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Gentle Pushback on Authenticity

by Jessawhy

Rose

Authenticity is a common topic at The Exponent.  But lately, I’ve been thinking that perhaps it is more complex than we sometimes discuss in our threads. My thoughts stemmed when I tried to look at authenticity from a traditional Mormon perspective.  When I did this, I realized that most Mormons, and perhaps most Christians, wouldn’t see authenticity as a value they would work towards.  I’m not at all saying that authenticity isn’t valuable, and that there is no place for it, but I am worried about using it as the ultimate value, the goal for our spiritual progression.

For a working definition, I consulted wikipedia. Authenticity (philosophy) “the attempt to live one’s life according to the needs of one’s inner being, rather than the demands of society or one’s early conditioning.”

As appealing as this sounds,  does it not seem to stand somewhat in contrast to the values of Christianity?

This definition, appears to leave out God, and in so doing distances itself from Christians or Mormons values. Thinking about it this way explains why I don’t hear authenticity discussed much in Sacrament meeting talks or RS lessons.  However, integrity seems like a close cousin of authenticity, the difference, I suppose, being that with integrity you would make choices consistent with your beliefs which are based on God’s commandments.

The other question I have is if we decide authenticity is desirable, is it realistic? Like the definition suggests, much of our behavior has been programed by our genetics or socialization: cultural, religious, political, etc.  Thus, to what extent we can break away from these factors and really find an independent self to whom we can be true?

For those of us trying to walk the careful line between feminism and membership in the LDS church, is authenticity really what we should be focused on? Is there something better that we should strive for?

It seems that Christianity and LDS teachings encourage us to cultivate a variety of virtues: The YW’s theme comes to mind, as do humility, patience, obedience, and being one with the people of God.

“If ye are not one, ye are not mine.” D&C 38:27

And let’s not foget charity, the pure love of Christ as described in 1 Cor 13 and Moroni 7. This virtue seems to stand above the rest as the greatest love we can have.

All of these virtues are, well, virtuous, so how do rank authenticity among them? Why?

In the end, my purpose here is to create a place to discuss the way value  authenticity compared to traditional Christian virtues. I do not mean to offend anyone or any group with these comments, but hope that we can find a way to use our own understanding and experiences to flesh out the complexities of this topic.

Jessawhy

Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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14 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Interesting questions, Jessawhy.

    I would say that one way to interpret ‘the needs of one’s inner being’ – at least in a religious way – is to think of that as one’s inner voice of conscience. Or in Mormon lingo, The Spirit. I think one could also go back to the Mormon idea of that spark of divinity that resides in all of us and call that, in its purest form, our ‘inner being’ So in a nutshell, it seems to me like there are definitely ways to meld, with very little dissonance, the idea of authenticity with Christian values of charity, love, etc.

    But i do see where your questions come from, if you interpret ‘the needs of one’s inner being’ as one’s personal (possibly selfish?) needs. If one does think of authenticity more in that vein, then I would advocate a careful balance of authenticity and selflessness. Selflessness can be dangerous when taken too far, when it dips into self abnegation, loss of identity, and unhealthy self-sacrifice. (A common trap that women in the Christian world have been encouraged to fall into.) And of course, authenticity could also be taken too far if it leads to concern for self often overpowering concern for others. I vote for a middle road between the two.

  2. Kelly Ann says:

    Authenticity to me means “to be myself.” Maybe it isn’t the right word for what often gets described here.

    I think it is a virtue that encompasses everything else. Perhaps that is why it isn’t listed in the young women values and perhaps so it doesn’t incite revolution or justification for not living up to the other virtues.

    That is just a thought but I appreciate your discussion of the topic. I never really thought about what it means and how to strive for it before.

  3. Kiri Close says:

    To enhance the term ‘authenticity’ here, I’d like to add ‘singularity’–imagine being ‘true’ to your inner authenticity without putting the squeeze on any other entity of singularity.

    It would mean more than the complexity of not caring what any other entity of singularity says, feel, or reacts to your own attempts at singularity.

  4. Dora says:

    I tend to think of authenticity as hearkening back to the essential parts of my being. The image I use most oftn is that my center (or soul) is sheathed in layers, almost like an onion, but with a center of heavenly spirit. The layers are things that I’ve made to protect my vulnerable soul. However, as I strengthen my core, then comes the hard task of stripping away the unneccessary layers. So, being more authentic isn’t correlated with being selfish in my mind. Quite the opposite, it allows me to be my most genuine and benificent self.

  5. Flygirl says:

    Such a difficult balance. I love all the comments so far. To me authenticity isn’t really the end-goal, but more of a place to start from. Or at least that is my attempt. I think of authenticity as understanding and accepting my true self, what it really is, at the moment. I think once we accept what is, then we can move onto what we want to be and pursue those other goals of love, humility, patience, and whatever other goals we are striving for, because we realize where we really are, and where we are going. I think authenticity is a good foundation for other Christian virtues, because what you do, you do with sincerity.

  6. Alisa says:

    Great questions, Jess. I agree with some of the commenters that in the LDS sense, we essentially are divine beings, and doing what is most authentic to our divine nature can bring about many Christian virtues.

    This reminds me of a wikipedia article I read on Pascal’s Wager, which is the gamble on believing in God or not. Further down, it talks about authenticity, or in other words, if God would reward someone for doing something that’s righteous on the surface if it didn’t come from their true inner being. Or, God might actually reward dissenters and strugglers for their honesty, for acknowledging their challaneges head on and taking unpleasant paths to sort it out, rather than favoring those who just shove doubts into a corner and exercise blind faith.

