Disney doctrine can be summed up in a simple phrase: Be true to yourself. If you live according to this maxim, all your dreams will come true.

It’s the dogma that creates the drama:

  • Cinderella singing about her dreams and being true to her inner princess
  • Mulan refusing to fit into cultural stereotypes
  • Ariel longing for a world she wasn’t created for
  • Aladdin becoming the prince he pretended to be

Disney movies (and most of the rip-offs) tell our kids again and again that the most important lesson in life is to discover yourself, be true to whatever it is you discover, and then follow your heart wherever it leads.

Now, I’m not a Disney hater, and I enjoy watching good movies with my kids and passing on these memorable stories. Still, there are two assumptions behind the Disney formula that we ought to be aware of:

  • You are what you feel.
  • Embrace what you feel no matter what others say.

From Disney to Lady Gaga

Music only reinforces this message during the teenage years. For example, Lady Gaga’s anthem “Born This Way” celebrates our urgings and longings:

Don’t hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way

The rest of the song makes it clear that sexual longing is a big part of what you’re born with and ought to embrace. Your feelings rule. If you go against your feelings, you’re living a lie.

The only problem is feelings can be tyrants. And strangely, those who resist the tyranny of their feelings are often ridiculed rather than celebrated.

Is it courageous to give in to whatever feelings you have? Is being true to yourself the recipe for happiness?

The Counseling Room

Here’s where Disney doctrine leads to glaring inconsistencies in the real world. Consider the following scenario in a counselor’s office:

Teen #1: “I think I’m gay, but I want to change my sexual orientation.”

Counselor: “I’m sorry, but sexual orientation is fixed from birth. You need to embrace who you are, not try to change.”

Teen #2: “I am a boy, but I feel like a girl and want to change my sex.”

Counselor: “That’s fine. Your gender is flexible.”

The Tyranny of Feelings

What we have in the first case is a young man who has feelings he wishes were different, and yet he is commanded to accept the dictates of nature, as expressed by those feelings.  He must be cowed into submission and forced to accept whatever his attractions dictate.

What we have in the second case is a young man who wants to change his sex. Strangely enough, in this case, he is not commanded to accept the dictates of nature. No one would be so intolerant to quote Lady Gaga to him: “You were born this way. Be who you are.” No… the feelings rule. Even when the chromosomes disagree.

It is baffling to me that a counselor can say a person’s attractions are fixed from birth and yet a person’s gender is flexible.

But that’s Disney doctrine taken to the extreme. Feelings rule. We live under the tyranny of our feelings; otherwise we’re living a lie.

Breaking the Tyranny of Your Feelings

Here’s where Christianity opposes the “follow your heart” mentality of much of the Western world.

  • We are told, not to love ourselves first, but to focus on loving God and neighbor.
  • We are told we are born sinners and need rescue from our fallenness, not affirmation of it.
  • We are being remade in the image of God, so that the ever-deepening discovery of His grace and goodness to us is the defining marker of our life, not our own self-discovery.
  • We live according to the declaration of acceptance pronounced over us through faith, not according to our own self-acceptance and the desire to fall into the good graces of others.
  • Leaning forward isn’t celebrating yourself as you are now; it’s embracing the vision of who God is making you to be.

Don’t Be True To Yourself

The truly courageous are those who crucify the self the world tells us to be true to. And then we are raised with Christ to become the person God always intended us to be.

As Gil, the retired pastor in Clear Winter Nights says:

“I know there are people who think I’m telling them not to be true to themselves. And they’re right. The Christian preacher tells people all day long, ‘Don’t be true to yourself. The self you’d be true to is rotten to the core.’ Authenticity isn’t accepting your sins. It’s admitting your sins and then being true to the person King Jesus has declared you to be.”

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40 thoughts on “Being True to Yourself is Living a Lie”

  1. Well Done Trevin,

    It is quite baffling isn’t it?

    As regards your Gil quote, am reminded of an issue that Sproul had with Calvin-

    ‘Calvin said that “children were worse than rats”. When I get to heaven he and I are going to have issues on that. Rats do what they do because they were born that way…

    Cheers,

  2. JohnM says:

    I second the Well Done above. But, for the reasons you highlighted Trevin I think I am kind of a Disney hater, and maybe parents might want to re-think enjoying “good” movies with their kids.

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      I prefer to enjoy good stories, not ban them… and then discuss them with the kids and use them as teaching opportunities.

      I’d rather my kids understand the good and bad of a story rather than simply see certain stories as off limits.

