The Challenge of Authenticity
Something else that we know from experience is how to hide and how to pretend. At some point in childhood we all make the powerful discovery that we can manipulate the truth about ourselves. Initially it often takes the form of a simple lie – frequently a denial of having done something. But of more importance to the development of the false self is the discovery that our ability to hide isn’t limited to what we say or don’t say. We learn to pretend. We discover the art of packaging our self.
We learn that even if we feel afraid, we can appear to be brave. We also learn to cloak hate with apparent love, anger with apparent calm, and indifference with apparent sympathy. In short, we learn how to present our self in the best possible light – a light designed to create a favorable impression and maintain our self-esteem.
While this may seem quite benign, the dark side of pretending is that what begins as a role becomes an identity. Initially the masks we adopt reflect how we want others to see us. Over time, however, they come to reflect how we want to see our self. But by this point we have thoroughly confused the mask and our actual experience. Our masks have become our reality, and we have become our lies. In short, we have lost authenticity and adopted an identity based on illusion. We have become a house of smoke and mirrors.
Few things are more difficult to discern and dismantle than our most cherished illusions. And none of our illusions are harder to identify than those that lie at the heart of our false self. The false self is like the air that we breathe. We have become so accustomed to its presence that we are no longer aware of it. It is as elusive as the wind, seeming to disappear when the light of attention is shined in its direction.
The only hope for unmasking the falsity that resides at the core of our being is a radical encounter with truth. Nothing other than truth is strong enough to dispel illusion. And only the Spirit of Truth can save us from the consequences of having listened to the serpent rather than God.
LISTENING TO THE SERPENT
The Genesis account of the temptation of Adam and Eve helps us understand how we become the lies we choose to believe. The story tells of a serpent that, knowing our first parents wanted to be like God, offered them a way to achieve this. Their desire to be like God was not in itself the problem. For God had crated them in the Divine image and wanted them to be like God. However, God’s gift of likeness was quite different from that offered by the deceiver.
The core of the lie that Adam and Eve believed was that they could be like God without God. But without God the most we can ever do is make ourselves into a god. The truth is that we cannot be like God by means of a spiritual coup of Divine authority and sovereignty. James Finley puts it this way:
Any expression of self-proclaimed likeness to God is forbidden us, not because it breaks some law arbitrarily decreed by God, but because such an action is tantamount to a fundamental, death-dealing, ontological lie. We are not God. We are not our own origin, nor are we our own ultimate fulfillment. To claim to be so is a suicidal act that wounds our faith relationship with the living God and re–places it with a futile faith in a self that can never exist.
Paradoxically, Adam and Eve got what they wanted – to be like God without God, likeness that was based on independence rather than surrender. This is why we must be very careful about what we desire. We might just get it!
However, what we get when we choose a way of being that is separate from God is the life of the lie. It is a lie because the autonomy that it promises is an illusion. We do not become free of God by a disregard of Divine will. Instead, by such disregard we forge the chains of our bandage.
What we get when we choose a way of being that is separate fromGod is the life of the false self. What Saul got when he chose his way over God’s way was a self whose significance depended on accomplishments of heroic proportions – the destruction of the church.
The false self is the tragic result of trying to steal something from God that we did not have to steal. Had we dared to trust God’s goodness, we would have discovered that everything we could ever most deeply long for would be ours in God. Trying to gain more that the everything God offers, we end up with less than nothing. Rejecting God, we end up with a nest of lies and illusions. Displacing God, we become a god unto our self. We become a false self.
~ The Gift of Being Yourself – The Sacred Call To Self – Discovery by David G. Benner