The Strength of Being Authentic: Reflections on culture and faith

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Eugenio Rivas, SJ

 Eugenio Rivas, SJ / Philosophy / 16 February 2021


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The best description of today’s cultural reality is through “authenticity,” so says Charles Taylor, one of the most important contemporary Catholic intellectuals.[1] There exists a true “culture of authenticity.” By this term the philosopher means the search for personal self-fulfillment supported by the subjective principle of being faithful to what one sincerely feels. Behind this quest stands the moral ideal of “being true to oneself.” This ideal, Taylor asserts, is not to be defined according to what we desire or need, but offers an outline of what we should desire.[2]

As a consequence of this, it can be said that no matter how degraded or disguised the quest of the individual immersed in a given culture may be affected by relativism, individualism, narcissism, self-referentiality, etc., authenticity rests on a moral force that is neither understood nor identified by the arguments that strip it of its dignity, defend it uncritically, or seek a wisely balanced compromise.

Faced with this panorama of authenticity with its deviations, Taylor proposes a project of “retrieval,” through which the moral ideal, on which “authenticity” rests, can contribute to the renewal of practical, social and political life. The implication is that authenticity either triggers demands or is counterproductive.

The life of faith finds itself immersed in this culture of authenticity. It is not immunized with respect to the culture, nor is it quarantined. This means that it too can be degraded or withdrawn, not inclined to any social commitment, that is, it can turn its back on the history in which it is called to be a leaven of liberation. In other words, faith lived and practiced runs the risk of losing effectiveness,  as well as social and political relevance.

Theological reflection is called to highlight the relationship between Christian faith and commitment to the transformation of history, so that history becomes a true “theological place”: “Social praxis is gradually transformed into the very place where the Christian, with others, brings into play his or her destiny as a person and faith in the Lord of history.”[3] This Christian commitment in history has meant, and still means, being present and engaging wherever the life and dignity of the person are defended and wherever the right to these is claimed as a guarantee of a dignified life.[4]

 

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