Ms. Darnelle’s story was concerning in several ways, but to me the most disturbing was the reaction to her article. This poor woman was excoriated by many for even hinting at disapproval of her husband’s desire to get in touch with his true self even if it meant significant cost to people he had promised to love. How could she criticize a man who was just being true to what he really is? It is this reaction that is of greatest concern about the state of our society.
In this quest for “authenticity” all societal restraint must be resisted. Freedom can only be found, for example, in rejecting such restrictions as the binary definitions of male and female. It is expected now that young people will go through a season of rebellion against their parents. This, it is affirmed, is a part of their process of discovering themselves and becoming “free.”
One might think that such a view of life would end up rejecting religion, for religion is surely an effort to define a person according to a set of truths and doctrines. In many cases the pursuit of such “authenticity” has indeed led to the complete rejection of religion, but oddly in America it has had another effect. It has twisted things so that religion now serves this elevation of the self. The purpose of religion becomes the aiding of one’s “self-realization.” That is not only evident in some of the eastern religions, it is also at the heart of the health and wealth gospel movement and is found in the ideas of those who urge us to seek our “best life now.” Sin, we learn from such religion, is not falling short of the glory of God, but failing to be true to yourself and to fulfill your true potential.
In America we believe in freedom and elevate it as one of the highest of our values. The “freedom to be me” then appeals powerfully to the American psyche. It sounds awfully good and seems most reasonable. However, Jesus didn’t seem to think much of this philosophy of life. In Matthew 16:24 he said, “if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” He went on in verse 25 to say, “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Our world says, “you are the highest good. Elevate pursuit of self.” Jesus says, “Deny yourself.” He then goes on to tell us the awful news that our world has not yet figured out. The pursuit of one’s identity by serving self is a fool’s errand. It doesn’t work. It will lead to a dead end where all one does is lose real life. This kind of “authenticity of the self” may sound good, but in the end proves to be a horrible and deadly lie. It brings serious harm both to others and to the one who has bought the lie. Just ask Janna Darnelle.