God-centered blog posts from the ministry of John Piper.
The age of anxiety has given way to the age of cynicism,” recently wrote 30-year-old composer Mohammed Fairouz. “Among my generation, cynicism is no longer a bad word: it’s being celebrated, and often it’s mistaken for intelligence.”
During World War II, martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer had harsher things to say about cynicism. Writing from a Nazi prison he described the cynic as one who claims to tell the truth in all places, and at all times, and to every person, but in reality he is just a consistent liar. The cynic wears a halo as “a zealot for truth” but he ends up destroying reality. He “desecrates the mystery, breaks trust, betrays the community in which he lives, and smiles arrogantly over the havoc he has wrought and over the human weakness that ‘can’t bear the truth.’”
Cynics, Bonhoeffer concluded, “feed on hatred against the real — against the world created and loved by God” (Works, 16:604–605).
With the destructive force of cynicism on the soul and on communities, and with the rise of cynicism today, you would think the church would say a lot about it. It hasn’t.
Enter Mark Meynell.
Mark Meynell serves with Langham Partnership as Associate Director for Europe carrying out the vision of its founder, John Stott, to equip preachers around the world. For nine years Meynell was on the senior ministry team of All Souls Langham Place in London. And he is the author of a new book, A Wilderness of Mirrors: Trusting Again in a Cynical World, published by Zondervan.
I recently talked with him about cynicism — what it is, what it does, and how it’s defeated in our lives.
Mark, thank you for your time. First off, what is cynicism? How would you define it?
While we could take an academic or philosophical approach (and I do at points in the book), I’m more concerned with cynicism as a kind of cultural mood. So perhaps it’s easiest to see it in relation to suspicion.
Suspicion is the natural result of having your fingers burned by something or someone. If I can make a generalization, I think our contemporary culture of suspicion derives largely from abuses of power. If you’ve been the victim of that (whether by the state, the corporation, the community, or even the church), it’s no wonder you sense threats in other, similar circumstances. I’ve got huge sympathy for that.
There are all kinds of contexts where we ought to be suspicious. But cynicism is corrosive, and perhaps contagious. When suspicion hardens into a cynicism we cannot trust again. It is a fixed attitude — jaundiced and bitter perhaps — but devastatingly understandable in our world.