To Hell with Authenticity

Your bag is burlap. You prefer records to mp3's. Whole Foods is too corporate for you. Everything you own is made by Apple (which for some reason isn't too corporate for you.) You're authentic.

And nothing says "authentic" like an instagram effect on the staged picture of your life you really want everyone to see so they know how great your most recent sun flare'd cup of organic, ethically-sourced tea you tasted. But by the time you were done staging the picture, it was cold. It stinks when authenticity horns in on real life...

Our current cultural moment values with unique ardor the "authentic" individual—everyone being fully themselves. This is a movement driven by my generation. And historically speaking, 18-35 year-olds are great at knowing who they are, aren't they? It's the cultural equivalent of changing my son's name to Iron Man because he's convinced (at 3 years old) that's who he really wants to be. Sound ridiculous? That's because it is. Yet, everything about my generation is connected to this vain endeavor. Gender—which one most authentically fits you? Sex—what most satisfies you? Politics—what best represents your values? Money—what view of economic justice and policy resonates most deeply within your soul? Doug Wilson puts it this way,

We want our jeans authentic (pre-ripped at the factory), our apples authentic (grown locally instead of somewhere else),  our music authentic (underground bands nobody ever heard of), our lettuce authentic (organically manured), our literature authentic (full of angst), our movies authentic (subtitles), and our coffee tables authentic (purchased from a genuine peasant while we were on some eco-tour). In short, we are a bunch of phonies.

I'm convinced that when the history of my generation is written, many will scratch their heads and wonder why we were so fixated on being personally authentic. The reasons for this large-scale psychosis are many... repression, confusion, social dissolution, and many other "_____tion" kinds of words. But at bottom, the most basic reason is clear as day: Ego.

Chasing Authenticity is Selfish "But wait!" You say. "How can being authentic be selfish? Isn't it selfish of you to ask me be something other than myself?" And yes, I suppose you may have a point, if that's what I were saying. But I'm not. No one likes a faker. What I'm saying is that you chasing your essential you is just that... living for number one. We have a word for that in the English language: selfishness.

Chasing Authenticity is Unloving Because the pursuit of authenticity is selfish, it is therefore unloving. Biblical love is pouring out your life for the life of another. It's finding your joy in the joy of another. It's essentially Trinitarian and essentially Christ-like. But did Jesus spend his thirty years before his public ministry living in Mary and Joseph's basement, listening to vintage records, reading Marxist literature and discovering himself? No. He spent his early years preparing himself for his public ministry. He came to love us which meant not living primarily for his own sake.

Chasing Authenticity is Inauthentic Perhaps the most tragic reality about striving for authenticity is that it makes you the most fake, plastic person possible. Becoming who you are is not a goal, but a side effect of becoming like Christ. Jesus said that in order to live, you have to embrace death. Death to self—even the authentic, organic, burlap, Apple, ethically-sourced, self. Only then, when you've died to you and all your precious, nuanced ways you've come to identify you will you truly live.

So I say to hell with authenticity. May the vain pursuit of personal preciousness perish along with all other lesser loves, cheaper joys, and distracting sirens. For if we do not cast this foolishness into outer darkness, then we will very likely be taken there by it in the end.