  3. Steve Porter says:

    Your example is a bit thin and flimsy. In both cases, the person is dealing with an INNER orientation and in both cases the counselor is recognizing that very few people have had any success in changing that inner state. Nothing baffling about the response at all.

    Hopefully your upcoming book has a little more depth

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      But that’s my point… the inner orientation trumps the outer reality. The feelings rule, and the counselor gives no hope in either case to the ability to change one’s feelings. This is where Christianity comes along and says, “Feelings don’t rule. Christ is bigger.”

  4. Steve Porter says:

    I guess what I am struggling with in your post is that you make the counselor’s response out to be inconsistent and/or illogical. However, I would think that the witness of the many lives damaged by “change therapy” (and Exodus International’s recent 180 change in stance) would be proof enough that the inner orientation (in the case of one’s sexuality) is indeed an inner reality that almost never is able to be changed. As for the outer realities, those get changed all the time.

    Should the outer reality be changed just because it can? Different topic for a different day but as for your post, I find nothing “strange” or “baffling” in the counselor’s response

    Thanks for your engagement with my response

    FYI: Jonathan Merritt just posted a good article on the Christian response to transgender issues if you’re interested

    http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2013/08/19/transgender-issues-more-complicated-than-some-christians-portray/

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      Do you not see the inconsistency I’m pointing out though? We are saying that our feelings are fixed and innate from birth (and therefore should be embraced, not changed), while at the same time saying your gender is NOT fixed and can be changed (when it’s very clear that gender is more obviously innate than one’s attractions).

      Not discounting the complexities of ongoing conversation on transgender issues… the post is not focused on that, it’s focused on the tyranny of feelings ruling the day, to the exclusion of any message that would have us not bow down to them. The counseling office is just one example. Feelings are fixed, even more so than gender. I wonder what would happen in a third situation, where a guy comes in and says, “I’m black, but I feel Caucasian and want to be white.” Would we help them change their skin color?

  5. Good words for our times! It doesn’t take amazing gifts in empirical observations to see what kind of a mess we’re making with the “Be true to yourself” philosophy.

  6. Jake Swink says:

    Great observation.

    “It is baffling to me that a counselor can say a person’s attractions are fixed from birth and yet a person’s gender is flexible.”

  7. I appreciate the aim of this piece but I’m wondering if there is a valid call for us to be true to ourselves–our true selves that God has made us to be as His image bearers. The paradox of the Gospel is that it is a call to lose our lives in order to find them. The appeal is based on self-interest, to find our true ourselves.

    So while I completely agree with rejecting the worldly notion of “be true to yourself” when “yourself” is defined as your sinful self; I’m beginning to believe that we MUST appeal to people to “be true to yourself” as image bearers who reflect and represent the glory of God. And that will, in the end, mean rejecting and dying to anything that “falls short of the glory of God.”

  8. Steve Porter says:

    I think that to reduce someone’s sexuality down to a “feeling” sends the message to an LGBT person that you don’t really understand the situation they are in. Can you honestly say that you view your own sexuality as merely a feeling?

  9. Adam O says:

    Trevin,
    You often surprise me by putting things I have casually thought into nicely written blogs. Your analysis of the theology/selfology of disney/pop music is pretty right on: “Follow your heart, let your inner star shine, and you’ll ultimately be happy.” So I definitely appreciate you calling this out, and the church needs to be addressing this cultural theology more actively with the message of King Jesus.
    I do have a few points of contention, however. Maybe I am expecting too much or just have the wrong assumptions, but this blog seems to be very much intended for inner-circle folks. What I mean is, there are some things in here that prevent me from being able to share/tweet this blog out to my non-Christian or homosexual friends. This line at the end, “The truly courageous are those who kill the self the world tells us to be true to” is extremely inflammatory in a culture marked by attempted suicide. As a Biblically literate Christian, I hear the echoes of Pauline metaphor or even Jesus’ stark call for his followers to “take up their cross.” However, your phrasing could just as easily be read (in light of the examples given throughout): “a courageous person would just kill the gay part of themselves…” which as we know, is something that many folks have tragically tried.
    What I assume you mean is something that could be said without the obvious misinterpretations, like, “Courage does not mean following the dictates of your feelings, but in the Christian view, courage means denying yourself through the power of the Holy Spirit in the self-sacrificing community of the church.”
    Additionally, I am not sure you are hitting the nail on the head with the counselor illustration. If the counselor is speaking from a scientific/research perspective, then she is speaking accurately to what current research would tell you is possible. I understand why you see an irony there, but unless the counselor was speaking from a distinctly Christian perspective, it is not an illogical or inconsistent thing to say, though perhaps ironic.
    One oddity, I have noticed, however, is from the perspective of Christian complementarianism (like that of TGC). From that perspective, it would not be odd to hear a leader say something like, “men and women have very different internal wiring as part of God’s ordering of creation.” So if one believes in differentiated internal wiring, then it seems plausible to understand the perspective of a transgender person. When complementarians use “inner wiring” to support their position, it is rarely considered to being giving in to the dictates of feelings. Yet on the other end, you have those in most of secular society who seem to say that the internal wiring differences between men and women are negligible, yet they would fully support/sympathize with transgender folks. Isn’t that odd?

