This is the third and last post in a series on Phoniness. In the first post, An Introduction to Phoniness, I wrote about my views of phoniness and how I perceive it to be a form of self-ignorance. Rather than actually not knowing information, however, it is more accurately described as a willed ignorance; a purposeful bending of self into a false personality despite one’s own convictions. In the second post, The Emotional Response to Phoniness, I wrote about our inner response to phoniness observed in others. How Anger and contempt often arise because of phoniness but how, in the end, compassion and love should be the methods by which we operate and address phoniness. This third post of the series will investigate the practical response to phoniness, our own and others’, from a Christian point of view. Certainly, reasonable people could talk for lifetimes on these issues. For the sake of brevity, I must confine my thoughts.
The previous two posts in the series were written to be understood regardless of one’s own moral convictions, assuming at least some sort of morality. But these posts did nothing, or very little, to discuss a specific morality. So far, my ideas of phoniness and an opposite genuineness only ask of people that they try to be their truest selves. That true self might be a Christian or member of any other religion or perhaps the world’s best humanitarian. Maybe it is a serial killer. All may identity with a true self but in accordance to whatever grand idea of morality they specifically embrace. For the Christian, it is the glorification of God and the salvation and sanctification of man. For the next man though, it is possible that it be something else. So the Christian then, in the act of engaging others both in and out of Christendom on a large-scale, must not only present an alternate reality to that which this world is accustomed but also show the greater value of a Christian morality which is believed to be in line with and a reflection of God’s designed morality. 1
So the Christian then, in the act of engaging others both in and out of Christendom on a large-scale, must not only present an alternate reality to that which this world is accustomed but also show the greater value of a Christian morality
The change that happens in a Christian is not a false attempt at trying to change. Perhaps in some people it might be – another discussion – but the reality of a true Christian conversion is a tangible result of changed life by the continuing work of God in that person’s life. When a person becomes a Christian by a profession of faith, it is believed God literally works in and through that person. There is a real and tangible change in the nature of the person. The bible addresses this issue when it speaks of the fruits of the spirit. A good tree bears fruit and a dead tree bears bad/no fruit. If someone claims to be a Christian but is lacking fruit, a closer look at that person’s life may be needed.
While much more discussion on the topic is warranted than I can offer here, the faith the Christian has is grounding and a foundation for why they act in such a way. Surely though, many people who aren’t Christian can operate in the same way that Christians do and live a life that reflects the morality of the Christian faith. Plenty of people are nice and generous and caring and loving but have no Christian Faith. But if they don’t have a foundation for the way they behave, why do they act that way? Do they just behave in a way society accepts? It seems fleeting when society changes its mentality often. If they behave in a way they inherently feel is the right way to act, eventually they need to (or should try to) figure out why they feel that way. Before this turns into and debate and argument for objective morality, I will simply encourage any readers to seek out a number of great sources on the topic. But, it is this objective morality that the Christian operates out of. Because of this, while many non-Christian people may agree with the tenants and morality of Christianity, it is assumed that the ones who behave in a contrasting way still have a deep, inner understanding that the way they behave is contrary to the way they should. Whether they accept this or ignore it is at the core of phoniness, and even if they accept it, that doesn’t mean they feel they need to or will act as such.
As said earlier, the truth for the Christian is that God is literally working in and through the person. If human nature is broken and flawed, humans, in their own power, could never fully live in line with this morality. This is the world we live in. At the bottom of the post, I have a link to an audio post of a sermon given by Ian Thomas where he talks about the salvation of man; how it entails a total life change and operation by God; not just a one-time confession or some other convenient method. Here is a small excerpt from the audio…
“… God to a man is as imperative as oil is to a lamp. If you’ve got an oil lamp, but it hasn’t got any oil in it, you’ve got an oil lamp but it won’t behave like one. You might as well put it in the trash can. And of course, if you detach man from God, which is exactly what happened when Adam fell into sin, you’ve still got a man on your hands but he won’t behave like one. The only thing you can do for an oil lamp that hasn’t got oil is put oil in it. And the only thing you can do for a car that hasn’t got gas it to put gas in it. And the only thing you can do for a man that hasn’t got God is put God in him. And when you put the oil in the lamp, it isn’t so the lamp can try harder. And when through spiritual new birth, God gets back into the man it isn’t that the man might try harder! You put oil in the lamp so the oil can be oil functionally; you put gas in a car so gas can be gas functionally; and you put God in the man, so God can be God functionally….That it takes God, actually God himself, not what God has to say, not God’s example, not God’s precepts, not God as a far-away object of our emulation or worship, it takes God himself in a man to be a man. And that’s why we shall discover that it takes Jesus Christ, not his teaching, not his preaching, not his sublime example, not the beautiful life he lived, not the doctrines that he promulgated; it will take Jesus Christ himself, a person, to be a Christian…”
But what happens when someone tries to fit in with a group and the group is more directed towards an idea of good than that person is. In other words, what happens when Brian starts going to church but quickly notices the church people are much more caring about good choices than he is? Perhaps, depending on the Brian’s intent, there are several possibilities. He wants to hurt the group in some way, pursue some form of improvement, simply be involved with the people in the group, or some combination of those choices. I think for most people who start going to church it is a combination of the latter two. And he isn’t necessarily aware of which path he chose.
