Tag Archives: cynicism

Rational/Emotional Logic

A friend “wrote an entry”:http://fadingdust.wordpress.com/2007/02/01/its-all-in-your-head yesterday that got me thinking – the natural state of so-called ‘rational thinkers’ is, at best, skepticism and, at worst, out-right cynicism and condescension. The rational thinker realizes that there is always something more to learn, something more to know. He realizes that never in his life will he be able to get his mind around everything there is to know and experience; he realizes that any conclusion he comes to is going to be prone to error. Every fact and tidbit is subject to revision as more data is received, processed, and catalogued. Doubt and uncertainty become, to some extent, a way of life because everything the rationalist knows is subject to change, given the right sort of revelations (usually involving new things coming from the scientific community).

So it’s ironic, then, that the more knowledge one possesses, the less rational that person can become. Human beings are, by their very natures, emotional creatures. Everything we do and think involves an emotional factor, an _irrational_ reaction that rationality by itself often cannot predict or counter. Because everything the rationalist knows can be called into question, can be subject to revision, there is an inherent emotional stressor (called doubt) present that often goes unidentified, one that, if left unchecked, can actually undermine the very process of rational thought.

The rationalist attempts to logically work his way through a problem area, using critical thinking as his primary tool. He works from a set of “presuppositions”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2007/01/26/presuppositionalism-science-and-faith/ based on those bits of knowledge he already possesses and has been able to fit together, leaving any of them open to revision in the event he finds that the new information he has just gleaned sheds some new light on any of those beliefs. He neglects, however, to account for the seemingly random emotional factor, disregarding it as unimportant exactly _because_ it is not ‘rational.’ So, when he is faced with a confrontational factor during this rational process, he is frequently unable to deal with it and locks down his rational system, ultimately by walling himself behind those things he already believes and sees as ‘safe’ and solid because those are the things he has already worked through and believes to be true. As a result any information that was presented in a confrontational manner is disregarded as illogical and irrational – whether or not it actually is – because it evoked an adverse, stressful emotional response. This decision is typically reinforced when it is philosophical in nature, when it is something that rational science cannot itself examine directly.

The presupposed way of thinking is, therefore, reinforced – it’s safe and does not make the rational thinker _feel_ stressed or upset. It is ordered, structured, logical and is thus deemed to be the better conclusion of the two.

Sometimes, then, rational thinking can, in fact, be an emotional reaction and therefore be the more irrational of the two. True rational thought should recognize the presence of emotion and not only prevent it from ruling the thought process but should take it into account and even integrate it.

It’s Not About Christians

It’s always sad when the Body of Christ drives its members away. I’ve written at length in the past about the state of the American church and how we need to strive to refocus it toward the ideals that Christ taught, spurning the lackadaisical attitudes that have become so common in our culture.

But I want to focus on another perspective, that of the “former Christians”:http://deadyouthpastor.blogspot.com/. I understand where people are coming from here. I’ve been there myself — bitter and cynical and tired of the way things are in so many of our churches, among the very people who are supposed to demonstrate a higher calling and a better way of life. And when Christians turn their backs on God and church and begin calling themselves ‘former Christians’, that says one of two things to me — either they were never Christian to begin with, or they have simply allowed the flesh to rule out over the power of Christ to renew and restore, a very easy thing to do, I might add. I hurt for these people because I know what it feels like to be in that place, angry at Christians for being just regular people, for saying they represent a Higher Power but acting like everyone else and for not being different or special.

But it’s not about Christians, and it never has been. It’s always been about Christ, and while it’s extremely easy to focus on the people, that is not where our eyes should be set. I am learning again what it means to set my eyes on things above, what it means to live by the power of God exactly because Christ is my focus and not the people around me. When you focus on people, all you see is failure and shortcomings. When you focus on Christ, all you see if holiness and light and joy and peace. Focusing on people leads to the kind of bitterness and anger that we see so often in people who walk away from church. We see people who should know better and yet who fall into the very behaviors we are called to reject. It is only by focusing personally on Christ that we can find hope again, that we can see other people as Christ sees them, as people in need and worth reaching out to and drawing into the fold. We focus on Christ, and in turn, He grants us His vision to see the world as He sees it, restoring our spirits, restoring our hope, restoring our purpose. By focusing on Christ, we can then reach out to those Christians who have lost their hope and return them to the place that has meaning, restoring them to fellowship with the Body. But it starts with us, it starts with me. I must be focusing on Christ if I ever hope to help another do the same.