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      Adam,

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. You’re right about my intent with the line about “killing the self,” and I thank you for pointing out how that could be misinterpreted. I changed it to “crucify” – a more biblical term – which gives the same effect, but makes it clearer that I’m speaking of “dying to self” in the biblical sense. My best friend growing up committed suicide, and the pain of that is with me always. I would never want to be misunderstood or misleading in that direction.

      Regarding the inner-circle nature of this blog post, you are probably right as well. I didn’t write it for FB shares, etc., but to point out some of the inconsistency in applying the “feelings” test to everything. I like to use the blog to provoke thoughtful conversation – which your comment is a great example of.

      On the complementarian issue of different wiring, that brings up an interesting point I will probably save for a future post!

      1. Adam O says:

        Thanks for your reply Trevin! You definitely spark good conversation, and I often think that the ideas you blog about are great conversation starters with Christians and non-Christians alike. Thanks again for your thoughtful reply! Look forward to your future posts.

  10. Nate B says:

    I am curious about the many ways this phrase can be interpreted. I was hoping that you would analyze this phrase and give examples aside from homosexuality and transgender issues. I was hoping you would apply this phrase to other cultural phenomena like decision making or trying to “find yourself.”

    When I became a Christian, in many ways, I felt I was being “true to myself.” I was living a lifestyle that was empty, however when I went to church and heard about Jesus, I knew that I had to trust that what I was hearing the preacher say was truly God speaking through him and not just my imagination. When I decided to change my life—–I was being true to my logic and what I knew about the message of Jesus. I was confident that the gospel made sense and I needed to choose a way. Along with that——I was choosing to life a completely different lifestyle than my friends, something that would go against their expectations of me. To be true to myself in following Jesus meant I would be different.

    I would like to see this phrase analyzed aside from the current gender/sexual orientation discussion.

  11. Jeff Schultz says:

    Or to quote Katy Perry, “You’re a firework” — in other words, you have the potential to make a lot of noise, damage others, and destroy yourself if your inner life is not handled with proper care.

    We love Disney movies in our house, but we’re still waiting for the one where the child follows his heart and leads himself and the people he cares about into a predictable and tragic disaster — maybe the Children’s Crusade?

  12. Scott says:

    Where’s the gospel? Seems like moralism to me. Especially the last sentance.

    Let me play critic and put myself in the place of the skeptic. Here’s how it would sound: “Quit trying hard at inventing yourself in the worlds eyes. Instead, just try hard at being a moral religious Christian.”

    Surely this peice could have been better edited.

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      No… the gospel application would be this: “We are being remade in the image of God, so that the ever-deepening discovery of His grace and goodness to us is the defining marker of our life, not our own self-discovery.”

      Believe in Jesus and what He has declared about you, not in yourself and what you think about yourself.

      1. Scott says:

        Agree wholeheartedly. I would encourage you to lead with that.

        1. Scott says:

          And unpack what that means.

    2. Adam C says:

      Accusing Trevin of focusing on moralism and not enough on the gospel is like accusing Bill Belichick of focusing on what the media thinks of him, and not enough on the game of football.

      1. Nate B says:

        I agree with Scott. This article is a good idea. The part about feelings is applicable. To give examples of homosexuality and transgender issues seems is only a fraction of what the “be yourself” motto could be. This particular article seems like it preaches to “other” but not as much the church. I grow weary reading about how we should respond to homosexuality and more recently the transgender issue.

        I know you don’t have time or space to give an example for every situation, but what about other applications to “being yourself?” What about the person in a quarter-life crisis? What about the person who wants to quit their everyday, boring job so they can go be a missionary? What about the person who wants to quit their 9 to 5 to go be in a grunge band? Should we go be missionaries or in a grunge band? These aspects of feelings are more complex and I would like to hear more about the difference between the Lord’s calling or to live out some teenage fantasy (for me be the next Eddie Vedder). What about “be yourself” in your career? That’s the question I want to know.

