Maya Angelou famously said:

There is nothing so pitiful as a young cynic because he has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing.

There is a sense in which she is spot-on. But then again Wife-Unit read something to me once about how cynics regard everybody as equally corrupt while idealists regard everybody as equally corrupt, except themselves.

My dear friend Patrick Mitchel is gallavanting across Europe on his summer holidays and recently posted some Luther-esque thoughts from Germany:

So, in Luther Platz in Worms, I asked myself ‘How is my passion for [God’s] truth?’

In the ensuing comments Patrick proposes the following:

And I’d have to put cynicism as the greatest
‘passion killer’

I was discussing this with Wife-Unit before breakfast because I have sometimes been accused of being cynical. And it has always been intended as a derogative, as against suggesting that I am a modern day follower of Diogenes of Sinope. Curiously, it is on issues that I feel most passionate about that I am most likely referred to as a cynic. I am a cynic when I question the role of funding in Christian organisations. I am a cynic when I try to probe the militaristic assumptions of the contemporary Christian imagination. I am a cynic when I am not naturally convinced of the trustworthiness of every Christian or Christian organisation.

In my experience, people are called cynics in the church when they don’t like easy answers.

I find it hard to imagine a Christian who is appraised of church history and plugged into the direct legacy of say, the Irish church, that isn’t cynical about it. That is the beginning of a moral response to the church.

When you are a passionate person, you express both your negative and your positive passions. One can’t think of a clearer example of this than Martin Luther himself. He was a completely and utterly tortured soul. He led a sleepless life. His passion was fueled by a definitive, cynical exhaustion with the worldly compromises and self serving narratives of the church. His positive passion for the truth is to be commended but he had an equally negative view of untruth. As the ever-learned Wife-Unit pointed out, Luther’s life is a testimony to how fitting it is that the etymological root of passion is in suffering.

Regardless of what you make of my take on cynicism, one must agree that referring to individuals as cynics is actually an excellent way to shut them up. If I am right that a church without cynics would be a church with little accountability, then those two facts mean that regardless of how it might be experienced as passion-killing, “cynicism” is an essential act of the mature Christian.

Your Correspondent, The cynics always sound smarter than optimists because they have so much evidence on their side

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