Media Essay

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Cynicism is a problem. Maybe it’s not explicitly on your radar, but you’re sure to have felt its force. Cynicism is that sneering bitterness toward all things true and deep. It’s the subtle contempt trying to contaminate the cheeriest of moments — that slow, thick smoke of pessimism toxifying the oxygen in the lungs of our hope, suffocating any glad-hearted embrace that God did something meaningful in our lives and strangling our childlike faith to opt for “another angle” on why things happen the way they do. It’s nasty, and it’s everywhere, especially today. Paul Miller explains: “Cynicism is, increasingly, the dominant spirit of our age…. It is an influence, a tone that permeates our culture…. [It] is so pervasive that, at times, it feels like a presence” (A Praying Life, Location 766). Miller’s timing and assessment is right. The question, though, is why. If we’re going to overcome this influence, we’ll need to know where it is coming from. This new cynical spirit, so common to our generation, didn’t appear in a vacuum. What winds have brought it here? And how might we stand against it? Emblem of an Epidemic If we’re going to wrap our heads around cynicism (or loose its fangs from our heart), we need to start by understanding it’s a symptom of a greater disease. Cynicism, problematic as it is, presents itself more as the emblem of a wider epidemic — one that has grown over Western civilization for more than 500 years. I say “epidemic” not to be negative, but because it is relatively new and momentous for our Christian witness in the modern world. A better name for it, as coined by Charles Taylor, and mediated by James. K.A. Smith, is “the secular

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