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Opinion | Pop Culture

Real, Authentic Authenticity

It's an attribute that disappears as soon as it's intentionally sought.

The top-read Her.meneutics post of all time was Karen Swallow Prior's "Doing Authentic Ministry with My Smokin' Hot Bride," published this July. To avoid misleading any church planters who might read the piece in earnest, the subtitle helpfully clarified that the post was a list of "the worst ever Christian clichfamp;copy;s."

Among the greatest offenders was the overused virtue of authenticity. Listed under "Clichfamp;copy; Category #2: Good Words Gone Bad," it elicited quite a few "Amens" from readers.

Christians are not alone in their over-usage. Last week The New York Times featured a segment titled "Authentic? Get Real," in which reporter Stephanie Rosenbloom highlighted the popularity of authenticity as a self-descriptor among politicians and television personalities. Everyone from Michele Bachmann ("I'm a real person") to Anderson Cooper ("I've always tried to just be authentic and real") has touted their authenticity, often citing the attribute as the secret to their success.

Politicians are not alone. Rosenbloom noted that "legions of marketers and social networking coaches are preaching that to succeed online—on Twitter, Facebook, Match.com—we must all 'be authentic!' A proposed panel at next year's South by Southwest interactive conference promises to teach attendees 'how to be authentic and human without embarrassing yourself.'"

The truth is, Rosenbloom's piece just as well described Christians as those outside the church. And to the extent that our society ...

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