Cynicism

Sometimes I think I am raising cynics! Their biggest criticism when we are watching a movie or something that ends in a “sappy” way is, “that is SO cheesy!”
Sometimes I wonder how our childhoods could be so different. I grew up sitting next to my dad every Monday night watching “Little House on the Prairie.” After almost every show, he would be wiping his tears [as would I] as we watched another heartfelt ending where Charles, too, would be crying. Talk about cheesy….but I don’t think I knew what cheesy was until I was in college.
We live in an extremely cynical culture—it is cool to be cynical in fact. I’m sure it is largely the product of seeing so much—so much media, so much news, so much reality TV. We become skeptics. But I am starting to question if it isn’t important to be more naïve at times.
If you are always cynical, how are you going to read the bible, for example? Yeah, right, that didn’t really happen. But many think it is vital to at least start out believing wholeheartedly in things. It is probably at root why we teach our kids about Santa. We want them to learn about belief. About putting doubt aside. Because there will be plenty of time for doubt later in life.
When I went to college and took religion, it felt like the professor was trying to tear down my faith. Was there really a Noah? Thankfully, I was not left there in stuck in cynicism, but came out on the other end, with faith that I think is actually stronger.
I remember learning about a theologian named Paul Ricoeur in seminary, and something he talked about called the second naiveté. I found an article written about this, and the author, Jacob Schriftman, writes: “In Freud and Philosophy, Ricoeur talks about the philosophy of suspicion [I would call it cynicism….] set up by Freud and others, and he says that the opposite of suspicion is faith. But what faith? “No longer, to be sure, the first faith of the simple soul, but rather the second faith of one who has engaged in hermeneutics, faith that has undergone criticism, post-critical faith.” The maxim of such post-critical faith is, “Believe in order to understand, understand in order to believe.”
Our culture wants us to be suspicious and doubtful. The Evil One especially likes to go after our kids, teaching them to doubt everything. I don’t know what the solution is, other than to keep telling them the stories, to help them believe with all of their hearts. Probably limit some of what they see.
But God also wants us to be thoughtful. God gave us brains and God wants us to use them. And as we grow, that is what we learn to do. That is why we have things like confirmation, for example. As Ricoeur said, we believe so that we can understand, and we understand so that we can believe.
I know as I came to the second naiveté, I began to realize that God can do anything. Did every story happen exactly as we read it? Maybe. I hope so. But maybe not. But that isn’t really the point. The point is: to understand that God’s love and forgiveness were given to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And this love and forgiveness is also for the whole world.
We start out believing in anything and everything because we have to learn to believe. We live in a world where it can be almost impossible not to be cynical. But that is why God invented hope. And that is what we can cling to, teach our kids, and remember ourselves. A hope that, even in the midst of cynicism, can still proclaim that with God, the best is yet to come.

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One response to “Cynicism

  1. Very important subject. Well said. I wonder how many who go to college – whether secular or sacred – will come out with faith? I think the challenges have grown exponentially. For me what made the difference was a few professors who had a personal and corporate faith in Christ. I wonder if there are many of those believing professors left to help students put their faith back together after it is challenged, etc. I wonder how many students who go to even our “Lutheran” schools in this decade come out excited to participate in local congregations? Thanks for this thoughtful word.

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