Friday, January 29, 2016

Please do not be authentic

Evelyn Underhill (1875-1041) was an Anglo-Catholic writer of spirituality.

Toward the end of her short book The Spiritual Life, she brings up an idea that bears repeating in the 21st century. She writes,

...the complete expression of everything of which we are capable--the whole psychological zoo living within us, as well as the embryonic beginnings of artist, statesman, or saints--means chaos, not character.

Underhill recognizes that people are complex. We have different longings, so different she describes them as a "psychological zoo living within us." We may long to be famous. We may long to sleep with an attractive coworker. We may desire to be the opposite gender than which biology has equipped us. We may want to quit our job, start smoking, or slap that annoying person in class.

The concern Underhill has is for any culture (or therapist) who gives free reign to our impulses in the name of "complete self-expression." This sort of I-can-and-I-should-act-as-I-desire mentality is deadly. This is why Plato, Aristotle, Jesus, and most any other religious teacher has argued that discipline is required for the development of character. Choices must be made to restrict our psychological and biological impulses.

Such impulses should not be trusted or given free reign in the spirit of authenticity. Rather, we must train our bodies and minds to accommodate what is virtuous. (By the way, it is antithetical to believe morality can be individual in nature; morality stands outside and over an individual person.)

If authentic means, you can do and act as you please, chaos is looming. Soon our culture will be a cageless zoo where weaker prey are subject to the stronger predators. Only a culture governed by discipline, character, and restraint holds any hope.

(By the way, there is a good version of authenticity...a blog for another time.)

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