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.
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]
[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.