We live in a world where it is easy to be cynical. We live in a culture where bitterness, skepticism, and misanthropy are very easy ways to deal with the world. The philosophies that guide the modern world, combined with the constant pursuit of greed create an atmosphere that can bring the most earnest and hopeful individual to their knees. Some days, it’s hard for me not to be cynical. Sometimes, I lose trust in everything. This struggle, this lack of trust does not come out of some profound realization. It is not fueled by some kind of man-behind-the-curtain reveal that shatters my perceptions. Rather, this kind of bitterness is easy to tap into, and the true revelations, those moments of profound clarity come when I learn to rise above this age so well designed for hopelessness, and see that cynicism being easy does not make it right. Let me explain:
1. Snake-Oil and Big Pharma (the eternal dichotomy complex)
Our culture is obsessed with dividing down to two options. We polarize everything, from soda (coke vs. pepsi) to politics. Nothing, in my opinion, is harmed more than the health industry. In one corner you have modern medicine, big pharma, and “science”. In the other Naturopathy, alternative medicine, and “Nature”. Both sides are convinced the other is wrong. Both sides are willing to bend numbers, forge test results, and all sorts of other unpleasantness to make their side look good (and more importantly, the other side look bad). And both sides have a lot of good points to make, because both sides are fueled, not by a desire to help humanity be healthy and well, but by a desire to gain. They are both, in one way or another, polluted by greed. When it comes to modern medicine, its easy to see the dangers that are created by greed. Medicine goes out without being properly tested. We find out years later that things like fillings and formula are not actually the best things for us. The industry is hugely profitable, so they shut down alternative medicines that have been proven to work, because there is not profit to be gained. Doctors across the board are becoming less personal, more focused on money. They end up demonizing well to do medical practitioners like midwifes, not on any factual level, but rather because having a home birth means that the hospital is losing thousands of dollars of revenue. You can find case after case on natural websites and publications of “modern medicine” forsaking the good will of humanity for profit. This does not, however mean that they are completely evil. Many good things have come out of modern medicine. I would not be breathing right now if it were not for those advancements. Both of my parents would be dead if it was not for the cancer research that has made a once hopeless diagnosis, far less heavy. The issue, of course, comes in trying to wade between what is really good for us, and what is not. Do we really need a chicken pox vaccine? Is Chemo really the best way to battle cancer? There are thousands of questions that demand answers, and no one can give an objective opinion because we are too busy fighting to try to make the world healthier and better. The backlash to this all is natural, or alternative medicine. Now, there are some amazing natural remedies out there. Things like real, fermented fish oil and black elderberry syrup have been shown to be extremely helpful to the human body. Unfortunately, there is a whole world of nonsense in the “alternative” world to. Things like homeopathy, ingesting silver, and crystals make it once again hard to navigate the landscape of human betterment and health, due to greed. There is so much snake oil in the natural world, its understandable why the “modern” world seems to just discount anything natural. Unfortunately, both of these sides are fighting so fervently, its near impossible for someone who is just looking to feel better to find any answers they can trust. All tests seem to be muddled past the point of understanding, and every article is so biased, it’s so difficult to find facts in this. And we are talking about our well-being here. The industry of wellness is so caught up in greed and being right, its falling apart. That makes it really easy to be cynical.
2. The Modern World (Pride and Reduction)
We are so convinced that we know what is going on. The modern worldview will tell you that anything old is outdated and archaic, and only new, scientific discoveries are of value. Principles of reductionism and materialism run rampant in our subconscious philosophies. If it can’t be proven by our systems, than it must be false. Unfortunately, our systems are not fail proof and this means that once every few years, everything that we thought was real and true and right seems to be re-written. The problem with this kind of ideology is that all of the weight lands on our understanding. We are tasked with figuring out how everything works and you are a rambling fool if you don’t get it right. Now, before I go any further let me say, I have no issues with scientific discovery. I love when we find out crazy new things about the universe we live in. What bothers me is when this new, arrogant, philosophy overtakes the educated society, and you are left feeling like a bumbling idiot for having hope of something beyond us. This ideology springs up everywhere. Churches and theologians convinced that it is of the utmost importance to disprove evolution. Atheists convinced that the only logical viewpoint is to destroy all theologies. And once again we are caught in the midst of an ever-growing chasm between a self-created dichotomy. When all is said and done, you are left feeling like you have to get it right. You have to understand how everything works. If you believe something, there best be proof and it better not have any logical holes in it. We start to treat the great philosophies like mathematical equations, making sure we are completely rid of all fallacy. This way of thinking is deeply damaging, and it leads to more skepticism, pain, and cynicism.
3. Beautiful Tragedy (Fear and Lunacy Obsession)
Turn on the news. Count how many happy things they talk about. Count how many uplifting and glorious stories are told. Now count how many disasters, tragedies, and crimes are talked about. We live in fear culture. We live in a world obsessed with tragedy. Now, let me again say, I don’t believe the answer is to ignore the problems in our world. I do, however think that constantly berating your heart with negativity is damaging. It leads you to believe that every story will end up in tears. Every hospital visits gonna end up with someone dead. You start to miss that many times, people rally. You miss that after the storm, the whole town gathered and rebuilt. You miss the beauty in the world. It does not help that there are terrible people in our world. I try so hard to believe that we are the broken and beautiful Imago Dei, and that we were looked upon and called “very good”. But then I go and watch a movie like Blackfish. I hear about the next terrible tragedy caused by human greed. I watch as people destroy each other, in some sort of misanthropic self fulfilled prophecy. And once again, life becomes more difficult to deal with. On top of all this, we live in a comfortable society. We have very little do fret over. We have made every basic need so easy to satisfy, we are left with all this time on our hands and on our minds. With all of this time to ponder and question and think, we are thrust headfirst into a culture that is obsessed with war and pain and suffering. When we make it to the other side, it is a small wonder that we would have any hope left.
But, there is hope. There is a light that is shining so very bright. Our culture leaves us believing that the shadows are all there are. We are left, crying and hopeless, chained up and forced to look at the world through such narrow vision. But, we can break out of our chains. We can learn that modernism is not the only way to look at the world. We can realize that for most of human history, we had the humility to admit there were things beyond our understanding. We can take the time to find our own darkness, our own selfishness, and realize that these people who are seemingly evil are no different from us. Like Sufjan Stevens says we can look underneath our floorboards at the secrets we have hid, not to find some kind of judgement or condemnation, but to find connection with each other. It is true, the world I was born into is one that was made to raise me a cynic. But I choose the other path. I choose the path less followed. I choose to live a life of hope. I choose to live a life of love. This is the true gospel. This is what it means to not be conformed by the patterns of this world. To hold to that narrow road of hope. And it is very, very good news.