Mark Galli published an interesting article in the Soulwork column of Christianity today. This article focuses on the nature of Christian living and how one lives within a given social context that is contrary to their own core values and belief systems. The comparison he draws upon is a character from Downton Abbey named Tom Branson. Here is what Galli opens his article (Strive to be Inauthentic: The tortured Tom Branson of Downton Abbey – model of holiness):
In that last episode of Downton Abbey, Tom Branson finds himself in a very uncomfortable circumstance, one which most Christians should be able to identify with.
The article moves forward in describing the character of Tom Branson, the situation he finds himself in, and the inability to assimilate into the social context of the well-to-do environment. Taking this comparison of Branson’s character, the inability of said character to blend into the high social environment he finds himself in; Galli shares that it may not be appropriate for Branson to live authentically, but ought to live inauthentically. In which, Galli interprets this into the Christian believer and lifestyle:
Tom is a modern man; he feels compelled that there should be congruence between who he is privately and how he presents himself publically. He is, in short, very much like you and me. We live in an age that yearns for authenticity, in our leaders, in ourselves. To be authentic is, according to the dictionary, to be “real and genuine,” and “true and accurate.” It has become an essential moral virtue. To say someone is not authentic is to suggest they are, at some level, lying, bearing false witness about their true self.
Galli continues with the following:
But perhaps the attempt to be authentic might be more sinful, and to be inauthentic may be the virtue that Scripture calls us to. Unless we get this authenticity monkey off our backs, we, like Tom, will wrestle with ourselves to our graves—though at least in the grave we will have no choice but to be authentic, our private self perfectly matching our public self.
Galli then moves toward the idea of how individuals choose to behave in public settings. He presents a simple scenario where a waitress spills soup in a person’s lap. Here, he equates a person to be inauthentic rather than authentic. The reason for this? Because if we are true and genuine to ourselves, we would allow our private self come out and chastise the clumsy waitress for ruining a special night. True, that is an attribute of human behavior. However, what is missing here is not so much the incident itself, but how people respond to such incidents. Meaning, being an authentic Christian actually requires one to be humble and forgiving no matter the incident, to include owning up and taking responsibility for the thoughts and feelings that were triggered. In which case, the individual, being authentic to his/her Christian values will not only forgive the clumsy waitress, they will also ask the waitress for forgiveness because of the very seething thoughts and feelings they had.
Galli continues with another scenario where he equates inauthenticity with a person being well-mannered. This, he does so by creating another hypothetical scenario where an individual feigns interest in a portrait. The conclusion drawn here is that individuals much rather be around people who are inauthentic and well-mannered than an individual with table manners of a five-year-old boy who say whatever they think. The problem with this is that Christians who strive to live authentic are not ill-mannered, in comparison to a five-year-old boy, they are striving to be well-mannered in their dealings with family, friends, co-workers and within their respected community.
What he is ultimately missing here is the aspect of living an authentic life is not merely living true to oneself: Living an authentic life is where a Christian lives true to his or her core values and beliefs. For the Christian, to live contrary to their core values and beliefs, is to live an inauthentic Christian lifestyle. Yes, it is a struggle when we take a look at the way social culture is going. However, we do not have to appear fake and pretend in order to be considered well-mannered.
After providing these two particular scenarios, Galli continues to describe the Christian as living “inauthentically” because we are not yet living holy lives. Here, he cites Paul’s introductory part of his letter to the Christians in Corinth. After this, he states:
Most of us don’t recognize that to act like we’re holy when we’re not yet holy is to be inauthentic. It is to act better than we really are. Or more simply: it is to put on an act.
This statement brings to mind the whole concept of faking it till you make it belief system. If you are not happy, fake being happy until you come to a place of being genuinely happy. This is a false illusion that has led many people to endure further depression and unhappiness. This catchphrase came out of the self-improvement movement of the 1990’s-2000’s. It applied to many different scenarios and meant that a person imitated that which they desired to become. This is the same line of reasoning Galli is expressing here. “We are not holy [yet], however, we are to fake being holy by living inauthentically so that eventually we become holy”. In reality, this is not only erroneous thinking, it is a violation of the central teachings of Jesus Christ and the scriptures. In fact, if a Christian wants to know how to live an authentic and holy life, all they have to do is read the Beatitudes of Matthew chapter 5. There, the steps toward spiritual maturation is provisioned in how we grow in our faith and how we are to live our lives in authenticity.
However, this does not stop the thought process of Galli’s idea for Christians to strive toward an inauthentic lifestyle. Citing Colossians 3:9-10, 14, he compares what Paul teaches to the Christian believers in Colosea that when we have come to Christ, we have put off the old self and donned a new self. This is the idea of a Christian believer becoming a “new creation” because of the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. However, the error here is misinterpreting what Paul is saying. The apostle is not teaching the believers to strive toward inauthenticity. The apostle is reminding the church that they have put off their old self, their old identity, behaviors, thoughts, et al and have become a new creation in Christ. Despite this, Galli further cites Ephesians 4:22-24.
In short, Galli is misleading his readers into thinking that the New Testament calls us to live more inauthentic Christian lives than it does living authentic Christian lives. The problem here is that he fails to point out that as we put off the old person, we are striving to be congruent in living a holy life through the process of sanctification.
In the end, Galli calls Christians to be authentic when they are confronted by their spouse, family, or peers as to their living inauthentically. He then states this:
In the meantime, we shouldn’t get all tied up in knots about it. It’s part and parcel of daily Christian living, especially in the beginning. Every day we awake and decide t play act for the day; we agree to assume a role, and not a role we’re naturally fitted for. It’s not something for which we’d be typecast. In fact, it’s a role completely out of our depth, one which we’ll fail to play well. And yet we still say, “What the heck – I’m going to give it a shot.”
We’re not going to fool anyone, of course, least of all to those to whom we are closest. They might even find us a bit irritating and accuse us of trying to be “holier than thou.”
To which we can respond, “Nope, just trying to be holier than me.”
The problem with this thought of striving to live an inauthentic Christian life, we are living contrary to our objective moral ideas and values. We are pretending to be someone that we truly are not. We are pretending to be perfect, instead of striving toward perfection (Matthew 5:48). We are putting on an act to say that we are Christian when we are not living congruently to the teachings of the Bible. Yes, living an authentic Christian lifestyle is a struggle every day. However, the simple message of the Cross is to take up our own cross daily and follow Jesus Christ. There, we find how to live a true and authentic Christian life.