Banishing Cynicism

Dan Holloway, Pinnacle Associate 

Like many other people, I was both shocked and saddened by the news that progressive Christian writer Rachael Held Evans had died earlier this year at the age of 37. I have found her books both helpful and stimulating over the years, including in those times when my own faith journey has led me to differing conclusions. So this summer I have found myself going back to some of her earlier books, and when I did that recently, I came upon a powerful quote from the book Searching for Sunday. The book is a reflection on her struggles with the Christian Church and the ways she has so often found herself out of place in that church. Yet towards the end of the book she offers this remarkable quote:

“What I am learning….is that I can’t begin to heal until I’ve acknowledged my pain, and I can’t acknowledge my pain until I’ve kicked my dependence on cynicism. Cynicism is a powerful anesthetic we use to numb ourselves to pain, but which also, by its nature, numbs us to truth and joy. Grief is healthy. Even anger can be healthy. But numbing ourselves with cynicism in an effort to avoid feeling those things is not.” 

When I write off all evangelicals as hateful and ignorant, I am numbing myself with cynicism. When I jeer at their foibles, I am numbing myself with cynicism. When I roll my eyes and fold my arms and say, “Well, God can’t be present over there,” I am numbing myself with cynicism…..And I am missing out. I am missing out on a God whose grace I need just as desperately as that woman with whom I have so passionately disagreed. Cynicism may help to create simpler storylines which good guys and bad guys, but it doesn’t make us any better at telling the truth, which is that most of us are a frightening mix of good and evil, sinner and saint.”

Surely those words were written for such a time as this. One of the great dangers of our age is that we succumb to cynicism, that we move towards a posture of contempt towards those with whom we disagree. This is a challenge for all of us, no matter which side of the theological or political fence we find ourselves on these days. How easily we fall into the habit of labeling those with whom we disagree as useless and less than human. Yet somehow the truth is far more complex than that. Perhaps a basic spiritual discipline for modern disciple is to resist cynicism and to cling to hope for all with all the power that God can give us.

Helen Renew