Last night, while watching Survivor, I felt I was looking in a mirror.
I had this same experience last season, too.
Meanwhile, I would be shocked if it didn't happen to me in a future season, as well.
And, no, I don't say this simply because I was once on the show and now, watching it years later, I find myself reliving the past.
Instead, I am referring to the dizzying display of naiveté shown last night by Brandon Hantz (nephew of famous Survivor villain Russell Hantz).
Last night, Hantz suffered a veritable mental and emotional breakdown. Which is fine; having played the game before, I know firsthand how mentally and emotionally draining the contest can be. But this is not what makes me relate to young Hantz; rather, I relate to him because of why he suffered this breakdown:
Granted, Hantz didn't come out and put it this way -- in other words, he didn't say, "Hey, camera, catch this: I am about to have a breakdown because I am conflicted over my faith" -- but, let's face it, that's what it boiled down to.
Ultimately, he broke down (and made himself look like a fool) because (a) he didn't want to look like a liar, and (b) he wanted a pretty girl voted off the island just because she was pretty.
I know the blogosphere is crucifying this young guy right now for his stupidity, but it wasn't stupidity that bred these stupid decisions; it was fear and guilt.
In other words, the young man fancies himself a Christian, and he is terrified over the idea of looking like a bad Christian on national TV.
Consequently, he is rendered virtually paralytic in terms of being able to play Survivor. More important, though, he is displaying tell-tale symptoms of one of the worst diseases within the Christian community: he is choosing perception over authenticity.
And as I mentioned above, I can completely relate.
When going on the show five years ago, as a Christian, I was mortified of potentially looking like a bad person. In my head, I knew that the show would be watched by millions of people in hundreds of countries, and I felt I was responsible for demonstrating to each one of them what a good Christian behaves like.
Which, even today, I still think, in theory, was a wonderful way of approaching the game. However, here's what I was too immature to realize at the time: in putting the pressure upon myself to constantly appear like a good Christian, I was removing Christ from the entire equation. Instead, I was making myself the savior.
This is what Hantz is wrestling with right now, and it's what Matt Elrod wrestled with last season, and it's what another young, genuinely intentioned young Christian will undoubtedly wrestle with in an upcoming season.
Like Hantz, I constantly kept clarifying comments and spilling secrets because I didn't want to appear a liar. Also, as my season was the first to implement a hidden immunity idol, I created the first fake idol in Survivor history, but then refused to play it because I was scared it might be perceived as duplicitous. Meanwhile, Elrod, who wowed us with a stunning display of physical, mental, and emotional strength on last season's Redemption Island, butchered what could have been the greatest underdog story in Survivor history by continually announcing his plans to his enemies lest he be considered a liar.
All of these moves on each our parts were ridiculous, and we all did these ridiculous things in the name of faith. Our motivation was simple: we didn't want to appear ungodly.
Now, please don't misunderstand, I'm not taking issue with the genuineness of my or Hantz's or Elrod's belief itself.
Rather, it's the compulsion to flaunt that belief that is the problem.
Because when you approach a situation thinking, "If I say this, or do this, or don't say this, or don't do this, I may look like a bad Christian," then you aren't really doing or saying it for Christ; instead, you are doing or saying it for your own self-image.
I'm often asked what I would do differently if I were given the opportunity to play the game again, and my answer is that I'd be more focused on being myself than on worrying about how I might be perceived. The difference is, unlike before, I now know "myself" is a good guy and is a good Christian, and it would be nice to play the game confident enough in this conviction that I didn't feel I had to do anything to prove it.
Dostoevsky writes about this very conflict in The Brothers Karamazov. In it, a character speaking to the venerable Father Zossima says of her conflict between being a good person and wanting to be perceived as a good person:
"I came with horror to the conclusion that, if anything could dissipate my love to humanity, it would be ingratitude. In short, I am a hired servant, I expect my payment at once -- that is, praise, and the repayment of love with love. Otherwise I am incapable of loving anyone."
This is what I wrestled with on Survivor, and this is what Hantz is now wrestling with, too: he's torn between wanting to be a good Christian while wanting more to be acknowledged for being a good Christian. Whether he realizes it yet or not, that's the case. He simply wants to prove to others that he is a good person.
This is a very natural battle for any person of faith to have to fight. In fact, if a person is willing to face it head on, it ultimately will strengthen his or her faith in the long run.
Unfortunately for Hantz, though, it is the kiss of death in the game of Survivor.