Common wisdom is that idealists are naive. Viewing the world through rosy hues, ignoring grim realities, and employing the cheery rhetoric of “we can do anything we put our minds to” or “God will never give you more than you can handle”—such practices characterize idealists. In Faith Without Illusions, I open my section up on “Pop-Christianity: What Makes us Cynical” with a chapter on Idealism.
But can cynicism be an alternate form of naiveté? I am a big fan of The Economist, an international journal on global affairs. In an article addressing the astonishing populist movements now underway in the Middle East, the author writes,
The lesson from the Arab awakening is an uplifting one. Hard-headed students of realpolitik like to think that only they see the world as it truly is, and that those who pursue human rights and democracy have their head in the clouds…. Yet after the wave of secular uprisings, it is the cynics who seem out of touch, and the idealists have turned out to be the realists.
The last bit is worth repeating—”…it is the cynics who seem out of touch, and the idealists have turned out to be he realists.” This quote is positioned under a subheading in the article reading, “…but sometimes cynicism can be deeply naive.”
Having just written on cynicism, this of course struck me as absolutely profound. In my book, I condemn idealism along with cynicism, calling instead for “hopeful realism.” Within a theological framework, neither the idealists nor the cynics have it right. Sin and death render idealism untenable. The Resurrection of Christ renders cynicism unnecessary. So even though the article from The Economist is writing about geopolitical theory, I am thankful for the bold association of cynicism with naiveté. Cynics within the church know a lot. Their knowledge, it is supposed, makes them experientially and intellectually superior to the idealists—the idea is that cynics have left the delusional, naive realm of idealism in an embrace of cold, hard truth. But what cynics do not seem to know is the wondrous power of the Resurrection which has begun the end of all that makes us cynical.