What Makes a Person a Cynic?

Because my blog is about quitting cynicism toward evangelicals, in my last post I defined evangelical. In this post, I’ll keep defining things: what makes a person a cynic?

As a lawyer, the first thing I look for when researching a new legal topic are the terms of art. Certain terms and phrases get defined and redefined so much they take a specific legal definition that’s different from their everyday definition.

It’s not enough for a lawyer to use Webster’s dictionary for a term like “negligence,” or “fair use,” or a “reasonably prudent person.” They’re terms of art.

The same thing will happen with “cynicism” in this blog. So before I get too far in, I’m going to tell you what I mean by a “cynic.”

What I don’t mean

For starters, here’s what I do NOT mean by cynicism. A person isn’t a cynic merely because they:

  • Have questions or doubts about evangelicalism.
  • Disagree with evangelicalism.
  • Consider evangelical beliefs to be misguided, or even harmful.
  • Had a traumatic childhood involving evangelicals. For instance, a toxic religious environment, an overly-strict fundamentalist home, or some form of mental or physical abuse. If this is the situation you’re in, I’m not going to criticize the way you feel about your childhood religion.

What I do mean

The clearest example of a cynic is me at my worst. Some characteristics:

  • I had a normal childhood with good parents. In other words, I couldn’t fairly blame my cynicism on childhood scarring.
  • I disagreed with many evangelical beliefs, and thought they were harmful. But it didn’t stop there: I thought I was smarter and more sophisticated than evangelicals. To the extent someone accepted evangelicalism, I assumed they were delusional, ignorant, or stubborn.
  • Worst of all: I refused to treat evangelicalism fairly. Since I was obviously right and they were obviously wrong, why bother with charity? I kept picking every evangelical statement until I found the bad. I assumed the worst motives—a worship band must only be pretending to be rock stars: they can’t possibly really mean their worship. A missions trip must only mean either imperialism or ego boost to impress girls: they can’t actually want to help other people.

When I say “cynicism,” it’s not enough to just have doubts or disagreements. You also need an attitude of superiority. The feeling that you know best, that your beliefs make you smarter than everyone else. The refusal to recognize anything but the worst in your opponents.

Anyone else have a good definition of cynicism? Are there any characteristics I’m missing?

 

Photo: Splitshire.com

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