Ten Mangled Words – “Authentic”

Few words roll off the modern tongue as readily or as frequently as the family of words associated with authenticAuthenticityreal, sincere and intentional are like newly-minted gold for the Millennial tongue. Most previous generations of humans would have looked at you with furrowed eyebrows and pained expressions of confusion, had you greeted them with the line, “Keep it real, bro!”

Only a narcissistic generation would imagine that it had stumbled upon the meaning of authenticity, and that those that went before them were hopelessly mired in inauthentic, fake, insincere ways of life. But Xers, Yers and Millennials can barely contain their glee at how real they’re keepin’ it.

We buy Fair-Trade coffee, eat organic, listen to indie music, practice yoga, post online testimonials, blog about ourselves and our ‘struggles’, take natural medicines, wear mass-produced jeans distressed to appear “vintage,”, seek out pristine vacation spots, and one of the highest compliments we can pay someone is to say “he seems really sincere”.

This has bled into the church, with its own manifestations: accountability groups, informality in worship, a general suspicion of formality and tradition as insincere, a therapeutic approach to ministry, and seeking very different emotional experiences in corporate worship.

Of course, the culture is not aiming at nothing when it makes authenticity its goal, however blurry its general eyesight might be. In a consumer culture, we are bombarded with advertisements and marketing that is the very opposite of truthfulness. A consumer culture lives on fakery, exaggeration, hype, and artificially created discontent. At some point, a kind of fatigue sets in with all the attempts to charm us out of our pocketbook, and authenticity-hunting becomes a kind of consolation, that we haven’t been duped by it all.

Similarly, the Bible has much to say about phoniness and hypocrisy. From Moses to Paul, the Bible condemns religion that is a mere facade for an unchanged heart. A hypocrite, in Greek culture, was literally a stage-actor, and the word came to describe those who maintain religious exteriors for the sake of pleasing man, gaining money or power, or otherwise. Heart-religion is indeed a Scriptural concern, and all the more reason to rescue authentic from its mangled misrepresentations.

To do so, quite a bit of rust needs to be scraped off these words. First, we’ll need to rescue formalism from the accusation that it is insincere, or the corollary that informality and casualness is the natural state of sincerity. Second, we’ll need to distinguish between sincerity and emotion. Third, we’ll need to restore the difference between Scriptural honesty and the modern therapeutic model of counselling, and critique the idea that one’s natural thoughts and feelings are truthful, and should be shared.

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