“Does folly for Christ have a place in the modern world?” “The fools of God,” replies Saward to the preceding question, “are needed especially in times of relative tranquility in the political life of a country, and God sends them to reveal the inner strength of the Church” (J. Saward, Perfect Fools [Oxford, 1980]).
Indeed, tranquility in the political realm, in society, and so on is of particular relevance in our age. “After decades of reconstruction, of Utopias, and new ‘alternative solutions,'” the philosopher P. Sloterdijk, writing in German, notes, “our age is cynical, knowing that its new values have a weak footing…. The modern cynic defines himself at the risk of becoming a simple spectator. He does his work and says to himself that it would have been better for him to have done nothing at all…. He lives from day to day, from vacation to vacation, from problem to problem…. Some topics affect him, but about the majority of them he remains quite indifferent” (P. Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason ).
Most contemporary philosophers accept that, as a civilization, we are living in an age of “Post-nihilism,” a cynical age in which Nietzsche’s claim that “God is dead” strikes a very romantic chord. The cynicism of our age is expressed in a variety of ways. Modem man does not run the risk simply of defining himself in the passive role of the spectator. He is already a spectator with regard to the problems facing him, whether individual, social, ethnic, political, spiritual, etc. He is dominated by the unhealthy standards of eudaimonism, consumerism, and indifference to things spiritual: precisely, that is, by the cynical search for continually greater enjoyment with the smallest possible effort. Thus, in our age, cases of sham madness grow more frequent.
All around us, more and more people are “acting crazy.” Certainly, we do not have in mind the criminals who pretend that they have lost their wits in order to obtain a lesser punishment. We mean the prevailing trend of deifying the schizophrenic and the abnormal: the phenomenon of attempting to escape from reality through denying social conventions and bounds (the hippie movement, anarchists, and so on), the use of drugs, etc.
The philosophers Deleuze and Guattari have characterized the schizophrenic as a revolutionary. The deification and worship of the schizophrenic is also obvious from a “vogue magazine,” The Saigon Schizophrenic, which circulated in Leningrad [now St. Petersburg] some time ago and which was, of course, eagerly bought up. But why is our age cynical, and why are modern men cynics? Because modern man is bored.
“Cynicism,” Tatiana Goricheva tells us, “springs from boredom, the boredom of hell” (Goricheva, op. cit., p. 63). Dostoievsky places the deadly passion of torpor on the lips of Satan, “who, with all of his abominations and crimes, has no creative power.” “This procedure,” the Devil thus says in the in The Brothers Karamazov, “has already been undertaken many times over, always in the same way, down to the last detail. One completely jarring, gigantic bore.”
About the ancient Greek Cynic philosopher Diogenes it has been written, according to Glicksman, that “Diogenes, who had neither slaves, nor money, nor esteem, was superior to Alexander [the Great] and more fortunate than the King of Persia.” This is precisely the prototype of contemporary cynical man. So is folly for Christ perhaps a form of contemporary cynicism?
The answer is in the negative. Even in the ostensible external similarities between folly for Christ and cynicism, there are essential differences. The cynic appears to live above material things and needs. The fool for Christ is, in fact, above material things and needs. The fool foregoes even what is offered to him, for the sake of his goal and his brother. He lives in the Kingdom of God, by the will of God, and not, like the cynic, failing to recognize “anything and anyone” as a higher authority.
The “fool” is not bored; on the contrary, he struggles. His “folly” proceeds from an anguished interest not only in his personal salvation, but also in the good estate of God’s creation, the world and man. The Cynics, modern and ancient, do not live the life of prayer, purification, and asceticism. On the contrary, as it is said, Diogenes “occupied himself before the eyes of the Athenians with most unbecoming things, the things of Demeter and Aphrodite” (Diogenes Laertios, 6.09). St. Symeon of Emesa (in a typical example of external similarity between the fool and the cynic), “when his digestive tract was ready to fulfill its proper functions,” writes Leontios of Neapolis, “straight forward, embarrassed by no one, …squatted down at a place in the market in view of all” (Leontios of Neapolis, St. Symeon the Fool for Christ, PG 93:1670-1748). Despite the external similarity in behavior between Diogenes (the Cynics) and Symeon (the “fools”), there is an essential internal difference. Diogenes did the aforementioned things out of cynical indifference. St. Symeon did what he did “wishing thereby to persuade people that he was doing this as one who was out of his mind” (ibid.).
Diogenes occupied himself with “the things of Aphrodite,” and in public at that, since his philosophy was not ascetical, ethical, or sanctifying. However, the Life of St. Andrew of Constantinople differently characterizes the behavior of the “fool” in this regard:
“One day, he was passing in front of the dens of iniquity and acted in such a way as to mock them. One of the prostitutes saw him acting in this manner and took him for a lunatic. So she caught him by his woolen garment and pulled him into her brothel…. Some of the whores pecked him on the neck and tried to lead him into their shameful activity. Others tried with repeated caresses and kisses to drag the chaste man into sin, saying: ‘You fool, fornicate with me, satisfy the passion of my soul.’ You would have been amazed at that noble man, for after so many blandishments, they were unable to lead him into their filthy passion. Thus they gave up and said: ‘This dead man is either made of wood or stone'” (St. Andrew the Fool for Christ, op. cit., pp. 37-38).
In our cynical age, satanic torpor and boredom lead the worldly man to deification of the abnormal, to a continuous search for that which will conceal the abyss of his spiritual emptiness. The Christian, however, does not have emptiness, because he has Christ, the Bridegroom of his soul. There are, in our age of cynical indifference and demonic interests, lovers of holiness, there are saints, and certainly there are fools for Christ. But the sure conclusion is that their martyric way of life, folly for Christ’s sake, is not a form of cynicism, but a path of holiness, and that alone.
—Antonios Markou. Excerpt from… Fools for Christ – Saintly Paradigms of Ascetic Piety
Cynicism and Folly for Christ