few days ago, I received a response to last week’s post from my good friend Kim. Kim is both a deeply committed Christian and a remarkable thinker, so it came as no surprise that her response took the whole conversation in a new and deeper direction—away from a critique of today’s cynicism and toward a reflection on cynics themselves and how they might move from cynicism to hope. Here (lightly edited and condensed to fit the space here) is an excerpt:
First off, I totally one hundred percent agree with your critique of the cynical mindset…. I also agree that critiques of culture, institutions, or individual circumstances need a “To” direction. Getting rid of the negative or undesirable factors, without also having a positive outcome towards which you are aiming, tends not to get anywhere….
Having said that, I think the article falls short in that it…doesn’t exactly address the larger issue. In my experience with cynics, and I encounter many…there is no motivation on the part of cynics to change. They are not seeking a positive “To” direction, because they do not believe that change is indeed possible. “Life’s a bitch, and then you die” is a fair summation of the cynic’s philosophy, mindset, worldview. Everything that could be tried has been tried, and found wanting. In short, the cynic’s view is undergirded by a general sense of hopelessness. If they did not feel that the situation (whatever situation that might be) was not hopeless, they would not be cynics. If they could envision a “To” direction, they would go in it. But their negative mindset clouds their vision.
Vision is the ability to “call those things that are not as though they are.” In short, vision is faith. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. The visionary is able to see things that are not, and walk towards them. They realize their vision by seeing that which does not exist, and summoning it forth into existence by faith. Martin Luther King envisioned a world where people were not judged by the color of their skin. Mandela envisioned a South Africa post-apartheid. Bobby Kennedy said, “Some men see things as they are and ask ‘Why?’ I see things as they could be and ask ‘Why Not?'”
Cynics lack this basic capacity; in short, they lack faith. Not necessarily faith in a particular God or view of God, but basic faith that things can ever be better—better in their personal circumstances, better in our political system, better in our communities and institutions.
How does one get from Point A (cynicism) to Point B (hope)—that is the question….
I think…often the cynic is changed by the unfailing love he or she receives from a believer. I have been watching the movie The Way this week, and it has a similar story line. A father loses his son, he is angry and bitter, and in the course of completing the pilgrimage across the northern Spanish coast—which his son was undertaking when he died—the father is changed. He is changed not by anyone telling him he needed an attitude adjustment, but by the human encounters he experiences along the way. Our hard attitudes are most often changed, not by lectures, but by the unselfish love and mercy we receive from others. We are changed by patient love that wears down our defenses over time.