’Tis the Season to be Cynical

You may have seen that the Archbishop of Canterbury has enjoined Anglican’s to give up cynicism for Lent.  With all due respect to His Grace, I submit that he understands neither the word cynicism nor the season of Lent.  Lent is, above all else, a season to let our cynicism off its leash.  For what is cynicism but the proposition that the world is filled with tinsel and dross, and what is Lent but forty days of meditation on the fact that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight” (1 Corinthians 3:19).

Diogenes founded the school of philosophers to whom the name Cynics was first given. The word means dogs, and these philosophers were called dogs because they snarled, growled, and bared ugly yellow teeth, whenever they were presented with the meretricious baubles of worldly success. It is said that Diogenes dwelt in an old wine barrel, and was one day sunning himself before his barrel when Alexander the Great strode up and addressed him with words to this effect.

“I hear, sir, that you are a great philosopher. Well it just so happens that I am the most powerful man in the world. So if you will only tell me what I can do for you, your word will be my command.”

To which the old Cynic is said to have replied,

“Please step to one side and stop blocking my sun.”

Now that strikes me as a pretty good start at the Lenten spirit. When I forego some pleasure for the forty days of Lent, I am telling the Great Alexander that scripture calls “the world,” that the only thing I want from it is that it not stand between me and God. I do this in pathetic and miserable ways, to be sure, but this is only because my cynicism is weak and unworthy. 

To atone for my weak and unworthy cynicism, I wrote these lyrics

’Tis the season to be cynical,
Fa la la la la, la la la la,
Not gluttonous, greedy or finical,
Fa la la la la, la la la la,
Scorn we now our gay apparel,
Fa la la la la, la la la la,
Reside a time in a wine barrel,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

See vanities ablaze before us,
Fa la la la la, la la la la,
Glam and sham now only bore us,
Fa la la la la, la la la la,
Follow me in merry measure,
Fa la la la la, la la la la,
Be no longer slaves to treasure,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Fast away all honor passes,
Fa la la la la, la la la la,
And carnal love, ye lads and lasses,
Fa la la la la, la la la la,
This old world is just a pander,
Fa la la la la, la la la la,
Step aside you Alexander,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

9 thoughts on “’Tis the Season to be Cynical

  1. As a former Anglican, I take special amusement in learning of the follies of my patrimony. Not mirthless or uncharitable amusement, mind you, but the fondness that comes from seeing someone make the same mistake as you. The funny thing is that not even the Archbishop of Canterbury can follow his own advice. The Anglican communion levies no obligation on its component communities. Episcopalians allow gay women priests, Anglo-Catholics do not. To the various African diocese of the Anglican Communion, the Anglo-Catholics even look the way the Episcopalians do to the Anglo-Catholics. Each falls under the same umbrella, but operates distinctly differently. So the Archbishop can beseech a cynical penance but every Anglican can take that to mean whatever he pleases.

    The Archbishop of Canterbury asks anyone who will listen to give up cynicism. Is it cynical to think that the only people still Anglican are the non-cynical? The headline should be written: The Archbishop of Canterbury begs parishoners to remain where they are.

    • I agree that the word cynic has become a synonym for grumpy old grouch. As is so often the case, it is a question of justice. Is the cynic cynical about things that really are empty shams? Or is he just a sour malcontent who enjoys raining on any parade? My sense is that people who deplore cynicism are very often snake-oil vendors who have heard people whisper doubts about the utility of their snake-oil. One man’s cynicism is another man’s criticism! I’d suggest that we push the metaphor of “fruits of the spirit” and see that those fruits can be unripe and ripe, but also overripe and rotten. True joy cannot be, for instance, an ecstatic delight in everything.

      • I actually feel the same way, and go out of my way to avoid excessively gloomy and negative people. I also try to be on my guard against mistaking sour grapes for healthy cynicism. But the cynical doctrine that “all that glitters is not gold” seems to me central to Christian belief.

  2. Pingback: Cantandum in Ezkhaton 03/10/19 | Liberae Sunt Nostrae Cogitatiores

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