[OrigÂiÂnally written for aÂ Good FriÂday reflecÂtion in 2007, unknowÂingly done one week before the VirÂginia Tech shootÂing. Â It remains upsettingly current. Â It is also the first of a two part series; don’t worry, the title of the second one is “On Hope.”]
The statistic is that roughly 18,000 children die each day from hunger and malnutrition alone. This does not include those who die from preventable diseases like rotavirus (which causes severe diarÂrhea and kills approxÂiÂmately 600,000 children a year even though it is vacÂciÂnatÂable and preÂventable), or the treatÂable ones like malaria, tuberÂcuÂloÂsis, andÂ HIV. This does not include the childrenÂ who are caught in the genoÂcide of Sudan or the vicious milÂiÂtary crossÂfire of civil conÂflicts as in Iraq and Afghanistan, or those whose limbs have been blown off by landÂmines designed to look like toys, or those who have been conÂscripted into milÂiÂtary serÂvice in Uganda or the Congo. It does not include those who are pressed into the sex trafÂfickÂing indusÂtry, like the 100,000 or so chilÂdren in CamÂboÂdia. It does not include those who die alone, cold, and friendless in the streets of CalÂcutta or New York City or those who are shot to death in the gang fights of Newark. It does not include the upper-middle class teenager or celebrity that died from a drug overÂdose or drunk driÂving or any other death we might conÂsider a tragic consequence ofÂ wealth.
Some peoÂple have called me cynÂiÂcal for sayÂing these things. They say that I am being bitÂter or desponÂdent or a sourÂpuss and that itâ€™s just â€œnot natÂuralâ€ to look at the world that way. But the frightÂenÂing truth is that itÂ isÂ natÂural because it gives us a piercÂingly accuÂrate look at our human nature . . . perÂhaps more accuÂrate than we would like toÂ admit.
CynÂiÂcism has an interÂestÂing oriÂgin. It came from a group of Greek philosoÂphers whose purÂpose in life was the pursuit of virtue. They took their callÂing so seriÂously that the ancient cynÂics neglected perÂsonal hygiene and scorned the norms of sociÂety, often conÂgreÂgatÂing in the streets to insult and conÂdemn those who were preÂtenÂtious, self-important, mateÂriÂalÂisÂtic, or evil. One ancient cynic described himÂself in this way: â€œI am DioÂgenes the dog: I nuzÂzle the kind, bark at the greedy, and biteÂ scoundrels.â€
We live in a sociÂety that is so cynÂiÂcal that it has become a form of enterÂtainÂment. Stephen Colbertâ€™s deadÂpan comedic style won him four Emmys. The teleÂviÂsion shows South Park and The FamÂily Guy conÂtinue on air despite their numerÂous offenÂsive vulÂgarÂiÂties because of the huge audiÂence demand for their acidic wit and social comÂmenÂtary. ModÂern cynÂics have exchanged the purÂsuit of virtue and bad perÂsonal hygiene for someÂthing a litÂtle more pracÂtiÂcal: bitÂing sarÂcasm, an unshakeÂable belief in human selfÂishÂness, and a tired frusÂtraÂtion with our colÂlecÂtive inabilÂity toÂ change.
When I was in colÂlege, a friend of mine started a humanÂiÂtarÂian orgaÂniÂzaÂtion that dealt with a lot of the darker issues of poverty and war that I menÂtioned earÂlier. One day we decided to show a docÂuÂmenÂtary on the genoÂcide in Sudan in the stuÂdent camÂpus cenÂter. We reserved the main teleÂviÂsion and when I arrived to plug in the tape, I was relieved to see that the only thing peoÂple were watchÂing were a few clips on SportsCenter from the preÂviÂous nightâ€™s games. But when I changed the chanÂnel and announced what we were showÂing, a stuÂdent angrily got up and stormed off, sayÂing, â€œWho cares about all this stuff? This stuff hapÂpens all the time!â€ He did not use the wordÂ â€œstuff.â€
And he was right. This stuff hapÂpens all the time, and our media satÂuÂrated sociÂety is sick of hearÂing about it. We are tired of countÂing bodÂies in Iraq. We are tired ofÂ CIAÂ leaks and govÂernÂment scanÂdals. We are tired of empty camÂpaign promises and embezÂzled funds. We are tired ofÂ FEMAÂ and misÂmanÂaged bureauÂcracy in the Gulf Coast. We are tired of hurÂriÂcanes and earthÂquakes and falling stock marÂket prices. We are tired ofÂ HIV, AIDS,Â TB, and other acronymed disÂeases. We are tired of starvÂing chilÂdren and anorexic celebriÂties. We are tired of school shootÂings and inner city crime. We are tired of debatÂing evoÂluÂtion in schools and aborÂtion in the courts. We are tired of HMOs and insurÂance comÂpaÂnies and a broÂken healthÂcare sysÂtem. We are tired of divorces in our homes and grapÂpling for grades in our schools. We are tired of gripÂing bosses and snipÂing co-workers. We are tired of searchÂing for someÂone who will like us for who we are and not who we preÂtend to be. We are tired of hypocrisy and judgÂment in the church from whom we had expected to receive grace. We are tired of the disÂapÂpointÂments that hapÂpen all theÂ time.
