Dick Keyes, director of L’Abri Fellowship in Southborough, Massachusetts, unmasked the dark side of cynicism in his book, “Seeing Through Cynicism: A Reconsideration of the Power of Suspicion.” I highly recommend it.
“Cynicism,” Keyes wrote, “does not get the scrutiny it deserves…it has some privileged position that makes it immune to serious challenge.”
“In some groups, particularly those associated with media and higher education, cynicism seems to have the status of common sense or self-evident truth. It becomes the default setting of many conversations. We don’t think to question it when it is all around us.”
“Some embrace cynicism with pride and defiance. Others suffer from a cynicism that they do not want but feel forced to adopt by honesty. Still others fight against it with whatever they find handy, and far more drift into it by accident with little awareness of what has happened.”
But, as Keyes observed, “Attempts to escape our own internal cynical voices are not easy.” But escape we must escape—if—we are people who believe in Almighty God, the maker of heaven and earth. Yes, we must be honesty and discerning. We must strive to see through triviality, hypocrisy, flattery, evil agendas and false motives. We must not be gullible and susceptible to con-artistry and sentimental optimism. Yet, we dare not allow ourselves to become ridden with suspicions and hardened by cynicism.”
Faith and cynicism
“I should say a word about my own history with cynicism.” Keyes wrote. “It goes back as far as I can remember. On a scale with cynicism at one end and sentimental optimism at the other, I have always been much closer to the cynicism pole. My instincts and internal voices have always gravitated toward suspicion when there is any doubt.”
“I became a Christian in my early twenties both because of my cynicism and in spite of it. “Unlike other worldviews that I had considered, I never felt the God of the Bible was asking me to put on rose-colored glasses. Even the heroes of the Bible were described unsparingly in appalling moral failures—lies, sexual aberrations and murders.”
“I did not have to give up the honesty and realism that I had valued. Cynicism claimed that the world— both inside and outside of our heads—was profoundly broken and bent. I realized that the Christian faith had been saying this for two-thousand years, and Judaism for longer than that” (Dick Keyes).
If we must choose between pessimism, realism and optimism, let’s choose “optimistic realism” based on the One who is, who was and who is to come. He said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).