To Serve

In order to be a servant, one must first be willing to serve. Seems like that would be common sense, right? Not necessarily so. I went through a bleak period not so long ago during my work on my master’s degree where I wallowed in depression and where, while not exactly turning my back on Him, I did not exactly seek God out. I was cynical and bitter, with the bitterness leading from the cynicism. I was disgusted with my fellow man and felt that he got everything he deserved, myself included. I had watched people create their own problems, ask for help, be given good advice, and then ignore that advice or give up when the solution to the problem proved to be more work than expected. It was frustrating and painful to watch (still is), and inwardly I threw my hands up and said, Fine, have it your way. This isn’t worth it.

And so I trudged my way through my master’s education, ultimately dropping the counseling from my double-major and specializing solely in social psychology. Part of this decision hinged on my bitterness, but mostly it was because I found out that counseling was just not a good fit for me. I didn’t enjoy it, choosing rather to focus on theory and philosophy and analysis, capitalizing on the gifts and interests that God gave me.

Somewhere along this process I realized that something pivotal had been lost. During my undergraduate education, I had been both humbled and pleased to find that friends sought me out often for counsel and advise (part of the reason why I thought counseling _might_ be a good fit for me). Even after we had graduated and gone our separate ways, there had been a certain amount of a continued long-distance consultation. But at some point that had all come to an end. No one sought me out, no one asked for my advice.

It didn’t take me long to figure out why. I had become so cynical and bitter that I didn’t want to be bothered. I had, essentially, lost hope in my fellow man, lost the optimism that he could change. I’m sure that I unconsciously communicated some of this angst, but I believe also that God stopped using me for a while, stopped blessing my ministry to my friends. I had a bad attitude; I was no longer a servant, just a selfish, depressive individual with no heart for ministry.

I have been pleased to note that things are changing for the better as I struggle to get my heart right with God. It’s a daily process, typical of the Christian walk. Some days I am eager to reach out to God and serve Him, while other days I struggle just to get out of bed. But my heart has changed, softened, and while I don’t ever walk perfectly (I do LOTS of stupid things), I do at least feel like I am making the effort. And there must be some evidence of that because people have started seeking me out again. It always surprises me when it happens, too, because I truly do not feel like I have much to offer, being the prideful, oft-arrogant, struggling person I am. Yet, apparently God sees something in me I do not for He has sent people my way. I can only hope and pray that I am able to help in some small way without becoming ever more arrogant. Of course, it helps that whenever I become too comfortable, something happens to knock me down a couple of notches again.

God’s funny like that…

Laziness

Despite my sometimes-cynical attitudes, I am constantly amazed and disappointed at the level of laziness in our country. Obesity is on the rise, both for adults and children, regardless of the all the new diet fads. Anymore, it seems that all of society’s woes are blamed on some physical illness or condition, but the vast majority of doctors will tell you that obesity is a laziness problem. Rarely will you find someone whose weight can be attributed to a physical condition like hypothyroidism. Typically, the root problem lies with people eating all the wrong things and not exercising appropriately. In short, people are lazy and getting more so by the day.

We see this everywhere around us. People will sit in their cars for 15 minutes, blocking the parking lot lane just so they can get that slot that is 30 feet closer to the store, when they could park a little further away, walk to the store, and be inside in a matter of 3 minutes or less. Others will drive around on little scooters, built to give those with physical handicaps the advantage of mobility, only to hop off and saunter to the head of the line. In many cases it seems as though people work harder at getting out of work than they would were they to actually just do the job straight up. And then they have the brass to blame their condition on everyone else.

Personal responsibility is an important value to me. In my mind a person should reap what they sow, and if a person is too lazy to get things done, then perhaps that individual should have to go without some luxuries for a little while. We might even find that the obesity problem in this country would shrink a bit (yes, pun intended). I do not, however, think that government funding of awareness programs is the answer. We have seen that they do not work, anyway. Instead, more time and effort should be spent instilling good values into the next generation, teaching them what it means to work hard and take care of oneself, rather than teaching them how best to mooch off society and get the most reward out of the least amount of effort. I tend to think that good parenting leads to healthier, busier, harder working children, who one day grow up to be healthier, busier, harder working adults. At least, that’s the way it worked with me.

