On Cynicism, Courage and the Real War On Christmas

Standard

A week ago someone had called my grandpa and identified himself as being my younger brother. He needed to be bailed out after some kind of traffic law infraction. My grandpa, not one quick to give vast sums of money over a phone call, quizzed his ‘grandson’ and inquired as to why he did not ask his parents first. The spoof caller answered that he wasn’t getting with his parents, at which point it was obviously a scam and my grandpa hung up.

The other day my grandpa called to inform me that someone had just called claiming to be me, his eldest grandson. This time he hung up without hearing another word.

On the same day my grandpa told me about this I had a plea for help, on social media, from an orphanage in Pakistan. Their profile pictures featured a bunch of dear children and those images momentarily tugged at my heartstrings. However, there was no way to verify who they really were. So, I tried to kindly explain my brotherly assistance was required elsewhere. When continued to repeat the request for a Christmas donation, like a broken record, I blocked them. I’ll probably be slower to accept a similar friend request in the future to avoid the need to try to reason with someone only interested in my wallet.

The communication era has brought the world together in ways unimaginable a century or two ago. And, with that development, predatory hoards from around the world can now invade our personal space at any given moment. The marauders no longer need to travel in longboats over dangerous seas, they simply pick up the phone and pretend to be your grandchildren.

This is frustrating for me. There are so many legitimate needs, including that of my family in the Philippines, and these are the real victims of the scammers and schemers. Those who exploit our kindness and generosity do a great disservice to the people around the world who work hard, experience hardship, and could use a little help. It is easy to become callous and uncaring under the deluge of requests. But we must have the courage to care even when there’s a chance of being exploited.

What is the real war on Christmas?

Political activists are constantly claiming a war here or a war there. The left claims that not providing women with free stuff constitutes a “war on women” and the right, not to be left out of the grievance culture fun, whines about the words “Merry Christmas” not being on Starbucks cups—who can forget Joshua Feuerstein’s coffee cup fury and the backlash?

But the real war on Christmas has little if anything to do with corporate marketing and tit-for-tat politics.

Christmas is not about compelling others to use a particular greeting or ensuring that religious displays are allowed in public spaces.

Christmas is a celebration, for the Christian faithful, of the most incredible gift ever given, that being the incarnation of God’s logos in the person of Jesus Christ and the opportunity for our divine adoption. This miraculous birth, to a virgin mother, represents a new hope for humanity and a reason to change ourselves. The true Christmas spirit is our being filled with this same spirit of love and giving of life for the good of others that Jesus embodied.

Turning Christmas into the latest battleground of a broader culture war is to entirely miss the point. Giving Starbucks hell isn’t going to further the message of glad tidings and joy, that’s for certain, and is not likely to win any hearts or minds either. Pettiness is never going to convince a skeptic to consider the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a distraction at best.

The commercialization of the holiday also takes away from the true reason for the season. The birth of our Lord and Savior wasn’t really intended to inspire stampedes of shoppers hoping to wrestle a few dollars of savings from their neighbors. But Christmas has become a marketing boon for retailers and they (along with the rest of our culture) push people to spend money they don’t have for things they don’t need—things manufactured using underpaid foreign workers while the bulk of the profits enriching a few globalist elites. It is a scheme nearly as exploitative as the telephone scammers, but completely legal.

However, those two things (culture wars and commercialization) are mere symptoms of the bigger disease and the one thing that can undermine the Christmas spirit in us—the soul-eating disease called cynicism. If Christmas has a true enemy in this world it is cynicism. Cynicism is a cancerous attitude. It is natural (albeit unhealthy and inhumane) response to a world full of self-interested people and corrupt institutions. The cynical person is one who has seen behind the curtain, who may have been taken advantage of once or twice and is now too overtaken by their skepticism to truly love their neighbors.

It is often the disillusioned idealist who becomes a bitter, critical, and faithless or cynical. Cynicism is, in that sense, a product of those who exploit trust for financial gain, a result of fatigue of being hit from all angles, and a retreat to a position of disengagement. But it is not dispassionate, as it often claims to be with a shrug, nor is this retreat from personal involvement a moral high ground. No, in reality, cynicism is an excuse for being uncaring, cold-hearted and self-centered.

