Authenticity is highly praised in our society. What people think of when they talk about authenticity is that we are “real” – that we aren’t “hypocritical” in our presentation of ourself.
Authenticity can easily be demonstrated in artwork. If you have $50 million and are seeking to purchase a Picasso, the most important question for you is, “Is it authentic?” What makes the painting valuable is its authenticity: when the inner and outer lives match.
But people today confuse these waters. They hijack true authenticity and use it as a guise, as a presentation of goodness – “Hey, I’m just being authentic.” We may apply the metaphor in a different direction – that is, towards what is valuable, for instance, with a valuable stone. We must understand that authenticity, in its own right, is nothing. What matters ultimately is not whether an object is authentic, but the worth of that object. Ultimately, essence precedes existence (contra existentialism)
For instance, lets say you have two rocks, one a quartz, the other a diamond. The diamond is what is more valuable, for many reasons. They appear similar, but are ultimately of a different quality and essence. If you bought an engagement ring or received an engagement ring under the pretense that it was an authentic diamond, only to find out that it was a quartz crystal, you would be justifiably angry.
Now, lets say that you got an engagement ring but you bought it aware that the stone was a quartz crystal, the value you would place upon that ring, in and of itself, without any other value assigned to it (such as a symbol of love), would be very minimal. If you lost the ring you wouldn’t be severely upset because the inherent value in that ring wouldn’t be that hard to replace. A 1 carat quartz is pennies to replace.
The point is to show that no one cares about the authenticity of an invaluable object. No one is genuinely concerned that a 1 carat quartz is a 1 carat quartz. What people care about is when something valuable is authentic. Authenticity, though admirable in itself, ultimately retains its value when it is attributed to objects of significant value.
Now, let’s translate this into the human realm.
I hear all the time, “We want to be an Authentic Church” or “I’m just being authentic.” But the way we use this is often done in the opposite direction of using authenticity in a way that really matters. An alcoholic can authentically be an alcoholic. Certainly this is infinitely better than an alcoholic who is trying to run a church and putting on a guise that he is not actually that way. Authenticity in this way is admirable in that the person is not presenting himself other than he is – but, we must also note that this should be expected. It should surprise us when someone is not authentic, not when some is authentic, which is quite the opposite of our modern expectations.
But this goes even further – the majority (if not exclusively) of people who use this statement are those who are living sinfully – doing things that are self-destructive, objectionable, offensive, or harmful to others. Oftentimes a person will be crass in public, someone will confront them on it, and then the crass person will reply, “Hey, I’m just being authentic.” A racist may make a racist comment. Certainly he is being “authentic” about who he really is.
But this kind of authenticity is worthless. It is like the quartz crystal stating that it is a quartz crystal – there is no value to it.
Authenticity about sin without the intent to confront and change it is useless authenticity. The only kind of authenticity that truly matters is when a person with a good heart acts good – hence, the authenticity of Christ is the only true authenticity. He is the diamond that presented himself as a diamond. His authenticity had worth and value.
On the other end of the spectrum, sinners being “authentic” about their sin, simply for authenticity’s sake is useless. What do I want to do with a person who is authentically self-destructive or offensive? What are we to say of this person? “Congratulations, you are a pain to be around?”
People today seem to think that authenticity is an end in itself – “only if I am not living in pretense about what I am doing, then it does not matter.” This kind of thinking entirely misses the point. Authenticity, ultimately, is not a commendable attribute. A person who sells a genuine Picasso is not praised for saying “This is a genuine Picasso.” To thank this person is foolish – if the person who sells the Picasso is thanked by someone for being honest about the Picasso’s genuine origin, I would expect the seller to look puzzled and say, “Why would I say this isn’t authentic? That’s silly…”
So, praising authenticity in and of itself is ultimately useless. You don’t praise a criminal who admits his guilt but has no remorse for what he has done. You don’t say to the criminal, “Thank you for being authentic about your wrong. It means a lot.” His authenticity changes nothing and does not change that he is a remorseless criminal. You praise a criminal who admits his guilt when he shows remorse and a commitment to change his destructiveness.
Authenticity is praised only when a man who formerly hides his sin or is even public about his sin turns and commits to changing. Ultimately, this is the only kind of authenticity that counts in people.
This is my problem with so many churches stating one of their “core values” as “authenticity.” I could really care less about how “authentic” your church really is, because you can be authentically wrong. You can say, “we believe that Jesus really isn’t God, and we’re authentic about it – we don’t hide it, even if people don’t like us for it” and I will say, “I don’t care about your authenticity, it doesn’t change the fact that you are authentically wrong.”
So, reader, before you get all self-assured about how authentic you are about your sinful behavior, I commend you to consider that if you do not authentically commit yourself to confronting your sinful behavior, then people should authentically avoid you, because you are destructive, and not safe to be around. Do not hide your sin (do not be inauthentic about your sin), or else you commit an even greater sin – be authentic about the fact that what you are doing is sin, and commit yourself to reforming your behavior.
That is the only authenticity that truly matters. Don’t fall into the trap of our world’s conception of authenticity. True authenticity is when you present yourself as you truly are, with all your destructiveness and foolishness, your poverty and sickness, but seek to leave these behind.