Why People Become Cynics: It’s an Honest Question!

In an earlier post, I talked about the reasons it’s so easy to get cynical about evangelicalism. Now, I’m starting a series on the different reasons people become cynics. My first reason is also the best: honest doubts.

The things that cause people to doubt their faith are so idiosyncratic and subjective there’s no point in trying to catalog them. Some people have a crisis of faith over chronology errors in the Old Testament. Others have a crisis over a church leader’s sex scandal, or their pastor’s political views, or the age of the earth, or string theory, or nuclear weapons, or (this list could keep going for months).

But there are still a couple general points to make about honest doubts:

  • This is the only reason most cynics will give. Or at least, it’s the core reason. So even if they’ll grant that wanting to impress their college Women’s Studies professor, or finding an agnostic they really wanted to make out with, played a role in their cynicism, it’s only to the extent it “opened their eyes” to legitimate doubts. Doubts which they now, presumably, accept because of their independent truthiness.
  • There’s nothing wrong with honest doubts. If handled the right way, doubts are actually healthy, and not an indicator of there being anything “wrong.”

If you’re having honest doubts, I’m not going to give much push-back. I have a friend who converted from evangelicalism to Eastern Orthodoxy several years back. He wasn’t angry with his parents, he wasn’t giving into peer pressure, and he didn’t make any of the other cynical mistakes I’m going to talk about in this series.

He was just convinced by an Orthodox priest’s argument for Apostolic Succession. In other words, he left evangelicalism because of honest intellectual disagreement.

I’m not going to criticize that. But still keep in mind:

Honest doubts can still turn you into a cynical jerk. Don’t think that just because you have a doubt about evangelicalism, that this gives you license to be a cynic.

It doesn’t.

Take my Orthodox friend again. He disagrees with lots of evangelical positions on church and scripture. He could be a jerk about it, taking potshots on evangelical views he doesn’t like, alienating himself from his family, and going into his own Orthodox bubble of cynicism. But he hasn’t. He still gets along great with his evangelical family, and respects their beliefs.

Honest doubts aren’t bad in themselves, but they can take us to bad places if we let them. It’s the difference between: “I disagree with your views, but respect you as a person,” and “I disagree with your views because both them and you are stupid.”

This will be important to keep in mind as we examine the other reasons.

Let’s talk about doubts now. Is there anything that caused you to doubt your faith that you now think is silly? Is there something that causes your friends to doubt their faith, but doesn’t bother you?

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