Authenticity is a concept that has been thrown around quite a bit these days. To claim that something or someone is authentic is to claim that it is pure and uncontaminated or real and trustworthy. In fact, many have come to coin the phrase “a culture of authenticity” to define the underlying movement of people trying to find personal meaning in our greater society.
“By using the term ‘authenticity’, I mean the understanding of life [whereby] each one of us has his/her own way of realizing our humanity. It is important to find and live out one’s own [life], without surrendering to conformity with a model imposed on us from the outside – by society, previous generation, or religious/political authority.” Charles Taylor, Canadian philosopher
The quest for personal authenticity has been a pursuit of humans throughout the ages. Polonius in Hamlet has been quoted for centuries, “To thy own self be true.” The way to achieve personal authenticity in our society is to stand intellectually and morally alone, stick to our own prescribed principles, and act only as a result of what we esteem. Is this the way to realizing our humanity?
Quolet, The Teacher, who mused the purpose of life in the writing of Ecclesiastes, around 250 BCE long before Shakespeare, claimed that all pursuits of self-aggrandizement were simply vanity of vanities. Through a lifelong search for meaning, The Teacher came to know that life at its most precious is a life lived in relationship with and care of another, enjoying the fruits of collective labor, accepting the limitedness of our knowing truth, and honoring God by trusting the gift of our lives.
Our humanity can only be authentic when we transcend our vain self-reliance to seek what is beyond our egos and abilities. As we negotiate with, sacrifice for and act on behalf of others, we are initiated into a communal experience of shared righteousness. This is the core of our faith. Jesus brought us into righteousness by doing these very things for us and now our fullness of humanity can only be attained when we do this for and with another.
The quest for authenticity is not a vain pursuit. BUT, in order for each of us to reach such a lofty goal, we must be willing to look beyond our own abilities, intellects and egos. We must be willing to bind ourselves to the common experience of humanity with the hope that each will expand and elevate us all into the authentic connectivity of love.
24 And let us consider each other carefully for the purpose of sparking love and good deeds. (Hebrews 10:24)
Our churches are not immune to getting distracted by our cultural quest for authenticity. Each body of Christ seeks to be a place for a communal experience of shared righteousness but this can only be true when the community does not settle to stand intellectually and morally alone, stick to its own prescribed principles, and act only as a result of what it esteems. As people of faith, we are called to move on from declaring and defending our doctrinal, theological, historical and bureaucratic “rightness”. We are to move from this milk fed to an infant to ensure her growth to solid food consumed to nourish the movement of her body. (Hebrews 5-6) We must mobilize, act and move forward to ensure we mature beyond complacency to the work of Christ.
14 Pursue the goal of peace along with everyone-and holiness as well, because no one will perceive the Lord without it. 15 Make sure that no one misses out on God’s grace. Make sure that no root of bitterness grows up that might cause trouble and pollute many people. (Hebrews 12:14-15)
As I understand it, the only way to realize our humanity is to surrender to the power of love which can only be known through the shared ego of all of God’s people.