Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Resist the Temptation Towards Cynicism

Seek no refuge from commitment

Diogenes (the Cynic), by John William Waterhouse (1882)

This is sort of a double-tag. Fr. Ron Rolheiser, in Secularity and the Gospel: Being Missionaries to Our Children, quoted a passage from God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It, by Jim Wallis.

Prophetic faith does not see the primary battle as the struggle between belief and secularism. It understands that the real battle, the big struggle of our times, is the fundamental choice between cynicism and hope. The prophets always begin in judgment, in a social critique of the status quo, but they end in hope — that these realities can and will be changed. The choice between cynicism and hope is ultimately a spiritual choice, one that has enormous political consequences.

First, let’s be fair to the cynics. Cynicism is the place of retreat for the smart, critical, and formerly idealistic people who are now trying to protect themselves. They are not naïve. They know what is going on, and at one point, they might even have tried for a time to change it. But they didn’t succeed; things got worse, and they got weary. Their activism, and the commitments and hopes that implied, made them feel vulnerable. So they retreated to cynicism as the refuge from commitment.

Perhaps the only people who view the world realistically are the cynics and the saints. Everybody else may be living in some kind of denial about what is really going on and how things really are.

And the only difference between the cynics and the saints is the presence, power, and possibility of hope. And that, indeed, is a spiritual and religious issue. More than just a moral issue, hope is a spiritual and even religious choice.


Liam said...

Of course, Diogenes himself was something of a saint.

crystal said...

I like Waterhouse :) Good definition ofcynics. I go back and forth between cynicism and hope - hope feels dopier but better.

Jeff said...

Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) met Diogenes, then a very old man. The powerful young conqueror, being solicitous of the old philosopher, asked what, if anything he could do for him. Diogenes replied, "Stand out of my sunshine"...

"If I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes."

It's hard not to be cynical these days. Obama must feel like Diogenes, wandering around Washington with a lamp in daytime, trying to find somebody who's all paid up on his taxes.

Garpu said...

Did you see this post over at Whispers? and the rest of the Church says: "No shit, Sherlock."

Jeff said...


Yes, I did see that on WITL. I've been warning about the outsized influence of this Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos for a long time.

I could go on and on over this SSPX train wreck. I don't know how much I want to dwell on it. I thought the Der Spiegel article and the related articles summed it up quite well.