The Case for Courtesy

One of the many mis-leading slogans that has been uncritically accepted in our society for no reason other than massive and mindless repetition, is that all of us - especially those (like clergy) who have a public role to play - should prioritize being "authentic."  But what does it mean to be "authentic"?  Usually this means to do what one feels in the moment, to let people see your "true colors" by saying just what you think and doing just what occurs to you to do and so on.  This let's people see your "real self." 

I have long suspected that this idea, so apparently innocuous, is actually poisonous if followed to its logical conclusion.  I am one of those people who can't help but be a little jealous when I read about the elaborate manners and courtesies of the characters in a Jane Austen novel.  The men not only open doors, but they stand when a lady enters the room; there is a precise order in how people are introduced to one another and what is said by way of introductions, and so on.  That all probably seems rather rigid and stilted to many in our informal age; but I ask you, are our current social conventions truly better?  Have you gotten phone-snubbed lately when people sitting at dinner with you (probably my age or younger) gave more attention to their smartphones than to the human beings sitting around them.  Wouldn't we prefer some manners?  Perhaps that desire is precisely why Jane Austen has enjoyed a great resurgence in popularity in recent years. 

This question of "authenticity" is explored in a recent article from Christianity Today: Strive to be Inauthentic!  Taking a cue from Tom Branson, a character in Downton Abbey, the author meditates upon the virtues of courtesy and manners; that is, not acting in the way that is most "authentic" to how we are or feel in any given moment, but to act in the way that we believe is good.

This is exactly the purpose of manners or courtesy in society.  Men are not "naturally" going to be respectful of women if we simply live out of our "authentic" desires and feelings; that sort of thing has to be trained into us.  As an introvert, greeting other people around me and making conversation with them may not be what I authentically feel, but it is often what I ought to do for the sake of pursuing good character in myself and sharing good things with others.  In other words, we humans have to intentionally strive to behave better than our current "authenticity" would lead us to; we should move past authenticity and press on toward excellence and virtue. 

This is closely connected to the Christian goal of pursuing holiness.  C.S. Lewis (in Mere Christianity) when talking about Christ's call to holiness in the Sermon on the Mount (loving our neighbors, praying for our enemies, etc.) says that we start out by "play acting" - acting as if we really loved these people (even though we don't feel like it), and that is how we begin to form habits which in turn help condition our feelings and (by God's grace) transform our character. So we end up trying not to show the "real/authentic self" that we already have to the world, but rather to pursue a "new self" one that has a new kind of authenticity because it is being renewed in the image of Christ who is the perfect image of the invisible God. 



Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:20 PM, January 25, 2014  
Blogger Rev. Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Dear Anonymous,
I believe you are the first bona fide Satanist to comment on this blog, and you are welcome to join the conversation (and I pray to Almighty God the Most Holy that you profit from it).
Yet I ask that future comments should:

-Be substantive comments (i.e. engaging with the ideas in the post), not merely insults against Christians or bigotry against women

-Remember to give supporting evidence or rationale when you make an assertion (that is, exercise your God-given Reason and enter into a process of debate and persuasion; simply piling one assertion upon another is not going to convince anyone of your position - which I assume is your purpose since you commented at all)

I have removed your comment precisely for the reasons listed above.

2:45 PM, January 27, 2014  

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