Archive for September, 2009

Romantic or Realist

It’s been said that the best literature illumines both the depths of our hearts and worlds beyond our experience. The best literature connects us with the reality of our often painful human existence while at the same time resonating with our longings for transcendence — the world as we wish it would be.

Romanticism grew out of a reaction to the age of Enlightenments in the late eighteenth century. However, the exaltation of reason left us with a remote and almost unknowable God who is responsible for the orderly world in which we live yet utterly impersonal – a less than satisfactory experience for Romantics.

Writers like William Blake and Samuel Taylor Coleridge championed the importance of creative imagination. It was Gerard Manley Hopkins of the famous Hudson River School of painters who wrote: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God / It will flame out like shining from shook foil.”

Realists rebelled against the often melodramatics of romantic idealism. In the words of Lael Arrington, “Where romantics celebrated glimpses of Eden, realists tightened their focus on  the ashes of the Fall.” Realism’s commitment to unflinching accuracy often depicted flawed heroes caught up in the struggles of everyday life.

The narrative of the Scripture is one of romantic realism for it is both accurate in  its depiction of man and the rampant sin of his collective rebellion while at the same time being romantically hopeful because of a God who does not give up even when repeatedly spurned. What excites me is that God invites us to join him in his redemptive work. After all, He is the great romantic realist!

Cynical Faith

If a scale exists with cynicism at one end and sentimental optimism at the other, I generally find the gravitational pull of cynicism much stronger than the pull of sentimental optimism. My internal self-talk has always gravitated toward suspicion. The purpose of my cynicism has always been to see through the generally positive, mostly artificial outward appearances to get to the slinking underbelly of real motivations. Philosopher Peter Sloterdijk writes that “cynicism is the universally widespread way in which enlightened people see to it that they are not taken for suckers.” I generally agree.

If we were to, as Professor Dick Keyes, director of L’Abri Fellowship in Massachusetts and adjunct professor at Gordon-Conwell and Westeminster Seminaries suggests, turn our suspicion to cynicism itself, we find that cynics are unable to reject all ideals. If they did, they would live in silent resignation. Every rock-thrower needs something to stand on to be able to accurately hit their targets.

He suggests the film M*A*S*H as an archetypal cynical film – mocking everything, especially the military, rules and all thing that require faith. But even Hawkeye and BJ didn’t mock everything. Their cynicism was coming from a set of ideals that they held in high esteem, namely personal freedom, friendship and a sort of aloofness. All of these were presented as attractive, none of them specifically stated, but none of them were ever mocked.

Cynicism is not that far removed from faith. I know that sounds strange but follow me for a moment. Cynicism links itself with the perceived unreliability of all human knowledge. But cynicism also is a great act of trust in our own ability to think critically. Keyes asks the question, “How do cynics know enough to be able to see through all they claim to see?” The answer is actually quite simple. In order to justify their cynical judgements, cynics must know a great deal more than you and I know about the motivations of other people. In other words, they have faith in their virtually omniscient knowledge of human behavior. That faith drives their cynicism.

I may still be a bit of a cynic but I am learning to filter my cynicism through the eyes of Jesus who truly is omniscient. What about you?