Whether he is good or bad relative to the group does not change the fact that if he is in a position where he must operate under a façade, eventually he will be worn thin and not be able to participate in the group any longer. It would presumably be the same if a regular church attending person pretended to fit in with Brian’s past group. If Brian, in joining the church, really is interested in adopting a life style that is more closely aligned to the church, he does not need to nor should feel forced to pretend to be at a more advanced stage than he is. No one should feel they have to wear a mask to grow in the church. A pushing away of those outside the church is directly contrasting to the grace offered in the Gospel. Further, the change is not solely his responsibility. God does the changing. As long as we try to live the Christian life by our own strength, there is a degree of falsity about it even while having the intentions of improving.
No one should feel they have to wear a mask to grow in the Church. A pushing away of those outside the church is directly contrasting to the grace offered in the Gospel.
Over the past two posts, I have talked about people pretending to be someone who they aren’t in order to achieve an ultimately unsatisfying goal. The Christian response to person x isn’t a feeling of their necessary conformity. A ‘come as you are’ mentality should be a cornerstone for church interaction with anyone outside the faith. That being said, and this is important, this is not the same as condoning certain behavior. ‘Come as you are’ is not the same as ‘stay as you are’. One role Jesus prominently displays is that of a great healer. While this is true physically, how much more is it true in a spiritual sense? A person doesn’t wait to see a doctor until after they feel better. And even more, they don’t go to the doctor without any intention of getting better. A change, for the perceived better, is sought after. A healing is desired. If they abandon the healing, it isn’t because they lost the desire to get better, but they have given up on the healing process. Perhaps it wasn’t as quick or easy as they thought it would be. Christians are not the doctors. We are other patients. Christians, despite how much our egos would like to think otherwise, do not change people. We do not save people. The same person who has taken a hold of us and changed us, God, takes a hold of others and progress is best made when we let the true Doctor be the Doctor and support others through love and compassion and always keep in mind that we are in as much need as anybody else for the healing. It’s hard to improve if you constantly avoid who you really are. Anyone can appear like a good person. But the Christian says, “I’m a broken person and I am letting Him fix me.”
Going back to where I started this series, J.D. Salinger via the character Holden Caufield in The Catcher in the Rye pinpoints the real issue facing us when we address our own phoniness. If you don’t think you have phoniness, you have a few extra steps to take first. Although he comes to the conclusion you can never be too sure about your own motives, the Christian relies on God and His faithfulness to bring about change.
“Lawyers are alright, I guess — but it doesn’t appeal to me”, I said. “I mean they’re alright if they go around saving innocent guys’ lives all the time, and like that, but you don’t do that kind of stuff if you’re a lawyer. All you do is make a lot of dough and play golf and play bridge and buy cars and drink Martinis and look like a hot-shot. And besides, even if you did go around saving guys’ lives and all, how would you know if you did it because you really wanted to save guys’ lives, or because you did it because what you really wanted to do was be a terrific lawyer, with everybody slapping you on the back and congratulating you in court when the goddamn trial was over, the reporters and everybody, the way it is in the dirty movies? How would you know you weren’t being a phony? The trouble is you wouldn’t.”
― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
1 Note that there are many philosophical, theological and psychological paths to follow from this statement. This blog post is only meant to be a primer for a very small percent of these paths.
An audio clip from the sermon “Knowing Jesus” by Ian Thomas. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-r-nN9Mr0k
Suggested Reading: Romans: Chapter 6. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans%206&version=NLT
A relevant Family Guy clip about Phoniness. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ToQVoyWWluQ
The Catcher in the Rye. http://www.amazon.com/The-Catcher-Rye-J-D-Salinger/dp/0316769487