Authentic? Part One

Authentic? Part One September 11, 2019

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. —Exodus 20.16

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. —Matthew 23.27

Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. —Mark 12.31

Being a professional Catholic—in whatever capacity: priest; teacher; apologist; writer—comes with a difficulty. Professional Catholicism is governed by a paradox, what I call the paradox of the double self. It shows up on different levels. On the one hand, when you decide to serve the Church, setting a good example is kind of implied; otherwise you risk scandalizing your ‘audience’ (of whatever kind) with your hypocrisy. On the other, nobody’s perfect, including you, and it’s also wrong to lie. What do you do? Or intellectually, the truths of the faith are already defined and can be argued for with great insight and eloquence; but what about the times when the truths of the faith don’t make sense to you, or don’t seem to fit with other truths that you can’t explain away?

Just how authentic should you be? What if it could hurt somebody’s faith? What if it could hurt yours?

To change the subject not at all, Lindsay Ellis has a video called “YouTube: Manufacturing Authenticity for Fun and Profit,” where she examines the vogue for “authentic,” unfinessed-seeming content. Especially on YouTube, but in general (look at “reality” TV). Obviously, a moment’s thought will tell us that any video made with the slightest professionalism and skill has been edited, maybe a lot, but we eat this stuff up anyway. Why?

Personally, I think it’s because breaking the fourth wall feels more like a real personal interaction. And we crave that. I don’t really think we crave it more now than we did fifty years ago, when cake-based YouTube channels crammed with equal parts processed sugar and performative authenticity were no more than a gleam in ARPANET’s eye. But we do crave real personal interaction, all the same. Human beings are made for relationship; that’s one of the things that being made in the image of a Trinitarian God means.

And to a degree, a lot of us want that from professional Catholics, too. A lot, not all. Some people get very angry about breaches of perfection in any professional Catholic, however minor, and insist on a façade of perfection in the name of avoiding scandal, modified only by token admissions of sinfulness—as distinct from admissions of sins. I have no truck with this because I consider it idolatrous, and for that reason a breeding ground of dishonesty. It is precisely on the pretext of avoiding scandal (in both senses) that our regnant bishops, through keeping secrets and postponing consequences forever, have gotten the Church firmly bound into the scandal that is now wracking her.

But that’s not what I try to do with my writing. My whole brand is, ostensibly, being painfully honest; there are some things about myself I do consider 100% off-limits, but unchasity, suffering, and doubt are not among them. But is it really possible to perform authenticity? to select, edit, redact, and (in one sense) make a product out of your own raw experience?

Part Two

Images via Pixabay

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