It’s astonishingly easy to be cynical. I’ve tried to give up being overly so in the last couple of weeks – especially in my blogging, and I have found how difficult it is to re-train my mind to think positively, and to come up with a good blog in the absence of an easy attack on some particular area of church life.
But it occurs to me that in one particular area, cynicism is not only unhelpful but is also hypocritical. That particular area is the area of doubt. One of the most frustrating and difficult aspects of wrestling with or questioning faith on any significant level is that others, less conflicted or confused about what they may or may not believe or what may or may not be true, can trivialise doubt.
My reaction to this was to find a new spiritual home among the doubters. I gobbled up anything written by the likes of Pete Rollins, Søren Kierkegaard, Kester Brewin and other writers and theologians. I read poetry by fellow strugglers. I spent hours dismantling faith arguments, and I even gave up God for lent. In part, these were genuine attempts to reconnect with some kind of spirituality and some kind of faith.
But they were also done to make a point. I wanted to show all of those who trivialised my struggles that I wasn’t alone. I wanted to show them that I could carve my own way in the world without their trite statements and their optimistic outlooks. I wanted to wind them up with my “a/theism”. I had become totally cynical about belief.
The upshot of this is that instead of creating a positive space for doubt, I colluded with others over the death of Evangelical/Modern Christianity. Instead of showing grace to those who misunderstood me, I showed contempt. And in return I created more distance, more misunderstanding, and further problems.
Moreover, having moved on from the depths of this, I find myself now struggling with even the most basic aspects of church or faith, precisely because of my cynicism. On one level, I can see great value in this. It is cautious, reserved and unlikely to allow me to commit to something I shouldn’t. On another level, it means that I find myself doing mental gymnastics trying to justify taking part in church over the most basic of theological discrepancies.
Maybe this is all just me. But I have had many a conversation with cynical and struggling friends, and the one thing I can see consistently happening is an inability to engage further with church. The cynical me says “so what”. But the part of me that is trying to shed that way of thinking reminds the rest of me that the church is what I’ve got – whether I like it or not. The church is at the very least a small part of a whole bunch of people who are pursuing the same God that I am pursuing. At the very most they are my co-pilgrims though life.
Worse still I see this affecting my relationship with “God” (quotes used for effect, of course). If I posture myself negatively towards the world and towards my ability to interact with God, then I wonder if maybe, just maybe, I am taking the easy route out. Or not the easy route, but an easy route.
The other easy route is to believe, to not question, to commit without over-thinking, to be sure of my faith and not allow it to be probed, prodded, ripped apart and reassembled. But perhaps there is a better middle way? I’m just not sure yet exactly what it looks like.