    Is acting like it good enough? Or does it need to come from a deeper place?

  7. mr.mraynes says:

    Cool ideas, Jessawhy!

    You’ve touched on another paradoxical element of living the Gospel–how to balance between being true to the self and the community of Saints and God.

    It seems to me that authenticity must be an important element of our spiritual journey. We must recognize and acknowledge who we are and how our personalitiy operates. We must look at ourselves honestly to evaluate where we are and what we need.

    But, to a degree, being a disciple of Christ certainly entails submitting and denying certain “authentic” parts of our personalities.

    Perhaps this is another kind or “double bind.” It is a pull between the individual’s inner and outer existences and how to bring them into balance.

  8. ZD Eve says:

    Excellent questions, Jessawhy. Personally I tend to be somewhat suspicious of authenticity for some of the reasons you mention.

  9. Markie says:

    Great comments one and all, but I really love and resonate with flygirl’s response. So many times in my life, I’ve pushed down uncomfortable thoughts or aspects of myself because they weren’t the person I wanted to be (or thought I should be). Accepting who I am and what I think and believe (or don’t) is authenticity. Working to (authentically) become the person I want to be and the person God knows I can be seems much more likely to be successful after true self-knowledge.

  10. Jessawhy says:

    Wow.
    I am so impressed with the thoughtful comments.
    I’m learning so much about the various ways we see authenticity in our own lives and the lives of others.

    I only have a few minutes, so I’ll address a few comments.

    Caroline,
    I can see the idea that our inner being is divine and that by being authentic we are following the Spirit, but if that’s true, why don’t we frame our discussion that way? Also, this seems to contradict the “natural man is an enemy to God” where we would seek for more than our inner being can offer.

    Kelly Ann,
    I guess if authenticity was described as wanting to be my “better” self, it would make more sense to me as encompassing all values. I just don’t see how being myself is encouraging me to be better than I currently am. And, I guess I should add that I think it is important to be better than I currently am. To improve myself in these other virtues (love, patience, humility) daily.

    OK, too many kids crying. try again later . . .

  11. Th. says:

    .
    Curiously, this was a topic in our (always excellent) Sunday School the other day. And yes, the cult of personality doesn’t mesh well with Christianity. It tastes like a no-other-gods situation to me, but we’re so wrapped up in following our hearts that we’ve lost track of that.

  12. Jessawhy says:

    Kiri,
    Thanks for your comment.
    I’m not exactly sure what you mean by singularity. Does it mean that by being authentic it doesn’t reflect on what other people think or feel? Perhaps you could give an example.

    Dora,
    Great analogy. It reminds me of Shrek who has layers, like onions have layers. 🙂
    So, would you say that peeling away the layers is a way the you enhance Christian virtues? Like peeling off pride and insecurity? Let’s call it exfoliating our souls.

    Flygirl,
    I love this: “To me authenticity isn’t really the end-goal, but more of a place to start from.”
    I haven’t thought of it that way. Like Dora said, it is vulnerable to admit your true self, but Mormon’s believe you have to admit your faults and strengths to have humility, change, and grow.
    Beautiful thoughts, thanks.

    Alisa,
    I struggle with those questions as well. It actually reminds me of a Book of Mormon passage where Alma (29,I think) discusses that all we really need is the desire to do good. (It’s after the “O, that I were an angel” section). It reminds me that God really does look on our hearts and what our inner desires are. If they’re pure, then we’re pure in the eyes of God. But it sounds so much easier than it is.
    Also, I think our behavior changes based on what we believe God wants from us. I don’t know that God cares if I have an iced coffee or wear a tank top. But, I do think he cares that helped the homeless woman on the side of the road. So, perhaps authenticity has something to do with examining what we believe are the core tenets of Christianity.

    Mr. Mraynes,
    Another paradox! How paradoxical. So glad you framed it that way, it makes me appreciate the importance of this complex concept. In sum, as long as part of authenticity is the desire to improve in other Christian virtues, I think it’s important. When a desire to be authentic is in place of these virtues, I don’t know if it is beneficial for an individual or society.

    ZD Eve,
    Thanks for commenting! It’s good to see you around here, as I know you’ve got your hands full with Tiny Pin.

    Markie,
    Like Flygirl, I love the way you see authenticity as a jumping board to greater spiritual progress. I’d love to hear examples from both of you, as to how you’ve seen this work in your life.

    Th.
    Thanks for the comment. By “no-other-gods situation,” do you mean we worship ourselves in a way? That’s very interesting. My guess is that it’s more about following what our hearts say God tells us than just following our hearts.
    But, then again, it may be hard to distinguish.

  13. G says:

    nice post and great questions! I have frequently used the term ‘authentic’ as a goal I am working towards but not really thought much about the actual definition of the word; for me I view it as being more honest with myself and others.

    but, yah, the ‘seeking one’s bliss’ aspect of the word isn’t really a gospel principle (unless bliss is defined as what we will achieve in the hereafter through a lifetime of sacrifice and hard work.)

    in another vein, I am always intrigued by the question you ask about if authenticity (REALLY knowing ourselves) is even realistic given how socialized we are by so many influences.

  14. Zenaida says:

    Whenever I think of authenticity, I think of it in the way I represent myself. I feel a strong need to be able to be me with flaws included and not put up a front that hides my imperfections. Maybe that’s more integrity than authenticity, but it’s definitely tied in my mind. I’m far from perfect at it. But, I absolutely appreciate people who can be real.

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