The clever trick of the cynic is to be uncharitable while presenting oneself as being someone concerned about morality or morally upright for being able to identify the evil intentions of others. But the reality is that cynic is a hypocrite merely using the abuses of others as a cover for their own true self-interested indifference. They might cite scams as a reason why not to care and yet will always have another excuse waiting in the wings if that one isn’t applicable. They are simply unwilling to give of themselves.

Truly the cynic is a coward. They are too cowardly to do good in the face of evil, to be vulnerable and take a chance of being exploited. They are also too cowardly, fearing the social cost of revealing the full truth of their real underlying lack of concern for others, to make a full commitment to the evil they truly envy and yet claim to despise. The irony of the cynic is that they are as selfish and as much a part of the problem as the people that they claim has caused their cynical condition.

Caring requires courage and courage requires commitment…

It takes courage to have life experience and not be cynical. I’ve held back on giving to many charitable causes because some of them did seem more like self-interested scams. There is definitely a case for good stewardship, we should be “wise as serpents” because there are “wolves” (Matthew 10:16) who would devour us and lay waste to our hard-earned savings. It does the world no good to empower criminals or encouraging laziness in those who could learn to help themselves.

However, the dividing line between a person desperately in need of love and one merely taking advantage of the generosity of others is razor-thin. In fact, in many cases, there are overlapping motives in those asking for help, some genuine and others corrupt, and knowing how to respond requires a great deal of wisdom and discernment.

For example, a single mother, raised by the system, may indeed be inclined to take advantage of the charity offered and especially the half-hearted kind that comes out of religious obligation rather than a full commitment to love. They might simply intend to get what they can get before moving on. In those cases, it is easy to dismiss such a person, to conclude that they are unwilling to make the changes necessary to be free of their current circumstance, wash our hands, and move on.

Unfortunately, while there is a time to let people learn from their mistakes, the salvation of those who are mired in generational poverty (or otherwise unable to help themselves) often requires an investment that is beyond reasonable. In other words, it takes an investment of faith rather than of mere religious obligation. It requires the courage and commitment to look beyond the risk of being exploited and to unconditionally love another person before they have proven themselves worthy of our help. Faith means being the hands and feet of Jesus.

Had God waited for us to be worthy of his love, he would not have sent his son, we would still be waiting for a Savior and be hopelessly lost in our sin forever. The true Christmas story is God showing us how to love by becoming personally involved and being completely willing to sacrifice himself as an example for us to follow:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-7)

Christianity and cynicism are completely at odds with one another. They might be similar in that both see the chance of being taken advantage of and exploited, but are completely different in how they respond to that chance. The cynical person lives based on fear and uses their knowledge of the risk as a reason to do nothing for those in need. The Christian, by contrast, makes a commitment to do good despite the strong possibility they will suffer great loss for their efforts.

A Christian must go to war with their cynicism, they must help that diseased man heaped at their doorstep, they must aid the broken traveler discarded along the path they trod and must make an unreasonable commitment to overcome evil with good. That is how soldiers win wars, they understand the risk and are still willing to sacrifice themselves for the cause. It takes courage to overcome our fears, to give ourselves as a sacrifice for the good of others, and live out the true meaning of Christmas.

Be courageous and don’t let the scammers and schemers turn your Christmas spirit into cynicism!

Advertisements

A Tempest in a Coffee Cup?

Standard

One may think from the news coverage that Christians are out, torches and pitchforks in hand, looking for coffee shops to burn.  The story is that Starbucks isn’t exploiting Christmas enough and this lack of proper capitalization for a profit of holiday has offended the sentiments of the unwashed religionist hoards.

This fury seems to have originated with a humorous poke at a bland Starbucks holiday cup design.  It was escalated by a fuddy-duddy blowhard extraordinaire (aka Joshua Feuerstein) who, apparently not seeing the joke, posted a video that urged a movement to trick hapless minions of secularism (aka Starbucks employees) into saying Merry Christmas.

