For believers trying to progress in the faith, it is critical that we fight the cynic within us.
There is a sense of cynicism surrounding the Church today that is difficult to grasp. So many former faith leaders have fallen away from the faith. I am reminded in particular of recent headlines about the apostasies of Dereck Webb and Joshua Harris.
I am left only with the sneaking suspicion that many people have assigned to the Church a role that it is not meant to play and to the faith a part that it cannot sustain.
Faith Is Not a Self-Help Method
We must fight the cynic because of the false expectations of faith that give rise to cynicism in the first place.
There are a lot of empty promises surrounding Christianity. There is a lack of realism when discussing the faith.
The fact is that the Christian faith cannot bring you happiness. Christianity is not a self-help program that can bring you peace in the 20th-century psychological sense. We must not reduce it to an individualized source of personal fulfillment.
I fear, however, that we have assigned it that role. Then, when it is found wanting, we slowly abandon its principles. There is a fit of anger with Christ’s message for its failure to provide something it never claimed that it could or even should.
A Different Prosperity Gospel
Many faith leaders today rightly deride the prosperity gospel while they themselves peddle a different version of it. Is it that different to promise psychological riches rather than material riches? In doing so, do we not turn Christianity into just a replacement of psychiatry, another type of Scientology?
I see similar things happen within evangelicalism, where those who put the entire weight of their existence on a particular view of Scripture find themselves unhinged when Scripture is unable to fulfill the task they’ve assigned to it. Suddenly something as peripheral and meaningless as the age of the earth becomes an existential issue.
Similarly, within Catholicism, believers have assigned to the Church, particularly to its hierarchy, a role it cannot fulfill, an ideal it can never achieve. So, when the missteps and evils perpetrated by bishops and popes become apparent, the faith as a whole crumbles on the basis of an argumentum ad hominem.
Fight the Cynic
Christianity, however, does not work that way. Christianity is a call to give, not an invitation to receive. It is a demand to love our neighbors as ourselves. If we can see that and through everything else, I think we can find the start of something more meaningful, more robust.
There is no thank you, no reward, at least not of a type we can appreciate and anticipate in any meaningful way. Christianity points toward the eternal, but it focuses on the now, not on the self, but the other.
It, therefore, doesn’t matter if the Bible is not one hundred percent reliable for history. That’s not its purpose. It doesn’t matter if Christians are hypocrites. We all are. It doesn’t affect the validity of the faith if faith leaders abuse their position and the gospel for their own ends. God will deliver justice.
Fight the cynic that tells you to dismiss the faith on the basis of personal disappointments.
What matters is answering that one simple call, the foundation of everything else, Love your neighbor as yourself. Not, love your neighbor so you can be rewarded. Not love your neighbor so things may go well for you or you may have friends or have peace or whatever.
Love your neighbor as yourself. Period. Because, as in loving yourself, loving your neighbor is its own reward.