Our podcast team interviewed Fr. Mike Schmidtz, best known as the host of the Bible in a Year podcast. Fr. Mike serves among college students and has a unique perspective on the challenges they face—and the pressing need they have for accountability.
Sham Honesty vs. Authenticity
Fr. Mike distinguishes what he calls “sham honesty” from true authenticity:
“There was a man named Dietrich von Hildebrand and he wrote a book called The Trojan Horse in the City of God. One of the chapters in that book is a chapter entitled “sham honesty” and, and he basically diagnosed this temptation that we have: to put our lives on display but not our selves.”
What’s the difference between displaying our “lives” and our “selves?” Fr. Mike explains, “I want to present myself in an edited fashion.” In other words, we pick and choose the parts of our lives that we display. This is sham honesty.
Sham honesty manifests in many ways in our culture, especially on the internet. Social media gives every one of us a platform to display our lives. But the version of our lives we display online cannot reveal our lives in full authenticity. It’s deeply selective.
The sham honesty of social media has worked its way into everyday life for many young people. Our culture deeply feels the pressure of being on display but lacking authentic relationships. As a priest who ministers on a college campus, Fr. Mike carries a special burden in his heart for young people facing the world of sham honesty.
Two Bad Solutions to Sham Honesty
Fr. Mike says there are two bad solutions to this “sham honesty.” On the one hand, there is shame—specifically, “toxic shame.” This pressure to put your life on display for everyone—and make it as attractive and appealing as possible—leaves us feeling ashamed. That’s because our authentic selves are out of sync with it. We’ve written a number of articles on the connection between porn and shame. Check them out here:
On the other hand, Fr. Mike points out the problem of shamelessness. Shamelessness is pretend authenticity:
“There’s really good things in this world, and if I’ve violated those good things, then I have a sense of shame.”
The solution to sham honesty isn’t to pretend that bad things are actually good. Toxic shame traps people in the lie that their authentic selves are bad, and therefore unlovable or unforgivable. Shamelessness takes the lie even further and says we should accept the bad things about ourselves and reject any attempt at correction. This results in an upside-down world with no distinction between good and evil.
The correct solution lies elsewhere.
The Real Solution: Finding True Friends
So if the answer isn’t toxic shame or shamelessness, what is it? Fr. Mike says it’s finding real, authentic friends. It’s finding people that you can open up to and be real with about the bad stuff in your life. Essentially, he’s talking about accountability.
Accountability means having trustworthy friends who can share your life. But who are these people exactly, and where do you find them? Fr. Mike says:
“Whenever I I’m talking to young men and young women about their accountability partner [I ask] ‘Who is someone that you trust and that and who is in your life as well?’ So I want to set a clear bar, but also it’s kind of a low bar. They don’t have to be your absolute best friend. They don’t have to be someone that you see on a regular basis. [It just needs to be] a real relationship [with a] person whose opinion and perspective I trust.”
You don’t want to be accountable to someone who will betray you. You want someone who’s trustworthy and reliable. On the other hand, this person doesn’t have to be the perfect friend; they don’t have to be perfectly wise or perfectly like you. They just need to be there in your life.
Fr. Mike has devoted his life to ministry among college students. He knows the kinds of challenges they face and the difficulty of finding deep, authentic friendships at this stage of life. He has many words of wisdom for those holding others accountable as well. You can hear the full podcast and other great interviews here.