JUST A MINUTE: SCEPTIC OR CYNIC, WHICH ONE ARE YOU?
1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but TEST them all; hold on to what is good”
On 31 July, South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) announced that they will push ahead with plans to amend the constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation. International and local media immediately interpreted this announcement as an introduction to a national disaster. The Daily Star, a UK based newspaper circulated widely on the internet, painted a bleak picture for all South Africans: “South Africa facing ‘mass STARVATION and RIOTS’ after white peoples’ land seized”.
The newspaper quoted Ian Cameron, of Afrikaner-rights group, AfriForum, as saying: “We’re really heading for a state of anarchy if something doesn’t change drastically. I’m convinced this year we’ll see between 21,000 to 22,000 people having been murdered.”
In an interview in Die Burger of 3 August (an Afrikaans-language newspaper circulated in the Western Cape), Dan Kriek, president of AgriSA (an agricultural industry association), shared a completely opposite view. As head of the most representative organisation of farmers in South Africa, Kriek does not share the bleak outlook of AfriForum. “Yes, we are concerned about the proposal to change the constitution to allow land expropriation without compensation” he shared. But, he remained adamant about the future of farming in South Africa: “We have a bright future. The farmers are progressive and we are organised.”
Both leaders, who represent a large proportion of people who will be affected by land expropriation, have two completely different visions for the future. Their vastly different responses raises some questions: Is the one a realist and the other an idealist? Is the one a pessimist and the other an optimist? Or, does the difference lie in the fact that one is a cynic and the other a sceptic?
A cynic always believes the worst in everything. A cynic is always distrustful, believing that people are motivated purely by self-interest and therefore suspicious of human sincerity or integrity. A sceptic on the other hand also has doubts but is not easily swayed in any direction, good or bad, until it is proven so.
Paul Maxwell, in an article on the website Desiring God writes the following:
“Cynicism is so undetectable because it is so justifiable. It wears a mask of insight and godliness, but it conceals festering wounds of harboured bitterness against God and neighbour. The cynic places the highest premium on their own analysis of the world. Cynicism is Descartes’ principle of doubt in the hands of self-protective fear — transformed from ‘I think, therefore I am’ to ‘I think therefore you’re dumb’. It is an emotional rocket launcher mounted on a La-Z-Boy.”
When it comes to political promises, being a sceptic could prove to be more beneficial spiritually, than simply being an optimist or a pessimist.
But let’s be clear; when referring to “being a sceptic”, I am not referring to the Greek word “SKÉPSIS” which means “being in doubt”. I am referring to the Greek word “SKÉPTESTHAI” which means to “scrutinise or examine carefully”.
In Jesus’s inner circle we find both the cynic and the sceptic. In John 1:46 we are introduced to Nathanael. When Philip finds Nathanael and tells him: “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” The only words that cynical Nathanael could utter was: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Even without testing, scouting or researching, the cynic had made up his mind.
But Jesus also had the sceptic, Thomas. In John 20:24 we find that Thomas, one of the twelve disciples, was not present when Jesus appeared to them after His resurrection. When the other disciples told him that they had “seen the Lord!”, Thomas was not cynical but sceptical: “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
These are the words of a sceptic, not a doubter. After all, it was the same Thomas in John 11:16 who encouraged the rest of the disciples to travel with Jesus to Judea, “that we may die with Him.”
Bible scholars mistakenly attributed Thomas with the dubious title of Doubting Thomas. It should have been Sceptic Thomas, or as my friend Richard Baird says, Researcher Thomas – the one who wanted to examine carefully before just accepting the words of others. He was not cynical, nor was he faithless or in doubt. He wanted proof.
I am a firm believer that Christians should be more sceptical when it comes to news, testimonies, theologies and teachings. Unless it bears the marks of the cross, we should not be satisfied. At the same time, we should also reflect the attitude of a sceptic Thomas towards our political leaders. Not cynical or doubtful, but sceptical. If we truly believe that God appoints leaders, then we should have an attitude of scepticism rather than embracing cynicism. Because ultimately, no virtue or action can stand on its own against the ‘black hole’ of cynicism.
Rather be proven wrong by being an optimistic sceptic than be proven right by being a pessimistic cynic.