Modern Pensées

Reconsidering theology, philosophy, culture, economics, and politics

Why Authenticity is Not the Highest Virtue

with 2 comments

Trevin Wax over at the Gospel Coalition has a great piece entitled, “Being True to Yourself is Living a Lie.”  The gist of the article is that much of pop culture today – everyone from Disney to Lady Gaga – is espousing that being true to oneself is the highest virtue.  He sites some of the following examples from Disney and Gaga:

  • Cinderella singing about her dreams and being true to her inner princess
  • Mulan refusing to fit into cultural stereotypes
  • Ariel longing for a world she wasn’t created for
  • Aladdin becoming the prince he pretended to be

Music only reinforces this message during the teenage years. For example, Lady Gaga’s anthem “Born This Way” celebrates our urgings and longings:

Don’t hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way

The underlying assumption here is that the highest virtue of life is authenticity to self.

Nietzsche, Disney and Lady Gaga

This kind of assumption has its roots in neither Disney films nor Lady Gaga’s music.  The roots of these assumptions are found in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.  Nietzsche essentially espouses the most consistent (as consistent as anything can be within a framework that has no God and by corollary no Truth, no fixed axioms… etc.) atheistic system.  Nietzsche is one of the few atheists that actually says that morality is contingent on God’s existence.  For him, because God does not exist, neither does morality and morality is nothing but a human construction that is keeping humanity from evolving beyond humanity.  For Nietzsche, he wants humanity to shed itself of morality and embrace power and dominion over weaker humans.  Only when a few will be cruel and domineering over weaker humans (humans who still embrace morality, Truth… etc.) will humanity start the process of becoming like the overman (the overman is to humanity what humanity is to the apes – the next step in our evolutionary biology).  Here is the KEY – The key to embracing power… The key to rejecting morality and its chains… The key to evolving and walking the tightrope towards the overman… is AUTHENTICITY TO SELF.  (For more on this you can read a piece I wrote entitled – Why Nietzsche is Helpful for the Christian)

The Problem with Authenticity to Self

The big problem with authenticity to self is that we are children of Adam.  As children of Adam, being authentic to ourselves means we should embrace all our sin patterns and call them good and healthy.  What happens if we apply the lyrics of the Lady Gaga song to the man who is attracted to little boys or girls?

Don’t hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way

What happens if we apply these lyrics is that pedophilia is not only not wrong, it is rather virtuous and good – for I am merely exercising my authenticity to my personhood as a son of Adam.  Margaret Sanger was just being authentic to her feeling that certain races and genetic material was inferior and therefore ought to be prevented from birth or eliminated from the womb.  Hitler was just being authentic to his extreme hatred in his heart for the Jews, gypsies and homosexuals.  Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein, John Wayne Gacy, Charles Manson, Richard Ramirez, Albert Fish, Ted Bundy, and the Zodiac were all just expressing on the canvas of the murdered bodies their authentic personhood as sons of Adam.

Calling all the sinful, disobedient, law-breaking, twisted and harmful desires of our heart good is not just unhealthy it is dangerous to society, the thriving of culture and the reality of the Gospel.

The Good News

The good news is authenticity is a virtue in the new life we have when we are adopted into Christ’s family.  We are given the mind of Christ, the Holy Spirit, God’s book, and a community of people to grow and flourish.  Authenticity means living in light of being no longer a son of Adam but a son of the King – one who has been set free from the mind of sin and death and is free to become a slave of Christ.

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2 Responses

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  1. I would just note that not everything where one doesn’t fit “the norm” can be rightly considered to be sin. What’s wrong with Aladdin becoming a prince or Mulan bucking purely cultural norms? Why would one read into Lady Gaga that pedophilia is OK? Of course the Church is charged with calling all men to repentance, but that is repentance over things that the Bible calls sin. We’re called to be conformed to the image of Christ, but that doesn’t mean your hair is a certain color or that you don’t have any tattoos as those things are not sinful.

    I think a better message would be to be true to yourself, up until being yourself comes into conflict with God’s law. Raising a generation of conformists would seem to do more damage to true religion which is inward as a culture of conformity only emphasizes the outward.

    Jason T

    August 27, 2013 at 5:18 pm

  2. […] -Authenticity to self and personal happiness are very important virtues and perhaps the highest of all the virtues […]


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