Being Authentic Isn’t Good Enough

It is no secret that many today hunger for authenticity. And that really shouldn’t come as surprise. Photoshop, deepfakes, and curated social media profiles don’t exactly strengthen the bonds of societal trust.

Indeed, I question whether authenticity is even possible on social media particularly. Is it not a fool’s errand to think that anyone can be unimpacted by the public that they know will see their posts? To an extent, we always put on a degree of a mask anytime that we are not entirely alone, but that is especially true whenever we are in public (and we would do well to remember that social media is public mass media).

And isn’t it just as easy to curate the look of authenticity, as it is to actually be authentic? And who gets to judge authenticity anyway? How many posts about the struggles of life are needed to balance out posts about the blessings of life? What is the most authentic ratio between the two?

To be honest, it all just seems absurd to me.

You see, we often now equate authenticity with transparency, as if we cannot truly know someone until we are able see everything about them. Social media, however, is (again) a public platform, and as such, I see no reason why absolute transparency should be elevated as the great virtue of authenticity.

I see no reason why a curated public image, especially online, cannot also be authentic to who that person is. Using this very site as an example, I pray that my writings are honest and straightforward, but I will make no apologies about not being as transparent as I am with my wife, my children, and my close friends. My digital ‘presence’ is intentionally curated, as it should be.

Even so, I think that we can further down the rabbit hole by questioning how much we should value authenticity at all.

Now hear me out. Whenever we use authenticity to simply mean real and genuine, that’s all fine and dandy. Authenticity is certainly important when we talk about evidence used in a courtroom trial!  Yet whenever authenticity is used to describe a person, the whole notion can easily become much more abstract. Saying that someone is authentic still leaves us with a basic yet overlooked question: authentic according to what?

Psychology Today gives us what is probably the most common answer:

Individuals considered authentic are those who strive to align their actions with their core values and beliefs with the hope of discovering, and then acting in sync with, their true selves.[1]

Authenticity, therefore, is ultimately about self-alignment, about being genuinely you. This shouldn’t come as a surprise given our society’s absolute defense of self-identity, to the point of even being able to elect your own gender. Indeed, under the postmodern subjectivism of reality, humanity’s grand philosophical outlook can apparently be summarized by the Burger King marketing department: have it your way.

Except, there truly is a better way. Lewis once wrote that “Reality is harsh to the feet of shadows,” which is precisely why we actively prefer to pretend that reality is nothing more than a shadow, created at our own whim. But the ground beneath our feet begs to differ, as does the gravity that keeps them there. All around us, creation testifies of the Creator, the Author of reality, the One who is so true that His words do not merely align with reality but become reality.

There is nothing innately noble about being your authentic self, especially whenever our authentic selves are very often wicked. Indeed, for all the things that we could say about Adolf Hitler, we must admit that he was very much authentically himself. As it so happens, authentic sin is no less evil than inauthentic sin.

We need more than just authenticity; we need integrity. I agree with one article that states, “Authenticity is essentially being true to who you say you are and to what you say you believe. Integrity is being true to principles external to yourself.”[2] In other words, integrity is not simply being true to yourself; it is a genuine, (yes) authentic commitment to a reality larger than oneself.

Indeed, God used integrity to describe the character of Job to Satan, questioning, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason” (Job 2:3).

Job lived in the fear of God and walked according to His righteousness. Job, however, spends most the book defending his integrity before his friends, who all believe that Job must have been hiding some heinous sin to have suffered so much. They were certain that Job’s trials were proof of hypocrisy, that he was not as righteous as he appeared. Even though God rebukes Job toward the end for his presumptions about God, the LORD ultimately defends Job’s integrity,[3] saying to one of Job’s friends, “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7).

Job is a powerful example of the deep roots that a life of integrity yields, especially through the deepest valleys of suffering. Yet even Job’s integrity was not perfect. For that reason, Jesus must ever be our supreme example of integrity. Being without sin, there was nothing deceptive nor inauthentic about Jesus. Yet Jesus’ life was not merely authentic; instead, He alone lived a life of pure integrity, devoted entirely to doing the will of the Father. Like Job, it was that external focus, eyes set off of self and onto the LORD, that strengthened Christ to endure the cross and despise the shame (Hebrews 12:2).

Being authentic is simply not good enough, for being authentic to self can never solve our desperate hunger for truth; instead, we need Christ-like integrity, a resolute commitment to truth and righteousness that can only be empowered by the Holy Spirit.

[1] Authenticity | Psychology Today

[2] The Difference Between Integrity and Authenticity – TurningWest

[3] Interestingly, Job’s outward focus upon God formed the very core of his integrity, and although God defends Job’s integrity, He also rebukes Job’s inward focused presumptions.


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