Yesterday, I was doing my bit at Love Wins when the subject of Hugh’s grouchiness came up. I informed everyone that Hugh wasn’t a grouch, he was a curmudgeon. The resulting conversation reminded me of this post I wrote a few months back.
The question “Can you be a Christian and _____” gets asked a lot these days and the answer depends on who you ask. For instance, ask a conservative evangelical if you can be a Christian and be gay, the answer is likely to be no. Ask that same evangelical if you can be a Christian and be a liberal and you’ll probably the answer will probably be the same. I’m not sure if the question has ever been applied to being a curmudgeon before, but I’m asking it now. Can you?
I think it depends on your definition of curmudgeon. Merriam-Webster says a curmudgeon is “a crusty, ill-tempered, and usually old man”. But, that’s not accurate. H. L. Mencken, the curmudgeon’s curmudgeon, began writing his snide, snarky editorials in his late twenties; hardly an old man. A better definition comes from Jon Winokur, who said
“A curmudgeon’s reputation for malevolence is undeserved. They’re neither warped nor evil at heart. They don’t hate mankind, just mankind’s absurdities. They’re just as sensitive and soft-hearted as the next guy, but they hide their vulnerability beneath a crust of misanthropy. They ease the pain by turning hurt into humor. . . . . . They attack maudlinism because it devalues genuine sentiment. . . . . . Nature, having failed to equip them with a serviceable denial mechanism, has endowed them with astute perception and sly wit.”
The International Society of Curmudgeons says curmudgeons “don’t just complain about things, they do it with flair, style, panache, satire, and a sardonic view of life! That’s what makes them memorable. They also, deep down (very deep down), believe that by saying something about it, life will change. Saying even more about it will hopefully make life change faster and sooner.” Actually, a curmudgeon is a bit of a prophet. Oh, not in the “see the future” way, more in the biblical sense. Jeremiah and Elijah pointed out where society was dropping the ball and they did so with “flair, style, panache, satire and a sardonic view of life“. The best of them all was Hosea, who married a prostitute to show what whores the Israelites had become. Now, there’s a curmudgeon even that old atheist Mencken could appreciate.
Curmudgeons are often the voice, if not the conscience, of social change. My own curmudgeonhood is defined by the words of Elie Wiesel , who said “I swore never to be silent wherever and whenever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” See, you most certainly can be a curmudgeon and a Christian. In fact, being curmudgeonly can be an incredibly Christian act.
As Winokur says, curmudgeons “don’t hate mankind, just mankind’s absurdities”. One is the Pollyanna approach to Christianity which says that with God in your life everything is sunshine and rainbows. Another is the question, “Can you be a Christian and ______”. Of course, you can. You can be just about anything and still be a Christian. Applying either/or arguments to life may just be the ultimate absurdity. Even if it’s not, I think it’s ridiculous and should be avoided at all costs.