Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Cynicism Not a Healthy Response

A cold sardonic smile, a sneer, a lack of interest would all serve as the meaning of a Korean word which in English would be translated as cynicism. A seminary professor feels that this cynicism has entered our society and with it we now have a code word that he believes will help us understand what is going on, even within the Church.

In his seminary classes he uses a book that considers cynicism to be a defense mechanism often used in Korean society. History has not been kind to Korea, having suffered many trials such as the last days of the Chosen dynasty, the Japanese occupation, the conflict in ideologies after liberation, the War and the political dictatorship. It was cynicism, says the professor, that  helped the Koreans endure during those difficult years.

However, he would like the word to include much more than merely taking a disapproving attitude to what is   happening around us. When we are not pleased with events, we are often content to criticize without making any effort to change the situation, he says, as we stand off to the side, arms crossed to signal our indifference, complaining. This attitude is not just seen among individuals but also in groups and within religion.
Religion, wherever it's found, is frequently surrounded by cynical responses, and even in Korea religion is not off limits. Scandalous incidents in which  religious people have  been involved, sensationalistic news reports and the subsequent gullible public response nourishes this cynicism. Distrust among people and the piling up of these examples influences the  thinking of the individual, and finds its way into the  Church.

When a religion is not sensitive to changes in society, seeks to solve the problems in traditional ways, and is not open to healthy give-and-take dialogue, lack of trust is fostered within the community and among individuals. As a consequence, the decisions and teachings of the leaders will soon be greeted with discontent, and members will gather in twos and threes in cynical debate concerning their lack of trust in the leaders. It is a serious situation, the professor says, where the very identity of the Church will be in crisis.

It's important, he believes, to distinguish between authority and authoritarianism.  Authority is needed whenever a group comes together for some shared objective. Authoritarianism, which is blind to the wishes of those governed, is never needed. The professor feels that the symbols for rightful authority are disappearing. The respect and obedience to king, teacher, and father have mostly disappeared. Lack of discernment in what we have accepted from the West has weakened our sense of the sacred and religious authority. But authority has to earn respect, for the response to the demands of authority will often hinge on what is seen.

Lack of discussion and information and the presence of irresponsible words within the community frequently breeds cynicism. We need, says the professor, more discussion on the problems that face the Church, and more trust that the Holy Spirit is still directing the Church. He mentions that in the Acts of the Apostles, the infant Church picked an apostle to take the place of Judas, and they did so by selecting him by lot. A strange way to us in the 21st century, but that was and is the way of the Church. There is a trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and no better way to combat the tendency to cynicism than remembering the trust of the Church in providence and the Holy Spirit.

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