Cynicism is rampant in secular culture. It also flourishes among Christians. Though there is indeed a great deal of disenchantment with God these days, "Christian" cynicism seems most often directed toward the church. As an untidy conglomeration of imperfect people from all walks of life, the margin for human error in the church is quite high, isn't it? We are a dysfunctional family of sinful siblings, repeatedly failing and injuring one another. Christians must constantly nurse in-house wounds. Thus the descent, whether immediate or gradual, into cynicism.
So many believers have now slid into those dark pits that cynicism is becoming vogue in many Christian circles as a self-identifying trademark of a new spirituality: edgy spirituality of the jaded. Since cynicism is emerging as a hip new way to be "spiritual," religious disenchantment is often hailed as a spiritual virtue.
How do we identify cynical Christians? They would never be caught in public wearing the ridiculous T-shirt they got at that legalistic dating conference from earlier clays in the youth group. Christian cynics would be humiliated if anyone found the old "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelet buried in their desk drawer. They would listen to the Christian pop music radio station only for laughs. They would try to avoid displaying too much emotion during a worship service or answering correctly too many questions at the Bible study, lest they suffer from the dreaded accusation of being "hyper-spiritual."
On a graver note, Christian cynics sometimes delight in watching fellow believers tread on life's landmines, and their flaunted skepticism can even become the means by which the faithful forsake their faith.
For obvious reasons the anti-institutional attitude of cynicism does not comport well with the established church. Cynical Christians are therefore situated on the fringes of Christian fellowship. Their position on the margins allows them to be close enough to the church to (often amusingly) criticize its mistakes while maintaining a degree of allegiance to Jesus (whose harangues against the established religious leadership of his day become favorite Scripture passages). Cynics praise themselves for taking the red pill of "reality," and then they stick it to "the Man" by unplugging themselves from the "matrix" of the institutional church.
But who does the Christian cynic "stick it to" if "the Man" is Jesus himself or the church he died for?
Such questions expose cynicism as potentially misguided and dangerous. Cynics have been wounded, or at least frustrated, and their edgy spirituality is the spirituality of those whose spiritual wounds and frustrations have become infected, when their brokenness has soured into bitterness.
Cynicism is a sickness. To be cynical is to be "contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives." Why is the temperament contemptuous? Because some defining experience usually provides the empirical evidence for becoming distrustful—and it hurts. Some of us, of course, have personalities more disposed to cynicism than others. But it is important to note that full-blown cynicism among Christians toward God or the church is often triggered by some revealing experience or series of events that hurts us and eventually impairs our spiritual health.
We could attempt to define cynicism as an embittered disposition of distrust born out of painful disillusionment. To be cynical is to be spiritually ill. But it is not terminal. Christian cynics, injured somehow in relation to their faith, need not go untreated. Wounds can heal. If preventative measures are taken, the painful disillusionment does not even have to lead to cynicism in the first place.