Post-Cynical Christianity

Post-Cynical Christianity July 26, 2013

The pope visits one of the poorest barrios in Rio.

“I want to tell you something. What is it that I expect as a consequence of World Youth Day? I want a mess. We knew that in Rio there would be great disorder, but I want trouble in the dioceses!” he said, speaking off the cuff in his native Spanish. “I want to see the church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools or structures. Because these need to get out!

Those were among the comments that Pope Francis made yesterday in Brazil, as a part of [Catholic] World Youth Day. The pope continues to talk about Christianity in a way that makes it seem like a different religion than his predecessor’s. He was even more poignant in his comments while visiting one of Rio’s barrios (aka, slums):

“You are often disappointed by facts that speak of corruption on the part of people who put their own interests before the common good,” Francis told the crowd. “To you and all, I repeat: Never yield to discouragement, do not lose trust, do not allow your hope to be extinguished.

On the complete other side of the Christian religion from the pope stands the Homebrewed Christianity Theology Nerd Throwdown podcast, which I was listening to on my bike ride home from work yesterday. In the latest episode, Tripp, Bo, Jonnie Russell, and Micky Jones talk about “post-cynical Christianity.” Micky has a related post in which she encourages Christians to drop cynicism while maintaining skepticism. On the podcast, Tripp went so far as to say that cynicism is antithetical to the practice of Christianity.

I’ve been thinking about cynicism, and wondering if I am cynical. I don’t think so. My hammering on denominational bureaucracy, for instance, is not from cynicism. It’s meant to be prophetic, to unmask powers that hold the gospel captive.

I’ve thought about it moreso since a conversation with my friend, Zach Lind. We got together this month when his band was in town, and we got to talking about the proliferation of blogs, facebook pages, and twitter accounts whose explicit purpose it is to mock Christianity, and to knock Christian leaders down a peg or two. He made a salient point: A person can’t be a satirist and a reformer. You’ve got to choose. UPDATE: It is very difficult to be a satirist and a reformer. You likely have to choose.

And it’s impossible to be a person who merely mocks others and to be a reformer. Also, mockery is not satire. Satire takes talent.

It seems that some who relentlessly mock Christianity, evangelicalism, leaders, pastors, authors, and bloggers would like to be both. They want to get big traffic and big laughs by pointing out the ludicrousness of Christians, but they also want to make the church a better, more generous, graceful, healthy place. But that’s not possible. You can either be a stand-up comedian, or you can be an agent of change. Few people can make the transition from one to the other.

My senator, Al Franken, is a notable exception. But also notable is that Franken stopped being a comedian when he became a politician. In fact, there have been many news stories about how his Senate colleagues try to get him to tell a joke or tell stories about the wild and crazy days at SNL, and he will not be baited into it. He knows that if he’s going to be taken seriously as a U.S. Senator, he doesn’t get to be a jokester anymore.

Back to Francis. It’s pretty amazing, I think, that someone can spend his life in a massive bureaucracy with as much inertia as the Roman Catholic Church — and achieve its highest level of power — and not be cynical about the machine. But Francis seems to have avoided cynicism.

I guess what I’m saying is that all of us in the Christian blogosphere can learn a lesson from this pope. 

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