And, since then—like that bar fight where nobody knows which drunken idiot started it or why they are fighting to begin with—the story of angry Christians has exploded into a media fiasco.  But strangely the two main characters in this brawl do not seem to exist as much more than mythological creatures and that has led some to wonder if the whole ordeal is a fabrication.

Where are these offended Christians?

In my cadre of conservative Christian social media commentating friends, I have yet to see one who is offended by the Starbucks design.  In fact, of my coreligionist friends voicing an opinion, I have observed two main camps:

1) The Apologists, or those annoyed by other Christians who are offended by Starbucks cups and have taken to social media to scold these theoretical entitlement-minded embarrassments to the Christian cause.

2) The Sanctimonious, or those who are suspicious that this controversy is created by the liberal irreligious media and take their high horse to condemn those annoyed as being pawns in this imagined nefarious plot.

Then there’s one last group made of non-religious friends:

3) The Amused, or those who watch with a little gleefulness, are not overly suspicious of the media and have little trouble imagining Christians that feel they are entitled to special treatment or would become outraged over something as silly as Starbucks cup.

My own opinion is that the whole thing has gotten blown out of proportion.  It has likely only gained traction because we are already accustomed to the cultural wars that take place over issues similar to this.  There is usually a skirmish or two this time of year (whether arguing for and against nativity scenes or some other cultural expressions of Christianity) and this has primed our pumps to expect it.

I also do contend, again, that Joshua Feuerstein represents a small segment of the general Christian population.  There’s always those who are perpetually offended on behalf of their own tribe (look at the Halloween costume controversy at Yale and the chaos at Mizzou as examples) and yet whether or not these outspoken activists represent much more than themselves is an open question.  My own anecdotal evidence suggests that those outraged by the cups are, at the most, a fringe element even amongst fundamentalists.

What’s with the media coverage, anyhow?

If one wants to study the interplay of the media echo chamber and social media viral phenomena they should start here.  There seems to be a positive feedback loop at work in this where a one-man movement on YouTube, picked up by the mainstream media, was then sifted through the amplifier of social media and each step promoting more to add their own opinions.  This has gone through several cycles of growing in magnitude.  Even Donald Trump weighed in suggesting a boycott of the mermaid logo brand.

I do not think this is a media reporting this ‘controversy’ is a coordinated attempt to discredit Christians.  Professional journalists are not any different from the rest of us and will report on what is the latest buzz as we do.  In the age of social media the feedback loop is faster and the amplification quicker than ever.  By the time people start breathing again, we all feel a bit duped and start to wonder how the insanity got started.

Newsflash: All news is manufactured!

And, furthermore, we all participate in manufacturing news when we share about events that interest us.  We present a product of our own perspective whenever we tell other people about anything.  As a professional news reporter, we also select the facts we believe are relevant and omit those that seem inconsequential.  We carefully craft our words to reach our target audience and create a narrative based in our own worldview.

The adage “if it bleeds it leads” holds generally true.  We are drawn to controversy and this latest fracas over Starbucks cups has struck a cord or we wouldn’t be talking about it.  There are evidently enough perpetually outraged Christians like Feuerstein to make a premise of widespread butthurt believable.  He may be a crude caricature of us, but there’s a reason that he’s not taken as parody and that’s likely because he’s representative of a type of person we know does exist.

My decaffeinated analysis of the issue…

Yet, the bigger story is that most people (Christian and secular alike) are seemingly more offended by the controversy itself than the plain red cups that started it.  So maybe we should be careful not to get too carried away in our own outrage over the outrage that may or may not be an outrage at all.  There are plenty of people sharing dumb opinions (Bill Nye on abortion for example) and this is probably a good reason to reserve judgment until the facts are spoken.

Anyhow, for the record, the only problem I have with Starbucks is the inferior quality of their brackish liquid.  I prefer my coffee with milk, sugar, in a Dunkin Donuts cup and agnostic.  If that offends you, then please, by all means, do complain and start a movement or something—I will sip away amused as my blog views climb.

“…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28)