Going From Cynical To…

I’m working on trying to be less cynical. I overheard a comment today about hard how people have been working this week, and my first thought was to remark about how poor the guy’s work ethic was. It wasn’t until I’d followed that train of thought for a little while that I realized that his statement was probably more observation, less surprise. So, I started examining his words in _that_ context and discovered a much more positive and upbeat viewpoint.

A little bit of cynicism is good – to a point. It keeps a person cautious and aware of the fact that people are rarely exactly the way they present themselves to the world, that they may, in fact, occasionally stab you in the back (whether purposefully or by accident). On the other hand, though, too much cynicism is a bad thing. It causes you to immediately assume the worst of people, whether they deserve it or not.

In this fast-paced culture where so many of our judgments of others depend on only brief exposure to them, we have to rely on stereotypes to fill in the gaps of our knowledge. Unfortunately, cynicism is, in itself, a stereotype, and it is one that generally causes more harm than good by flavoring every other stereotype that we hold. Many arguments and debates are caused by cynical attitudes, relationships are damaged by thinking the worst of others, and sarcasm carries with it a bitter undertone of cynicism. The only good way of countering harmful cynicism is to take the time to think things through, and that requires adopting a slower pace of life (or at least taking a time-out from life) and training yourself to be aware, both of the world around you and of your own attitudes toward it.

Cynicism has its place, I think, but it is a _bit_ like a fine spice – a little goes a long way.

Louder Than Words

Actions really do speak louder than words. And that can be a real barrier in the process of restitution. A mistake can be difficult to set right when a pattern of behavior predicts continued failure. Apologies are made, words of forgiveness exchanged, but such words are rendered mendacious if the subsequent behaviors do not support them. Trust is lost in the presence of failure, and the only way to restore trust is to repeatedly replace failure with success. One success, however, does not instantly repair the damage, even though it takes only one failure to destroy trust. It may seem unfairly balanced, but perhaps that is because in a fallen state, failure is more natural and so a habit of success must be proven rather than assumed. Best of intentions is never good enough; many a man has failed even while seeking to do the right thing. So, while an apology is good and a promise to improve is better, the only thing that really matters is whether there are actions to back up the words. The general consensus is that talk is cheap, but despite the cynicism of our culture, people do still expect words to be followed by actions. Cynicism is merely a by-product of so many broken promises. The power of a spoken promise, of our bond being defined by our word, has long been forgotten. Would that more men (and women) would live again with the virtue of keeping promises, keeping in mind the long view, and seeking to restore the dignity and honor of the spoken word.

The Disservice of Contemporary Christianity in America

The discussion on homosexuality here resulted in a few thoughts on the counterproductivity of the contemporary Christian approach to evangelism.

I do believe that Christians in our society today have done a great disservice to the homosexual community in their very angry, judgmental approach, something that Wilkins apologized for on behalf of those individuals in his speech. The result is that it makes it that much harder for us who do not hate homosexuals or pass judgment on them to share our testimonies of faith. I have been bitter and cynical toward Christians in the past because of this, something that God has been gracious enough to remove
from my heart in recent days, but I do feel weary at the thought of trying to break down those walls that separate Christians and the Church from those who do not believe, and not just those who are homosexuals. Personally, I do view homosexuals as every bit as equal as me and as every bit in need of a Savior as me. Why would I do them the disservice of holding my joy in, of being neglectful of their need? Where would I be today if no one had shared the Good News of Christ with me? Christ loves the homosexual just as much as He loves me and He wants them to live a life of righteousness, too, following close to Him. Those who follow Christ must give up some things, specifically those things that will hinder their relationship with Him. But in return He gives so much more. The homosexual is asked to give up an impure lifestyle, and at the very
least they are returned a healthy, vibrant, joyful relationship with the Savior of their souls. Is leaving them alone worth the cost, worth the sacrifice of withholding such a blessing?

