I will begin working on a couple of series of posts in the upcoming weeks, one focusing on cynicism (the topic addressed in Faith Without Illusions) and the other focusing on my impending move to England for PhD work.  This is the first post under the new series on cynicism.

Disillusionment thrusts us into cynicism.  When our tidy, idealistic impressions slowly erode away or suffer a violent explosion, then we find ourselves disillusioned, our feet jutting up heavenward by the ripping up of the carpet on which we once cheerily stood.  Disillusionment jars us, disorients us, and hurts us.  When these spiritual and emotional wounds fail to heal, they sour into bitterness.

Cynicism is a sickness.

And it is an epidemic.  Cynicism toward God and the church is rampant because the in-house wounds are so widespread.  Sadly, there is very little balm offered for healing.

But even though disillusionment hurts, it is also a gift.  “Dis-illusionment” is the dispersal of illusions.  Christians are called to embrace truth at all costs.  We are not permitted to enjoy the delights of empty illusions and false dreams.  In many Western contexts, we could use a good dose of disillusionment.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer would agree.  In my view, his Life Together is the best book out there on community. Early in the book he actually calls Christians to become disillusioned with each other (and themselves):

“Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and with ourselves….  Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.  The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both.” [i]

It seems to me that a great deal of energy is being spent on behalf of the church to maintain a lovely, presentable image fit for the fine, glossy paper of a fancy brochure.  The more we promote an unsustainable image of ourselves to the world and to one another the more we are promoting cynicism.  In a fallen world, the promotion of idealism will always lead to cynicism.  So the sooner we are disillusioned, the better.
But once again: disillusionment hurts.  The shock and disorientation of being undeceived leads to a great deal of initial misery.  I would contend, however, that though we may not be responsible for the wounds we have suffered, we are surely responsible for how we manage those wounds.  Patients tend to heal best when they are committed to their healing.
So what are we going to do with all our disillusionment?  Will we check into the cynics’ ward for spiritual rehab?  Or will we lie in the seething pain of our bitterness?   More anon….

[i] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community (tr. John W. Doberstein; New York: HarperCollins, 1954), 26-27.  After citing this in Faith Without Illusions, I noticed that Dick Keyes cites from the same passage in Dick Keyes, Seeing Through Cynicism: A Reconsideration of the Power of Suspicion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 203.

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