This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Revisiting cynicism

Ten years ago this summer, I was 16 and living in Guatemala city for the summer. My friend and I decided to spend the day walking across the city from our homes in Zona 6 to the CASAS building where we were studying. Along the way we talked about many things. Though at the time the conversation seemed filled with profound insights that would stay with me for the rest of my life, I remember almost none of the details today. Except for one argument we had. And that was over cynicism.

I had grown up immersed in a Lancaster county Mennonite community that leaned strongly Republican. In elementary school I had absorbed the the patriotic mythology of progress and manifest destiny. I distinctly remember believing how glad I was that the US had always been on the right side of the wars it fought. However in the year before going to Guatemala I had begun reading authors like Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn who had a distinctly different view of US history from my social studies text book. I had learned that manifest destiny was not as thrilling and inspirational for those whose lands were taken.

In Guatemala I had hear the story of the recently ended civil war which was the most recent in a 40 year saga starting with the CIA engineered overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán. I was learning that my country had supported and funded the massacre of Guatemalan peasants by their own government. This wasn’t the country I had grown up believing in.

It was in the midst of all this that my friend and I discussed cynicism. He believed that cynicism was destructive and unhelpful. He’d experienced cynicism as a spiritual barrier that he had to overcome. I believed it fulfilled an important function. After years assuming the best of my country I felt justified in assuming the worst.

Ten years later my feelings about Cynicism have become more complex, but my interest in the discussion has continued. This fall I’m excited to be able to invite you all to join the conversation at a conference that a group of young adults in Chicago and Evanston have organized. We’re calling it “Cynicism and Hope: Reclaiming Discipleship in a Post-Democratic Society”. It will be at Reba Place Church in Evanston, IL on November 2nd and 3rd. For more information see our website:

If you’re interested in hearing more background about the conference, you can read more about it in this post from the Young Anabaptist Radicals blog:

Are blogging and cynicism starving the peace movement?

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