Fighting Cynicism

 Cynicism is one of those sinister attitudes that is prevalent in American culture and life.  Popular songs talk about being jaded, a cynical slant drives some sitcoms and comedy routines, and political talk shows take on the tenor of pessimism, negativity, and sarcasm – which draw millions of listeners who in turn learn cynicism from the most cynical.   Even in the church some people seem to view cynicism as trendy and cool.  We can’t get away from cynicism!

If you’ve wrestled with cynicism or want to study it in more depth, I suggest getting Dick Keyes’ Seeing Through Cynicism: A Reconsideration of the Power of Suspicion.  In this book, Keyes basically explains the nuts and bolts of cynicism, questions its foundations and validity, and then gives biblical alternatives to cynicism.  For example, he talks about apathy, boredom, satire, cynicism against family, government, and church, and he even examines the philosophical forerunners of today’s cynicism.  I appreciated how Keyes explained Christ’s suffering, providence, humility, the church, and hope as he gave alternatives to cynicism.

Here is one section worth quoting – a section where Keyes relates cynicism to boredom (in chapter 8).

“Ultimate meaning in much of Western culture has been related to a personal God.  When that God is abandoned as a personal presence of authority and redemption, the need for meaning does not go away or evaporate with him.  Whatever is handy rushes in to fill the vacuum.”

“A youth worker in high school asked some students what was the most serious problem that they experienced, expecting a full litany of grievances about parents, money, stress, and identity.  They responded, ‘Boredom.’  In amazement he asked, ‘How? When there is so much to do, and you are always busy?’  They agreed, ‘It’s not so much that we’re bored, it’s just that we’re doing a lot of meaningless things.'”

“Our advanced industrial society has made it possible to be both busy and bored.  It makes high demands for technique and efficiency – quicker, cheaper, for power and profit.  These are the ascendant meanings in modern life, fulfilled for most people in the shopping mall in the form of more consumer goods.  But what sort of meanings can this offer?”

Keyes then goes on to explain how loss of meaning, boredom, satire, and cynicism are all wrapped up in each other.  These types of discussions are ones we need to be having!

I was recently talking to a friend about this who has dealt with the same thing: both of us have had people come to our churches with tons of cynicism because they’ve been burned.  They’ve been burned either by their families, workplaces, the legal system, or their old church that sold out to entertainment, popular culture, and Christianity “lite.”  In other words, solid Christian churches today need to know a lot about cynicism and how to fight it.  Seeing Through Cynicism is one that will help in that area.  I can say from first hand experience that this book is extremely helpful in leading people in the battle against cynicism.

Dick Keyes, Seeing Through Cynicism (Downers Grove: IVP, 2006).

shane lems

sunnyside wa

3 thoughts on “Fighting Cynicism”

  1. Not exactly related to this post, but I just wanted to share that I have read the copy of Athanasius by Simonette Carr that I won from the Reformed Reader and I have posted a review of it on my blog for anyone who is interested in reading!

    Thanks again for the book guys, it was enjoyable to read, and one I hope others will pick up!

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  2. Wow totally cool book … cynicism seems to be so pervasive among all of us, especially at the conservative end of things. While it is prudent to be modest and reasonable about our expectations (due to the reality of sin and the curse), this can so easily degenerate into a quasi ‘hebel hebelim’ (vanity of vanities) that distracts us from the many blessings that can be found, even in the midst of such chaos!

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  3. Thanks for the comments, guys.

    Kyle: thanks for the review and I’m glad you appreciated the book. (Note to readers: if you want to read his review, click on his name for the link)

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