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Have you lost faith?

About a week or so ago, my wife asked me: “Have you lost your faith in humanity?”  The question caught me off guard but what really surprised me was the realization that I have gone through a major paradigm shift in this regard.
You see, I used to believe that people were fundamentally good and, more importantly, loving.  I used to think that many of us were wounded or deceived or ignorant… but I believed that these were all things that love, patience, and truth-telling could fix.  Therefore, as I woke up to the deep injustices in our society — and to the absolutely unecessary sufferings of many — I wanted to do something to address those things and I assumed that others would want to do this as well.  In particular, I assumed that others with similar worldviews to my own (Christians) would be keen to be better lovers of others once they realized what was going on in the world and right under their noses.  Thus, as I began to journey alongside of those in exile, I also began to speak and write a great deal about these things.
However, as I have done this over the years, I have realized that most people (and most Christians) aren’t actually particularly interested in loving others or doing much of anything about the injustices that define our lives.  Despite my various efforts to appeal to their intellects, to their emotions, and to their values — despite all my arguing, cajoling, begging, and provoking — most everybody remains untouched and keeps on doing what they’re doing without much concern for their neighbours.
This used to frustrate and anger me quite a lot… but I’ve realized that it frustrated and angered me because of the expectation I had for others — I had assumed that people were generally good and generally desiring to love others.  I have since had to let go of this expectation.  And it is this ‘letting go’ that could be described as my loss of faith in humanity.
Now I have come to believe that most people won’t change all that much over their lives and most people won’t ever give much of a damn about most others or about what goes on in our world.  For now, I have learned to accept this.  I don’t hold it against anybody.  It is what it is.  Instead of anger and frustration, I have learned resignation.  I no longer expect much of anything of anybody.  And maybe that’s what it means to practice grace.
(Oh, and I’ve also learned not to expect much of myself either.  That might be what it means to practice humility.)

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  1. Oh gosh, every single time I read one of those disillisioned posts of yours, I wonder if I’m one of your failures…
    I get your point though. The thing that drives me nuts is people believing not that they are there yet, but that the challenges of the Christian life are so damn easy for us rich fools.
    So their main challenge as disciple of Jesus Christ is to be more in tune with themselves and their kids; or something like that. I even met someone who thought that the next thing God wanted her to be doing is read more cookbooks!
    The low expectations come right from the pulpits too, with saccharine exhorations along the “read more cookbooks and be open to God” line.
    This said, I vividly remember a conversation with a low expectation type of priest. Mostly it was about stewardship of monetary resources. He said that, for most people, daily life is expensive, and so of course they can’t allocate all that much to helping others.
    I did not fully agree with him, but he had a point. People’s “normal life” can demand a lot of their energies, because they’re living with a difficult kid, loosing their parents, being jobless and that kind of stuff.
    Who are we to tell them that they should be expanding more of their resources towards people they don’t know while their are preocuppied by things that, to them, are serious?
    We might think that they need to open up to the world a bit, but the first step is to acknowledge that what’s already part of their mental universe is probably legit, even the need to read more cookbooks for all I know (I speak as someone who owns quite a few).
    So I go on nagging my friends and families -and myself-, fairly directly all of the time, about whether they’ve given to their favourite charity lately, whether they’ve taken steps towards that volunteering they wanted to do.
    And then I listen to their excuses, because the excuses are what they are really on about, and I’m unwilling to dicard their real concerns with the desire to change them into something that currently they are not.
    But I’ll keep nagging.

  2. Nah, I didn’t have you, or anybody specific, in mind when I wrote this. Just sort of an all around general observation that I feel applies to pretty much everybody (myself included). But, as Kurt Vonnegut was apt to say after noting some of the crazy and disastrous things in our world, “So it goes”.
    That said, some of what you have written here ties in well with a presentation I’m working on for a conference in March. I’ll be posting that after the conference though, so hold that thought (for awhile!).

  3. Couldn´t it be that civilisation/the system is a big part of what makes us un-loving people, and that people will wake up to the alternatives on a broader scale once the system begins to tremble and fall?

  4. Jonas,
    Sure, I think that is a big factor, but it’s a bit of a Catch-22 as people need to wake up in order for the system to “tremble and fall” (I mean, sure, systems always come and go but one bad system is usually replaced by another bad system — take, for example, the Eastern European transition from communism to capitalism — so we’re talking about a particular kind of fall that would be required to create an environment that would awaken people).

  5. Yeah. I tend to agree with the anarcho-primitivist in their critique of civilization (but not on every other point). If you haven´t looked into that, I recommend it (start with John Zerzan). So I guess I´m hoping for a fall or decline of civilization, a very “particular kind of fall”, indeed.
    But I also think that a kind of wake up could be effected when the cracks in the systems appears more clearly to people. To some extent this seems to be happening, with more and more people, even the priviliged ones, feeling in their bodies that something is wrong (with burn out, anxiety etc). Historically, this also seems to be a question of timing and momentum, sometimes almost nothing seems to be happening, and then suddenly all hell (or heaven) breaks loose.
    For my own part, I´m putting my hope in what JHW is doing in bringing people on the Exodus-journey, moving out of the system and developing alternatives. To some extent this seems to be happening with the primitivist tendencies and the new monastic movement. In Sweden I now have about twenty communities on my prayer list that I´ve met personally, and they all have come about in the last two to three years or so. So I guess my feeling is a bit more positive than your own, but maybe my expectation is a bit lower than yours? I can become quite happy even with small tendencies of people changing their lives a small step at the time in another direction. Often this is how change has worked in my life at least. (And you have been one of the influences!)

  6. “so we’re talking about a particular kind of fall that would be required to create an environment that would awaken people)”
    Maybe that particular kind of fall is made up of melting polar ice caps. Maybe the right environment to awaken us will BE the environment.

  7. Sue and Jonas,
    I doubt it. If the environment falls, then we are not looking at an awakening, we’re looking at a great devastation. The fall of the environment probably won’t bring salvation so much as damnation.
    Plus, when you look at the ways in which people are responding to this crisis — even at the people who claim to be really environmentally conscious and all that — you’ll notice a vast amount of self-righteous tokenistic activity and not much of anything meaningful (people who grow their own vegetables but still drive a car and all that nonsense). Sure, it’s hot right now… but it’s hot, in part, because going green and clean energy are the new market bubble and — like the oil bubble, the housing bubble, and the dot-com bubble, it’s bound to pop and only leave us in a worse place than we were before.

  8. I’m not thinking so much of tokenistic stuff. And I’m not thinking either of damnation. I’m thinking of what lies beyond all of those things. The life that will be beyond death.
    Anyway, we shall see, I suppose 🙂

  9. It´s my conviction that industrial civilization is not sustainable, even if the climate thing is exaggerated. For example, the system is fueled by and built of non renewable stuff like oil, gas, metals etc. Sooner or later, it will require more energy to get the hands on these “resources” than we can get out of them. This might be when we really will see the system begin to shake.
    We´re killing the planet right now, the question is if we will truly notice or not.
    Neither am I talking about things like changing light bulbs and stuff, but there are also people out there trying to living simple and sustainable life for real, living without electricity or even in the woods and stuff.
    I also think different aspects of the destructiveness of the system is connected. It´s not the question of whether we should focus on “homelessness” or “environment” etc.