The Problem of Inauthenticity | Connecting with Culture
‘Authenticity’ has become something of a buzzword in today’s culture, with everything from artisan coffee shops to M&S boxer shorts claiming to offer it.
The call of authenticity isn’t merely to know yourself, it’s to be yourself. Or as Dr Seuss puts it: ‘Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.’ The marker of inauthenticity, then, is saying or thinking one thing, but doing another.
Meanwhile, there is a deep suspicion of sweeping metanarratives – the grand overarching stories which attempt to order and explain knowledge and experience, often claiming to have the absolute perspective on the world (think absolute truth or moral absolutes). Christianity’s absolute claims led Friedrich Nietzsche to conclude that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are just constructs by which societies are organised and any absolute moral claim is a tool by which power is exerted. The same suspicion can be seen in our society today.
But the reduction of moral claims to mere power plays creates an interesting problem – the problem of inauthenticity. Take Harry Potter, for example. Few works of fiction share its near universal acclaim. It contains some great characters, superb writing, and a nefarious nose-less villain.
Therein lies the problem, however. Because this villain, Voldemort, shares our society’s assumptions about absolute moral claims. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Voldemort asserts that ‘there is no good or evil, only power and those too weak to seek it.’ But to decry Voldemort as a villain whilst accepting his moral vision of the world is either to label yourself a villain or to think one thing but act another. It is to admit that dreaded problem – inauthenticity.
Inauthenticity is not confined merely to this snippet of Harry Potter, either. ‘No’ to grand sweeping metanarratives but ‘yes’ to universal human rights. ‘No’ to absolute morality but ‘yes’ to ‘meat is murder’. ‘No’ to the dehumanising of refugees but ‘yes’ to the dehumanising of politicians. The problem of inauthenticity is one that plagues the contemporary mind.
What does Christianity have to say to this problem? It offers not just a metanarrative nor just a philosophy, but a relationship with someone who claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life. A relationship with the one who lived the only truly authentic life. In a culture that is grasping for something authentic and meaningful, nothing compares to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus.
Chris is a Ministry Trainee at King’s Church Durham
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