What option is there left for us? We arenâ€™t revÂoÂluÂtionÂarÂies; we know the world too well to expect it to change. We arenâ€™t saints; we know ourÂselves too well to expect change there either. The only truth we are sure of is a humanÂity and an idenÂtity that is so disÂgustÂingly and preÂdictably selfÂish that we might as well poke fun at it. Weâ€™ll do anyÂthing except hope for change, because hope requires vulÂnerÂaÂbilÂity. Hope demands that we have an expecÂtaÂtion that can be disÂapÂpointed and unfulÂfilled. Hope means that we must be cerÂtain of someÂthing we canÂnot see, that we must trust in someÂthing we do notÂ understand.
This is a frightÂenÂing prospect for aÂ cynic.
This is a frightÂenÂing prospect forÂ me.
I would much rather describe the world than have hope for it. There is nothÂing to fear from a descripÂtion: nothÂing to be surÂprised or disÂapÂpointed by. And so I will stand here and tell you that 18,000 chilÂdren die each day from hunger, that you canâ€™t trust anyÂone else or even yourÂself which means that you cerÂtainly should never trust a politiÂcian, that you canâ€™t get someÂthing for nothÂing, that you canâ€™t find a good church or even good peoÂple these days, that jusÂtice is a joke and peace is a sham, that everyÂthing is broÂken, and that nothÂing is sacred or perÂfect or even mildly decent.
As a cynic, I can tell you what the world is, but I canÂnot tell you what to do withÂ it.
All that has changed in the past six years since writing those words is that we are at even greater risk of cynicism. Â A technologically-powered explosion of information has given us near-infinite access to the range and dynamism of human nature, and what we find most troubling is how toxic and yet accessible human nature can truly be. Â In our attempts to cope, we either saturate and displace those sentiments with catharsis (videos of cats come to mind), or we overÂesÂtiÂmatÂe our capacÂity for human empaÂthy, kindÂness, and sorÂrow.
How can we begin to comprehend the collective cruelty of humanity without resorting to the blunting despair of cynicism? Â We can only do so through Good Friday, that moment in time in which the sheer revulsion, mortification, and magnitude of the human condition is understood in the unjust suffering of a single man, Jesus Christ. Â By this I mean we feel the weight of our guilt in the heft of his cross. Â We feel the sting of our mockery in his crown of thorns. Â We feel our dismembering violence in the piercing of his hands and side. Â In one man, we finally have a gruesome spectacle that does justice to the portrayal of the injustice in our world.
At the foot of the cross, all our deep transgressions find their full expression.
Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!
Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker died,
For man the creatureâ€™s sin.
Thus might I hide my blushing face
While His dear cross appears,
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt my eyes to tears.
But drops of grief can neâ€™er repay
The debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give my self away
â€™Tis all that I can do.
– Isaac Watts
About the author:
David graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Electrical Engineering and received his medical degree from Rutgers - Robert Wood Johnson Medical School with a Masters in Public Health concentrated in health systems and policy. He completed a dual residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at Christiana Care Health System in Delaware. He continues to work in Delaware as a dual Med-Peds hospitalist. Faith-wise, he is decidÂedly Christian, and regarding everything else he will gladly talk your ear off about health policy, the inner city, gadgets, and why Disneyâ€™s Frozen is actually a terrible movie.