  13. Alien & Stranger says:

    Thank you for highlighting this issue. It has bothered me when I’ve heard teachers and children at the local primary school (which has a Christian ethos, but has teachers and pupils from other faiths), repeating the Disney-esque, humanist/ New Age (or whatever) philosophy like a mantra: “Be true to yourself”. We are born sinful, with a proclivity to self-willed rebellion and depravity. “The heart is deceitful above all else.” We need spiritual regeneration through repentance and faith in Christ’s finished work on our behalf, and thereafter transformation from the inside out. We should rather “be true to Christ”.

  14. Rocky G says:

    Well said… :)

  15. Dave says:

    As a Christian college student at a secular university who struggles with same-sex attraction… I so wish my generation could understand the wisdom in this. We worship the athlete who fights against his body’s natural atrophy, but then praise the person who passively follows his degrading desires.

    God, please show us how far we’ve fallen. Help us trust you with ourselves, knowing that your desire for us (holiness) is our best goal. And help us run to your strong arms, knowing that we can’t even begin to fight our broken selves by our own power or will.

    Thanks for the reminder Trevin,

    1. Jery says:

      Dave, my heart breaks for you. As many a good fellow Christian will tell you, there should be no struggle there. What’s passive is accepting the misguided and deeply flawed, antiquated human notion that your sexual orientation involves ‘degrading desires.’ What’s degrading is letting fellow flawed human beings make you think something is wrong with you. You will find no good in a life of lies to yourself and others. Or a lie to God, who made you who and how you are.

      1. Jery says:

        P.S. Typo: I meant “less good,” not “no good.”

  16. Megan says:

    “The Christian preacher tells people all day long, ‘Don’t be true to yourself. The self you’d be true to is rotten to the core.’”

    This sounds more like the Superego of an abuse victim than the Holy Spirit. I notice you don’t cite any Scripture…

    By contrast, Jesus said, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Jesus said a man’s soul (self) is the ONLY thing in the world worth saving. How then would it be rotten to the core?

    It’s the world–or, at least, capitalism–that doesn’t want us to be true to ourselves. This is what advertising is all about: wouldn’t you rather be this female stunt double and get a Chase Visa than to be the boring, risk-averse homebody you really are? You don’t have to be a Christian to realize that being true to the world’s expectations means not being true to yourself.

    Nor is this true-to-self worldview particularly modern. Four centuries ago, William Shakespeare wrote, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

  17. Joy says:

    I’d always taken the admonition to be true to yourself–first encountered in Polonius’s speech to Laertes, since I apparently spend less time with Disney:

    “This above all: to thine own self be true,
    And it must follow, as the night the day,
    Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

    to mean that one must above all be honest with one’s self about one’s virtues, faults, strengths and weaknesses, and that the resulting honesty of character plays itself out with one’s interactions with others.

    This may certainly lead to treading an unconventional path, but I don’t see that the expression itself necessarily means “your feelings should rule your life.” It might mean that an honest gay person would never pretend to be straight and therefore mislead some unlucky opposite-sex person into marrying them, for example, to continue down the road of unfortunate examples using sexual orientation.

  18. Nina says:

    Mulan bucking cultural stereotypes is wrong? That confuses me a bit.

  19. Dan Ham says:

    What your saying is good I just have a slightly different angle. I think all these movies that have a theme to be true to ourselves, discovering themselves etc. is really the cry of the human heart to find true identity in who we really are, who we were really created to be. We were all born into sin and inherited the selfish nature of the fall. So I don’t really argue with how a person says they were born because in order to receive this incredible beautiful life and identity of who we really are EVERY person as Jesus explained “must be born again.”

    Therefore receiving their original created value of His image, His love and nature, and then all things become new. We deny ourselves and enter into the most ridiculous freedom ever by following Christ and becoming love. Through this confession we are instantly made pure in his eyes by the work of his love and grace. I don’t try to change my behavior, I believe who God says I am in Christ and I live accordingly. He doesn’t see me any other way :)

  20. Toru says:

    I agree; no one can be born gay just as no one can be born straight. Sexuality is something that comes with puberty. Small children don’t understand what attraction is because they’re not meant to; their bodies haven’t started producing hormones for them to even comprehend physical draw to either gender.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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