I believe that Christianity would be a much more vibrant, much more influential faith today, especially in America, if all Christians would actually remember Who it is they represent and what it is that He taught us to do — love, share the Gospel, disciple, minister, serve – and compare that against they way they actually live and act. Actions speak louder than words, my friends, and I fear that the actions of Christians in America are sending the exact wrong message. No wonder we’re such hypocrites…

Accountability of the Body

It occurs to me this evening that within the Body of Christ, there is less accountability than there ought to be. Everyday I see instances where unbelievers are angry, cynical, and bitter toward Christians because of the general behavior of many they have seen and experienced. It pains me to know that Christians are perceived in such a negative light, but I also realize that those stereotypes and categorizations are justly deserved. Many Christians are sadly some of the more judgmental and hypocritical people I know.

But it also occurs to me that the Body should hold itself accountable. We should be policing ourselves, practicing the Biblical guidelines for loving, compassionate confrontation for the sake of the good of the whole. Anyone who claims to be a disciple of Christ is subject to this accountability, and any brother or sister in Christ should be able to approach any other brother or sister and confront them about sin, hypocrisy, heresy, etc. When notable Christians are in the news and/or are publicly behaving in a way that reflects badly on the Body, other Christians should be making phone calls, writing letters, making personal visits to that individual, expressing their concerns, citing biblical references for why the individual’s actions were wrong, and endeavoring to rectify the situation so as to repair the testimony of the Body as a whole. Yet we shy away from this duty because we are afraid of the confrontation, afraid of being rebuffed and scorned and ridiculed by those same individuals and possibly by others in the Body. But we should do it anyway because it is the right thing to do and because it so damages our testimony and hinders our work and the work of the Holy Spirit.

So, this is my challenge to all of you and to myself — stand up for what is right, seek to reprove, rebuke, and exhort according to the Word of God, and strive for greaty unity, harmony, and communion among the Body. In the long run, we will be stronger, happier, and
healthier for it, and we can really get about doing the work of the Lord.

Skepticism, cynicism, and disillusionment

I’ve been picking up a vibe lately. Well, it’s actually been a lot longer than just lately, but I’ve really been thinking about it a lot lately. Is it ever alright to be skeptical? Cynical? And just to further add fuel to the fire, what happens when a person becomes jaded? Disillusioned? Disenchanted? More specifically, what happens when any of these states of mind creep into our Christian life and walk, into our churches, into our testimonies? What causes them? Are they good or bad? If they are good, how do we take full advantage of them? If they are bad, how do we correct them?

Just for kicks, I actually went out and looked these words up. Here ya’ go:

skepticism:
1. A doubting or questioning attitude or state of mind; dubiety. See Synonyms at uncertainty.
2. Philosophy.
A. The ancient school of Pyrrho of Elis that stressed the uncertainty of our beliefs in order to oppose dogmatism.
B. The doctrine that absolute knowledge is impossible, either in a particular domain or in general.
C. A methodology based on an assumption of doubt with the aim of acquiring approximate or relative certainty
3. Doubt or disbelief of religious tenets.

cynicism:
1. An attitude of scornful or jaded negativity, especially a general
distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others: the public
cynicism aroused by governmental scandals.

2. A scornfully or jadedly negative comment or act: “She arrived at a
philosophy of her own, all made up of her private notations and
cynicisms” (Henry James).

Since the word ‘jaded’ was referenced in this last definition, I had to look it up.

jaded:

1. Worn out; wearied: “My father’s words had left me jaded and depressed” (William Styron).

2. Dulled by surfeit; sated: “the sickeningly sweet life of the amoral, jaded, bored upper classes” (John Simon).

3. Cynically or pretentiously callous.

And since I’ve been seeing a lot of disillusioned Christians, I felt obligated to look this one up as well.

disillusioned:
1. The act of disenchanting.

2. The condition or fact of being disenchanted.

Don’t you just love when a definition doesn’t really define the word? Try this. I think you might be surprised:

disenchanted:
To free from illusion or false belief; undeceive.

I don’t think most of us actually use the word ‘disenchanted’ to mean this, so I was surprised when I actually looked it up. Sadly, I fear that there are many Christians who believe there is a need to be ‘freed’ from Christian beliefs.

As always this post is mirrored over on my forum, so please feel free to mirror any comments there, as well.