Engaging Culture

What Do We Mean by the Word: Authenticity?

To an earlier generation, the word “authenticity” meant that something was verifiable and proven. The dictionary says, “The quality of being authentic, trustworthy, or genuine. Undisputed credibility.” Authencity meant that you could prove it beyond the shadow of a doubt. For instance, a famous painting was “authentic” because who actually painted it could be proven. A document could be proven authentic after a painstaking historical investigation and evaluation. It took a rational process to be authentic.

But today, the definition has more to do with a “feeling.”

Today, authenticity means that “it feels right.” So when a person encounters a religious faith, it’s not a matter of investigating the evidence and coming to a rational conclusion – it’s about feeling. Does it feel right to me? How do I feel while experiencing it?

It’s critical to understand that change in the definition if we’re going to be successful in understanding people we talk to and meet. Yesterday, Christianity was authentic to C.S. Lewis because he investigated world religions and evaluated the claims of Christ in a rational, detailed manner. As a result, he decided that Christianity stood up to rigorous questioning.

But today, Wicca or Witchcraft or any number of other trendy religions seem “authentic” to people because they feel right. Sadly, it’s not about rational evaluation anymore, it’s about feeling. And by moving the needle on the definition of “authentic,” another tool for the presentation of a very real experience has been cheapened.

Today, if a person says something is “authentic,” it’s usually not about being honest or real, it’s more that it “feels right” – regardless of the truth of the situation.

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  1. Right on, Phil. This is a perplexing and potentially discouraging truth – I've found Randy Newman's book on Questioning Evangelism to be helpful (http://www.wwcmagazine.org/2004/sepoct044.html), asking questions of 'feelings-oriented' folk to get them to think about what they really believe. I've seen this at work in a lot of conversations I've had with unbelievers, and I think it's essentially what we're trying to accomplish in media.

  2. I believe what you are bringing up is the misuse of the work "authentic" and that it should never be defined to include feelings. Maybe that's what some felt when the meaning of the word "gay" was redefined and currently can't be used with it's original meaning without a snicker (I mean a short laugh). What Cortney said reminded me of a recent conversation I had with an atheist. One of his biggest problems with "organized religion" and "televangelists" is their manipulating "innocent" people. But, when you live by feelings, emotions, and signs I think you can easily be manipulated by evil and some aren't so innocent. From the beginning man has always had this challenge of whether to lazily follow unswervingly the "prophet of God" (who is fallible) or have a real authentic relationship with God for themselves and a life-growing and sometimes very difficult experience of following His Spirit. When God speaks to me He is never afraid of me verifying or proving His direction and my fickle human feelings should never be the way I do that.

  3. The issue of authenticity is big for a number of reasons, too many to go into here. Once again the pendulum swings from one end of the spectrum to the other. Many are tired of “stale” religion which is soley based on “logic” to the exclusion of our feelings – much like the Vulcan Spock from the Star Trek franchise. To Vulcans, feelings are illogical. However, God gave us both logical minds and feelings and both are needed to make authentic choices about the situations we face. Jesus says if we want to follow him we must deny ourselves, pick up our cross daily and follow. Sometimes it’s our “logic” that gets in the way and other times it’s our “feelings.” Through the Word of God and by His Spirit we have the ability to discern between the two. People want to “feel” but many don’t want to check their minds at the door either. They want something that “makes sense”. It’s a combination that needs to take place on the foundation of a correct interpretation of Scripture. In addition to this, people are looking for power to overcome in their lives and sad to say, generally many who say they practice Christianity, in this country, tend to lack in true, genuine supernatural power and ability. So those outside of the realm of the Christian faith will tend to turn to religious practices where they feel they have an advantage in the world. The issue of Authenticity is on one hand a simple one – and on the other rather complicated. Thanks Phil for the opportunity to wrestle with this issue.

    Allen Paul Weaver III
    author, Transition: Breaking Through the Barriers

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