or Afghanistan … while far too much conflict still exists, there is much less of it. The number of civil wars over the past decades is only half as many as there were in the 1980s, and deaths from war have fallen by nearly three-quarters.”
Are you amazed? I certainly was when reading the Monitor’s tally.
The causes for all this improvement are as intriguing to study as the results they have incurred but take pages to communicate. The point of my thoughts for this Soulish Food, however, is this: We as Christians must not get caught up in the evil spirit of our age. We do not want to be party to the self-inflation of the negative. In fact, obedience to the teachings of Scripture is the place where we need to begin in order to curtail its self-inflating rise.
If you are being overwhelmed by the self-inflation of evil, begin by memorizing Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think on these things.” Some of us need to work hard at this since we are so continually bombarded with reports of evil. We need to memorize this Scripture, then do what it says. Whenever you feel overwhelmed, quote the Scripture back to yourself, then refocus your attention. Keep a file on the articles that reveal stories about the prevalent good. Review them.
Then let me make some other suggestions:
1. Research, as much as you are able, what is true. The same technology that makes the salacious so ready to us can also be a source of ready education. Disgusted with the campaign dialogue about wives last week, I went to the Internet and looked up same basic information about both women, Melanie Trump and Heidi Cruz. Neither one of them deserved to be dragged into the mud sinkhole their husbands so seemingly seemed ready to sling through.
2. Pay attention to the small reports or the newspaper clips that report on the impact of goodness on the world. The Christian Science Monitor has an editorial policy to focus on the whole news, on solutions to problems and what remarkable people are doing in the world. When I was writing what became a prize-winning book on the refugee crisis (The Fragile Curtain), a subscription to this weekly became essential because of its balanced focus on world news. It still is essential.
3. Curtail your own conversation that helps evil to self-inflate. In other words, don’t become part of the American cultural norm—particularly during this presidential election circus.
4. Make a public statement about the good. One of the things self-inflating evil does is cause fear. Our great Enemy loves it when we are afraid. In fact, the angelic messages from Scripture were constant reminders: “Fear Not.” A friend had an extra roadside poster from World Relief. I claimed it and mounted it by our mailbox two days before Easter. It seemed to me a most-appropriate Resurrection message. It reads We Are Not Afraid. (This is part of a coalition of evangelical groups’ refugee support program. Go to WeWelcomeRefugees.com.)
An article in the same February issue of The Christian Science Monitor is in the standard department “Making A Difference.” The lead line reads: “Tom Szaky started TerraCycle to make a profit while helping to ‘de-junk’ the world through aggressive, innovative recycling.” Here’s the page pull-quote from this start-up founder: “Our focus is on anything that you cannot recycle today, and that is 75 percent of all objects in the world.”
How are we going to become members of the comparatively much more prevalent good crew?
Global Bag Project
Global Bag Project is being activated again! Elizabeth Thompson, Holly
Holmberg and Heather Ann Martinez are in the middle of aggressively
rebuilding the stateside support for the sale of reusable cloth
shopping bags made by friends in Nairobi, Kenya—women who are willing
to work hard to lift themselves out of poverty. Watch for further
updates as we move into our second phase of being supportive friends on
this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
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There is goodness to be found and acclaimed. It is my personal belief that this is what Christians and the Church are called to do—to work, empowered by the Holy Spirit, for the common good.
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